My dinner club started organically four years ago — my friends Julie, Taylor, and I went to dinner one month and said “we should do this again next month” and never really stopped. (For part of this year, Julie and Taylor’s roommate and friend Jackie joined our club — until she sadly had to move back to Richmond! — and we really miss her presence at our monthly meals, too.)
It’s truly been such a blessing in my life — I get to dine on wonderful food across Washington, DC with great company. I always wanted to have a pulse on the dining scene in this city, and because of dinner club, coworkers, friends, and family often come to me for restaurant recommendations and I love being able to help them pick the perfect spot!
With dinner club, we take turns picking the restaurant and share everything family style, even if it’s not a tapas-style restaurant. It allows us to try more of the menu and since we typically like the same things, it works really well. The other key to making dinner club work is scheduling — we pick a date for the following month while we are at dinner so it’s on the calendar well in advance. We typically try to dine on Fridays, but during some crazier times of year — like summer or the holidays — we sometimes pivot to a Thursday or Saturday. From time to time, we do a pre-dinner drink nearby or one of us will host a little happy hour.
Given you all have enjoyed my previous money diaries posts — here, here, and here — I thought doing a money diary on what I spent this year at dinner club would be a fun way to recap a wonderful year of delicious dining. Julie is our club “CFO” and picks up our tabs — we split all the food we order equally, but she separates out our alcohol and dessert purchases so we all pay a share that is fair. As such, the amounts shown below are only my personal share of our meal and drinks. To further add context to the amount I spent at each restaurant, throughout the post, I overview what we ordered at each restaurant, and, for reference, I usually have two or three glasses of bubbly at each meal.
Dinner club is such an important part of my life that — like getting my nails done every month, lol — I consider it a “fixed expense” and it is a line item in my budget. I put aside $150 each month for “club dues” — sometimes it’s less and sometimes it’s slightly more, but regardless of the actual price, these meals are priceless to me because of who I get to spend them with!
JANUARY — CARUSO’S GROCERY — HILL EAST
It was my turn to pick our dinner club spot in January and I went with Caruso’s Grocery! It’s located in a place called The Roost, which is a luxury food hall — we just walked through quickly, but it seemed like a really cool spot and would be a fun place for a pre-dinner drink or a standalone meal.
We started with the garlic bread and burrata and then split three pastas — Ravioli alla Genovese, Caruso’s Alfredo, Spicy Neapolitan Ragu — and the Chicken Parmesan. The food was delicious and Caruso’s Grocery offered a really cozy atmosphere — it felt a lot like a New York City old school Italian restaurant.
Amount Spent: $37.21 — I was doing dry January this month, so my bill was much lower than the average dinner club.
FEBRUARY — LITTLE PEARL — CAPITOL HILL
Y’all — February’s dinner club was a treat! We decided to splurge and head to Little Pearl, which has a prix fixe offering at $85 per person. (There’s also a wine pairing available for an additional fee, but we decided to order a la carte off the menu.)
We did a pre-dinner drink at Ophelia’s Fish House — I don’t personally think this spot is anything to write home about, but after trying a few other spots on Barracks Row, we opted for it because they had four open seats at the bar. It definitely did the trick!
Then, we headed over to the main event. Little Pearl is set up like a dinner party every night — so they welcome you at the bar for a round of drinks on the house and a couple of snacks, and then they move you into their glass-enclosed conservatory for the seven course dinner experience. They started us off with a non-alcoholic drink to cleanse our palette, and then it was onto the bubbles for me. (They also had two cocktails and variety of non-alcoholic options!) For snacks, they did their amazing air-whipped “angel eggs” and a sweet bread.
The menu at Little Pearl changes often, so I can only speak to what we had, but some of my favorites were the vegetable crudo, the white fish with truffle, their take on chicken and potatoes, and the dessert. They send a chef out with each course to give you an overview of the dish.
My only complaint was there was sometimes a lot of down time between each course — it’s nice to have a leisurely meal, but this felt a little stretched out at times. The glass conservatory was such a cool spot to eat dinner, and it felt very cozy on the cold winter night we went.They send you home with a warm chocolate chip cookie and a jar of milk, which was such a nice touch! Little Pearl would a great spot for a special occasion or a fun night with any foodies in your life.
PS — if you go, definitely check out the restroom!
Amount Spent: $192.78
MARCH — NOBU — WEST END
Nobu is a very popular and well-known restaurant with multiple locations across the US — but our March dinner club was my first time dining at one and it was so good. The Washington, DC location is located in West End, and it feels very much like a NY or LA restaurant — it’s almost like you’ve stepped out of town for the night.
We did the yellowtail jalapeño, shishito peppers, lobster tacos, waygu dumplings, crispy rice with avocado and spicy tuna (my absolute favorite thing we ordered!), and split four rolls — the house roll, spicy tuna, yellowtail jalapeño, and salmon avocado.
We had a plan going into the meal about what we wanted to order, and I was glad we did because our waiter definitely tried to upsell us at any opportunity — but other than that, it was an awesome experience. I would go back to Nobu any night of the week!
Amount Spent: $146.19
APRIL — DOLCE VITA — 14TH STREET
Dolce Vita was our April dinner club spot and we went one of those first sweet, really warm days of spring— it was just great. We started our night with a pre-dinner drink at Estadio, which is known for their Spanish tapas. I hadn’t been there in years and it reminded me that I need to dine there again soon. We sat at the bar and enjoyed sangria before heading over for our dinner reservation at Dolce Vita, which offers Coastal Mediterranean food.
We really loved this spot, which is in the old Ghilbellina space. The atmosphere is very European with lots of club music playing — if you want a quieter dinner, I recommend asking to sit upstairs. Their menu is a variety of tapas meant to be shared family-style, which is how we like to eat.
We started with the bomba de papa, the hamachi crudo, keftes, Brussels sprouts, and the provocative caprese. Then we did a pasta course of the gnocchi and the orzo risotto — which was my favorite! To cap things off, we did the beef souvlaki and the lamb. Everything we ate was delicious and I would recommend this spot to anyone.
Amount Spent: $107.56
MAY — L’ARDENTE — JUDICIARY SQUARE
Our May dinner club spot was L’ardente and it was fantastic! So fantastic that it ended up being our unanimous number one dinner club spot of 2022!
We started with the focaccia, meatballs, and arancini — everything was so good. Then we did a caesar salad and carrots, before moving onto pastas. If you go, get the lasagna! We normally opt for more inventive dishes, but their lasagna came highly recommended and lived up to the hype. We also did the ravioli, pappardelle, and squid ink pasta. To cap things off, we did the flambe tiramisu.
The service was also great — they were super attentive without being overbearing. This would be a great special occasion or birthday dinner spot.
Amount Spent: $145.58
JUNE — THE POINT — BUZZARD POINT
I was lucky enough to be invited into The Point last year when it opened and had been dying to go back ever since! They have a great patio right on the water and just such a lovely ambiance. I would recommend trying to schedule your dinner here on a night when there’s not a Nats game or something going on at Audi Field — otherwise, prepare for extra traffic!
Truthfully, I didn’t think the food was as good as I did when I went last year, especially given how out of the way it is for me, but I still would recommend it for a fun happy hour on the back patio. We split some calamari and tostadas to start and then did the burger as my main — but I always love their sushi and pizza as well.
Amount Spent: $107.89
JULY — DEL MAR — THE WHARF
The Friday in July that we dined at Del Mar as a dinner club, it was unseasonably cool and rainy, and this restaurant felt like the perfect place to eat that night as it was so cozy and warm. (I think it’s the beautiful deep green paint they have on the walls!)
We split an array of their tapas — pan con tomate, patatas bravas, beef tenderloin, cauliflower, and paella. Everything was great, but for some reason, Del Mar doesn’t stand out in hindsight. It’s tapas are pretty on par with other Spanish style restaurants in the city, and I always find getting to The Wharf a little bit painful. So all that to say, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here again, but I also wouldn’t be disappointed if I dined here again.
They also have a beautiful bar if you just want to drop in and check out the space before committing to a full meal.
Amount Spent: $169.43
AUGUST — VERMILLION — OLD TOWN
Vermillion reopened in August after being closed during the pandemic, and we as a dinner club dined there on one of their first nights back! I loved it — the food was great and the atmosphere felt really romantic and warm. It would be the perfect date spot.
We did the beef carpaccio, crab croquette, scallop crudo, milk bread, ravioli, risotto, and chicken ballotine — Vermillion coursed out the meal beautifully and the food was great. I especially enjoyed the scallop crudo!
Amount Spent: $70.67 — Vermillion left a few drinks off our tab, which was so nice!
SEPTEMBER — RASIKA — WEST END
Rasika was our September spot — and it was my pick! It is a very popular Indian restaurant with two locations in Washington, DC, one in West End, where we dined, and their original location in Penn Quarter. It’s one of those classic DC spots that every Washingtonian has to get to at some point — and I figured going with my dinner club would be a great way to try it out. We grabbed at drink at Quadrant at the Ritz beforehand — such a great hotel bar.
I didn’t grow up eating Indian food and am candidly, not super familiar with it — so it’s always a little intimidating to go to an Indian restaurant because I don’t always know what to order. Luckily, Taylor, one of my fellow dinner club gals, is a huge Indian food fan and didn’t steer us wrong — everything we ate was so good. (Our waiter was also super helpful, so even if you don’t have an Indian food aficionado with you, you’ll be in good hands!)
We did the cauliflower bezule — my favorite dish, palak chaat, sweet potato samosa, truffle dosa, garlic naan, chicken tikka masala — another favorite!, dal dhungaree, and lamb biryani.
Amount Spent: $122.02
OCTOBER — SAN LORENZO — MOUNT VERNON SQUARE
Prior to dinner, we met up for a couple of glasses of wine at Maxwell — it was the day that the new Taylor Swift album came out and they had it playing throughout the restaurant, which was such a fun touch!
After, we walked the two doors down to San Lorenzo. I had eaten there a few times before, but candidly, am not sure I would recommend it anymore after the horrible experience we had as a dinner club. We had an 8pm reservation, and given it is a small restaurant, they let us know it would be a few minutes before our table was ready. No problem! We grabbed a seat at the bar and kept our conversation going. However, ten minutes turned into twenty which turned into thirty which turned into three very hangry people forty minutes later. The management was doing nothing to move the people occupying our table along after they paid their bill. We finally were seated and the manager did bring over some appetizers on the house, which was a nice touch — we thought everything would be smooth sailing from there. Until about an hour into our meal when the manager comes over and let us know we will need to vacate our table because the party behind us had checked in for their reservation. Y’all, I was livid — your poor table management of the previous table is not my problem!
So needless to say, even though the food at San Lorenzo is delicious, I am not in a rush to get back anytime soon.
Amount Spent: $112.58
NOVEMBER — SHILLING CANNING COMPANY — NAVY YARD
Our November dinner club spot was Shilling Canning Company down in the Navy Yard. Prior to dinner, we met up for a couple of glasses of wine at Maxwell — the same way we started off our October dinner club, just in a different neighborhood.
We really enjoyed it and the service was outstanding. It’s done by a former sous chef of The Dabney and a great take on Mid Atlantic cuisine. We started with the deviled eggs and the fall harvest salad, and then shared the wagyu and chicken ballotine. The wagyu was so, so good — I definitely recommend ordering that if you go.
Amount Spent: $139.35
DECEMBER — 1789 — GEORGETOWN
To kick off our December dinner club, we started our night at Fitzgerald’s. It had been on my list for a while and I am glad I recently was able to check it out! Located right next door to 1789 and upstairs from The Tombs, Fitzgerald’s is a good balance between the high-end 1789 and the college haunt that Tombs is. It truly was the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink! It was quiet, there was ample comfortable seating at the bar, and the bartenders were super friendly and helpful. I would love to go back for a proper meal soon.
Following Fitzgerald’s, we concluded another great year of dinner club at 1789! It was my month to pick and this DC institution had been on my bucket list for years. We so enjoyed it and it would be a great place to celebrate a special occasion or take your parents!
We started with some delicious bread, scallops, and ravioli, and then rounded out the meal with the lamb, braised wagyu short ribs, Brussels sprouts, and pomme rosti. Instead of doing dessert, we opted for another round of drinks — I capped the night off with a glass of bubbles and Julie + Taylor did espresso martinis. We toasted to another great year of dinner club!
Amount Spent: $144.73
And, to top this money diary off, wanted to share some fun stats about dinner club this year —
- Total Spent: $1495.99
- Average Spent Per Month: $124.67
- Most Expensive: Little Pearl
- Least Expensive: Caruso’s Grocery (w/o alcohol) + Vermillion (w/ alcohol)
I already can’t wait to see what dining adventures await dinner club in 2023! Thanks for following along! x