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Washington, D.C.

A Not So Capital Hotel and Restaurant


D.C. Omni Shoreham

It's like a grand old dowager, elegant, a little faded, but still full of style. Yes, the wrinkles show, but proudly, and we looked past them knowing that there's an exciting history here. Since the opening of the Shoreham in 1930 the hotel has been a center of Washington social life. Many important people —presidents, diplomats, entertainers and socialites—have passed through the sweeping and impressive lobby on their way to inaugural balls, private functions, guest rooms and restaurants.

We recently stayed in a suite overlooking the park, tennis courts and swimming pool. The decor was 50s beige and nondescript in a comfortable way. By the time we got home we couldn't recall a single detail about the furniture, but remembered having spent a most pleasant night in very spacious quarters.

We were, however, put off by an experience with housekeeping. At 5:30 on Saturday evening we asked to have a pair of pants pressed and were told they wouldn't be returned until Monday after 6 p.m. We also heard some minor complaints from friends—no night-light, empty mini-bar and a problem with a shower. The lobby is a great place for a drink and Monique is a bright and lively spot for breakfast or brunch. It's like a European cafe where patrons can sit for as long as they wish without being rushed.

Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008. Tel. 202-234-0700, 800-THE-OMNI. Special weekend rates are sometimes below $100. Suites range from $250 to $425. www.omnihotels.com/hotels/default.asp?h_id=6



We ate at Gabriel a few months after it opened. Reviews of new restaurants sometimes come quickly. By the time we tried it, it had been written up four times; three reviews were favorable and one was mixed. A friend came with us and commented, "Presentation is the whole thing here" and "they're trying to cover the waterfront," perfectly echoing our own reaction. Gabriel's food was billed as Pan-Hispanic (Spanish and Southwestern), but a daredevil chef, Greggory Hill, seemed to have reached all over the globe, using shredded filo, melted mozarella, Virginia shitake mushrooms and goat cheese and Indian spices. There were too many ingredients in each dish creating a hodgepodge of flavors that fought each other. Some dishes, like the seviche, were too highly spiced. Others, like the black bean soup, were bland and desperately in need of salt.

Of all the tapas, entrees and desserts we tasted only two of the selections were perfect. Grilled beef tenderloin was delicious, cooked precisely as ordered, and accompanied by thin crispy and flavorful sweet potato chips, mole and grilled peppers and tomatillos. An orange-coconut flan was ethereal, a finale that works with any kind of cuisine. The dining room is lovely, done in soft tones with pottery, glass and wrought iron tableware. It looks like a great setting for a leisurely dinner. But the noise level was so frantic that we had to speak very loudly to be heard by our tablemates, eliminating the possibility of having a private conversation.

Other reviewers might give Gabriel stars, toques or forks. Not us, underscoring that old and overused adage, "There's no accounting for taste." Sorry, Chef Hill!

Gabriel, 2121 P Street NW, Barcelo Hotel, Washington, D.C. 20037. Tel. 202-956-6690. Open for breakfast and dinner all week; for lunch, Monday to Friday. Inexpensive.

Fall 1994