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2 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I'm curious what people's earliest ultra-luxe fine dining memories are. I'm not talking just about sit-down restaurants, or even great restaurants, but fine-dining, white-tablecloth experiences that left an impression on you.

My first might have been Harvey's - "The Restaurant of the Presidents" in downtown DC - I was about 20, and I was nervous as hell.

I can pretty much do my early memories by city:

Cincinatti: The Maisonette
San Francisco: Ernie's

(The above two restaurants were 5-star/5-diamond rated in Mobil/AAA - this is long, long before Michelin left France, and these were about the only national ranking services there were.)

New York City: The Russian Tea Room
Baltimore: Tio Pepe's
Bar Harbor: 

This "sort of qualifies" (without very specific memories).  When I was very young my parents included the kids for some celebratory fancy dinner.  We dressed up.  The restaurant was some distance from the house and was in an attractive setting and seemed very fancy inside. I believe other extended family or possibly friends of my parents were at the meal.

What entirely stands out was that the meal included intermezzo, something so foreign and exotic to my experience.  A sorbet served mid meal.  How utterly fascinating and completely foreign to anything I had ever had at a dinner.  A palate cleanser.  Imagine that for some young little shmuck who liked hot dogs, hamburgers, Italian and Chinese American food. Ha ha.  It really stood out.   It was decades and decades before I had  intermezzo at dinner again.  But it sat in the back of my head for decades wondering where and how one experiences that.

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3 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I'm curious what people's earliest ultra-luxe fine dining memories are. I'm not talking just about sit-down restaurants, or even great restaurants, but fine-dining, white-tablecloth experiences that left an impression on you.

My first might have been Harvey's - "The Restaurant of the Presidents" in downtown DC - I was about 20, and I was nervous as hell.

I can pretty much do my early memories by city:

Cincinatti: The Maisonette
San Francisco: Ernie's

(The above two restaurants were 5-star/5-diamond rated in Mobil/AAA - this is long, long before Michelin left France, and these were about the only national ranking services there were.)

New York City: The Russian Tea Room
Baltimore: Tio Pepe's
Bar Harbor: 

For me the first memory I have of something special was brunch with my grandparents at Normandie Farm in Potomac.  I'm not really sure how old I was, but I certainly do have a foggy memory, which includes their famous popovers.

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Growing up we didn't do much fine dining, but I remember one restaurant which was the "birthday place" and I remember always ordering the creme de menthe Grasshopper sundae for dessert.

 

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The first recollection of a really "nice" restaurant I can remember from youth was a spot in White Plains, NY called Patricia Murphy's. It was a large building, huge dining room with a lavishly landscaped and lit garden behind it. This was when White Plains was somewhat rural. It was only for special occasions and holidays. The signature was the waitresses circulating with enormous baskets of fresh pop-overs. There was a branch in Manhattan for many years, as well. 

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51 minutes ago, Mark Slater said:

The first recollection of a really "nice" restaurant I can remember from youth was a spot in White Plains, NY called Patricia Murphy's. It was a large building, huge dining room with a lavishly landscaped and lit garden behind it. This was when White Plains was somewhat rural. It was only for special occasions and holidays. The signature was the waitresses circulating with enormous baskets of fresh pop-overs. There was a branch in Manhattan for many years, as well. 

I loved those popovers at Patricia Murphy's, although I think the one I visited more often was on Long Island - Manhassat maybe.

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Growing up in rural NW Pennsylvania didn't provide a large number of fine-dining options, but when I was very young--maybe 6 or 7--I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh and they took me for lunch at the Top of the Triangle, at the top of the US Steel Building. It was the first restaurant with white tablecloths, waiters wearing ties, and of course an incredible view--it fit the definition of ultra-luxe in 1970s Pittsburgh, I think. I had a barbecue ham sandwich, and distinctly remember the sweet onion slices on the sandwich and the nicely sliced slivers of ham. It was several years before I visited another restaurant like that.

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Like @seanvtaylor my first fine dining memory involved dining high above a city as a child. We took the train (Amtrak, I think -- this was before the T commuter rail extended to Providence) with my grandparents from Rhode Island to Boston for lunch at the Top of the Hub, which is still open. The view is amazing. I'm not sure about the food, but I'm guessing not so much.

A few years later we ate at the Sun Dial while visiting my uncle in Atlanta. I guess my family liked eating on the top floors of skyscrapers.

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21 minutes ago, dracisk said:

Like @seanvtaylor my first fine dining memory involved dining high above a city as a child. We took the train (Amtrak, I think -- this was before the T commuter rail extended to Providence) with my grandparents from Rhode Island to Boston for lunch at the Top of the Hub, which is still open. The view is amazing. I'm not sure about the food, but I'm guessing not so much.

A few years later we ate at the Sun Dial while visiting my uncle in Atlanta. I guess my family liked eating on the top floors of skyscrapers.

When I was in graduate school, I lobbied to have our Spring Formal at Peachtree Plaza - at the time, it was the tallest hotel south of NYC. It was "fine," but I wish the other person had spoken up more loudly: He wanted to have it at Litchfield.

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5 hours ago, Mark Slater said:

The first recollection of a really "nice" restaurant I can remember from youth was a spot in White Plains, NY called Patricia Murphy's. It was a large building, huge dining room with a lavishly landscaped and lit garden behind it. This was when White Plains was somewhat rural. It was only for special occasions and holidays. The signature was the waitresses circulating with enormous baskets of fresh pop-overs. There was a branch in Manhattan for many years, as well. 

Patricia Murphy's was my first "fine dining" experience.  We had moved from Yonkers to Rockland County in 1962 (talk about rural) but went to Patricia Murphy's once a year in the mid '60s for a "special" dinner.

I moved to DC in 1978 for law school.  My first real fine dining experience (and the first time I spent over $100 for a couple for dinner) was at Cantina D'Italia, which I definitely could not afford.  I still remember that meal (and my date, who has been my wife for over 35 years).

 

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9 minutes ago, jpbloom said:

Patricia Murphy's was my first "fine dining" experience.  We had moved from Yonkers to Rockland County in 1962 (talk about rural) but went to Patricia Murphy's once a year in the mid '60s for a "special" dinner.

I moved to DC in 1978 for law school.  My first real fine dining experience (and the first time I spent over $100 for a couple for dinner) was at Cantina D'Italia, which I definitely could not afford.  I still remember that meal (and my date, who has been my wife for over 35 years).

I spent my early to middle teens in Mount Vernon. In those days, you could actually see the Empire State Building from Fleetwood. 

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2 hours ago, dracisk said:

Like @seanvtaylor my first fine dining memory involved dining high above a city as a child. We took the train (Amtrak, I think -- this was before the T commuter rail extended to Providence) with my grandparents from Rhode Island to Boston for lunch at the Top of the Hub, which is still open. The view is amazing. I'm not sure about the food, but I'm guessing not so much.

A few years later we ate at the Sun Dial while visiting my uncle in Atlanta. I guess my family liked eating on the top floors of skyscrapers.

I had a business dinner at the Top of the Hub about 6/7 years ago, and the dining was unremarkable (as was the view, unfortunately, on a hazy night). In fact, and unfortunately, I'd completely forgotten about it until I saw your post!

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19 hours ago, pras said:

My first might have been Harvey's - "The Restaurant of the Presidents" in downtown DC - I was about 20, and I was nervous as hell.

Harvey's was the 1st restaurant I ate at when I moved down here in 1983.  I was on an expense account while moving.  Their menu had the term "Free Bar Pour" for their drinks.  When I ordered a Vodka and tonic, I was brought a glass full of Vodka and a bottle of tonic.

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21 hours ago, pras said:

For me the first memory I have of something special was brunch with my grandparents at Normandie Farm in Potomac.  I'm not really sure how old I was, but I certainly do have a foggy memory, which includes their famous popovers.

I was struggling to remember the name until I saw your post. My parents and a classmate celebrated my 16th birthday with dinner at Normandie Farm. It surely qualifies as my first fine dining experience.

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On 2/21/2019 at 10:39 AM, DonRocks said:

I'm curious what people's earliest ultra-luxe fine dining memories are. I'm not talking just about sit-down restaurants, or even great restaurants, but fine-dining, white-tablecloth experiences that left an impression on you.

Pierce's, Elmira NY, now long gone.

My grandfather and his wife took me, along with my second sister, there when we were about 10, I think. Our first experience with fine dining, and our favorite thing was the dessert cart!

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In 1982, when I was a senior in high school, my school dance team won first place in the state competition in Chicago. To celebrate, we dined in the restaurant atop the John Hancock Center. It was the fanciest place most of us had been to at the time--we were from a small town in the southern part of the state with very limited dining options. I have fond memories of that wonderful experience, shared with my closest childhood friends and our moms.

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My mother grew up far in the mountains of NC, and went into the Army as a nurse.  Being exposed to a much more cosmopolitan life, she educated herself via Vanderbilt's Book of Etiquette, and then made sure her children never suffered embarrassments of not knowing which fork to use, etc.,  so my siblings and I grew up with proper place settings at each meal,  cups with saucers, cloth napkins for the most part, and other such things.  My folks were also members of a golf club and 3-4 times a year, they would take us to dinner at the club, and while it was not "fine dining" in the strictest sense, it was definitely formal dining.   I remember the wait/kitchen staff being very kind to prepare "rainbow parfaits" of sherbet for dessert for our good behavior at the table during dinner.

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When I was young (single and low double digits) growing up in PA, there were two fancy places we'd go. (I'll call them "fancy" instead of fine dining.) One was the Newtown Squire, usually abbreviated to "The Squire," which was in our town and not to be confused with the diner of a similar name the next town over, and the other was the Drexelbrook Inn, which was a kind of country club-ish place available to people who lived in the development where my grandparents rented a townhouse. My memories of the latter are much dimmer than of the former; we went there rarely and I was very young. That is now a Holiday Inn with a lavish catering and events center. Back in the 50s and 60s, the development was considered pretty swanky. I was going to mention the family lore about how both Dick Clark and Ed McMahon lived up the big hill across the street from my grandparents at one point, but I see this article has already mentioned it, though they left out my grandparents. This place had a different kind of air about it than The Squire, which was refined but not exclusive* in the same way. It may sound odd, but even at a very young age I could feel the exclusivity at Drexelbrook.

The Squire was where people went for special occasions, not just my family but other people we knew, our neighbors. I can't recall what I ate at The Squire, but I think it was mostly steak, potatoes, and shrimp cocktail. My parents would always let me order whatever I wanted when we went out, which was pretty special, come to think of it, especially since I gravitated to the most expensive items on the menu. I also recall being allowed to order for myself, directly communicating with the waiter. It may have changed later, but in my early memories, they only had waiters. (The cheaper family Italian place we went to had only waitresses. I recall finding it odd that the fancy places had all waiters and not waitresses.) Vintage postcard of The Squire via Amazon.

*It's also a pretty safe bet that if there were non-white people at either of these places they were employees, not customers.

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I have never forgotten having dinner in Savannah and they brought out sherbet as palate cleanser- a first for me.

Not a fine dining experience but my mom and I loved the lunch rooms of the old department stores, especially Neiman's, Marshall Fields, Forty Carrots in Bloomingdales and  lastly the Birdcage in Lord and Taylors where we ate lunch at least twice a month from when I was probably about 8 through my early fifties.  In the early days it was a prix fix menu and it always came with a dessert from the dessert cart.  My brother being a boy got 2! 

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I was 21 and in OCS at Newport, RI.  As officer candidates we were eligible to use the Officers' Club.  Not just any Officers' Club, this was the one across the street from the Naval War College.  Thick with Captains and Admirals.  The saying in the Navy is the only thing lower than an Ensign is whale poop, and that is at the bottom of the ocean.  Well, OCs are apparently somewhere between ensigns and whale poop, but there I was at one of the Navy's poshest clubs, perhaps with admirals.  (We had to be in uniform, but real officers could wear civvies there,   so I rarely knew the rank of the guy at the next table.) Almost literally straight off the farm in Minnesota, I was unfamiliar with seafood aside from Mrs. Paul's and the freshwater fish from our local lakes.  But in Newport I had my first shrimp cocktail and my first steamed clams.  (I fell in love.)  The waitstaff treated us larval-stage officers with all the courtesy they showed senior officers.  I'm sure I made lots of naive choices and asked stupid questions ("And for wine, could I have a nice little bordello, please?").  It's a lovely memory.

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As the topic states, what DC restaurant would you most like to see return? Jessica Sidman tweeted this question recently and I find the answers fascinating.

For me there are two at the top of the list:

1. Citronelle

2. Palena

Honorable Mention: Nectar

---

[Edit - Here's a built-in, 13-year-long, running answer with 500 replies and 50,000 views. DR]

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14 minutes ago, Keithstg said:

As the topic states, what DC restaurant would you most like to see return? Jessica Sidman tweeted this question recently and I find the answers fascinating.

For me there are two at the top of the list:

1. Citronelle

2. Palena

Honorable Mention: Nectar

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My response to Jessica's tweet was (Ray's) The Classics. Such a loss for Silver Spring (and the area)!

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3 hours ago, dcs said:

Vincenzo @ 20th and Q streets.

Yes, Vincenzo was amazing Italian seafood. At one time heralded as the best seafood restaurant and best Italian restaurant -- both -- within many miles.

I also miss New Orleans Emporium in Adams Morgan. Spot on creole food, as is you walked through the door and entered New Orleans. Blackened lamb chops were perfection on a plate. Upstairs at the bar, oyster shooters before they were cool and "cajun popcorn" (battered and fried crawfish tails) with Dixie Beer were how you started.

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