Just because you’re scrimping and saving for the holidays doesn’t mean you can’t afford a little self-indulgence. Some pamper possibilities (which you can also find in Sunday’s Magazine):
Less Than $10
Agnes Chin has been the pastry chef at Palena in Cleveland Park for a year now, which means regulars have learned the pleasures of her edible interpretations of all four seasons. Warm Spice Cake ($9), the best of her fall collection, pairs an individual serving with cream cheese ice cream, an almond tuile kissed with orange zest, and a rum raisin sauce shot through with cinnamon.Chin calls the composition, laced with ginger and nutmeg, “a carrot cake without carrots.” I call it irresistible.
When the recession forced Sergio Espana out of the construction business two years ago, he figured it was time to fill what he saw as a gap in the market and start serving the kind of tacos he enjoyed when he lived in Los Angeles. It took Espana longer than he thought, but Tortacos finally opened in a little shopping strip about a year ago. Its palette is cheerful in tangerine and lime; a tidy open kitchen lets diners in on the action of a hot grill. Tongue, steak, chicken and pork (sweet from its pineapple marinade) are served on two-ply corn tortillas that can be accessorized with a bonanza of fresh toppings from the help-yourself condiment cart. A combination of three tacos, plus house-made chips and a soda, goes for $7.50. Tortacos is a hybrid shop; there are tortas, or sandwiches, on the menu, too.
Less Than $20
Inaugurated two winters ago at the tony Quill in the Jefferson Hotel, the Founding Father’s Eggnog ($15) is a tip of the broad-brimmed hat to the nation’s third president and an elegant twist on the usual cloying liquid custard. The cocktail’s base, creamy with the Dutch egg liqueur called advocaat, is bold with 10-year-old Madeira. A cap of nutmeg-dusted vanilla whipped cream helps fill the tall, see-through glass. Each sip starts cold and ends hot, sensations interspersed with hints of butterscotch and port. The colder the weather, “the more popular it gets,” says bartender Chris Cohen of the drink that goes down like dessert and a hot toddy combined.
Belly up to the bar - or community table - at Ardeo + Bardeo in Cleveland Park on a Sunday or Monday, and you can take advantage of the restaurant’s Pie & Wine deal: your choice of one of five fine pizzas and a serving of wine or draft beer from the happy-hour selections listed on the overhead chalkboard for $15. The best thing to emerge from the stone oven is the crisp and yeasty crust strewn with fontina, mushrooms, black garlic and truffle-flecked sottocenere, a round I recently knocked back with Heartland Stickleback, a softly spicy blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and grenache. One tip: Only if you ask, any of the 30 wines on the restaurant’s by-the-glass list can accompany your pizza date.
Want to impress someone with your good taste? Invite her to lunch at Fiola, take a seat at the elegant bar and let her order anything she wants - off the new Presto menu. There are six or so dreamy entrees (all $15) on the daily-changing sheet, and if you’re torn between the open-face lump crab sandwich on bruschetta or the juicy roast chicken framed with cheese-filled pillows of pasta, join the club. For what you might pay for popcorn and a movie, you get the careful cooking of a top chef, Fabio Trabocchi, plus a glass of something interesting from bar maven Jeff Faile. Make mine La Pera, a refresher of prosecco swirled with ginger and pear liqueurs.
Less than $30
Savoring a single small plate at Taberna del Alabardero is an affordable luxury, like buying a key chain at Tiffany. The majestic Spanish restaurant recently introduced a new tapas menu, and among the 20 or so pick-me-ups are two fat piquillo peppers stuffed with hot seafood mousse and displayed on a pool of squid ink ($13.50). The red-on-black tableau is dramatic; the pepper’s slight bite is countered by the subtle sweetness of the filling, its creaminess punctuated by a tender shrimp. Enjoy the treat at the marble bar, with a glass of albarino ($12) or a blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon ($9.75). Psst: Visit during happy hour, weekdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and the same plate goes for half the cost.
An only-in-Washington view of the National Archives from a cozy corner of 701 is part of the pleasure of this Penn Quarter destination. Knowing that you’re paying a mere $29.95 for dinner when you select the pre-theater menu — any night of the week — sweetens the deal. The attractions include pink slices of raw Arctic char and shredded cabbage moistened with miso-cider broth; crisp-skinned duck fanned over date puree; glassy-topped creme brulee garnished with autumnal fruit, plus live music Thursdays through Saturdays.