Ray's The Steaks
Ray's is awesome, and it's no secret. Washingtonian named it 43rd in the Top 100 Restaurants in 2008, a letdown from #38 in 2007. The place is known for being reservation-free, which often leaves hungry diners waiting for hours (literally), with only two sparse benches outside to do that waiting. That's why I recommend going early, possibly choosing a weeknight, and avoiding cold or rainy days.
Ray's is by no means any of the following things: softly-lit, quiet, romantic, relaxing, luxurious, pampering. But the food is reliably excellent, the service is prompt, and the prices are extremely reasonable. Thus, it draws a crowd.
On Sundays, Ray's has what they call A Place At The Table--patrons can choose from $25, $30, or $35 options (there are a handful of entrees for each price), and each meal comes with choices for a starter and dessert. A portion of the proceeds go to a different local charity every week.
The French onion soup was just sweet enough without being like candy, and I appreciated the portion-size--after all, it's a starter. it was just the right size. It didn't have the typical layer of sorta melted rubbery cheese on top, thank goodness, and it did have a large happy crouton.
I don't even eat steak, so anyone who knows me would question Ray's as a birthday destination. But Ray's makes the best piece of salmon on Earth. Or at least in Arlington! The blackened salmon is super hot all over, fluffy and moist on the inside, and CRISPY on the outside. CRISPY as in when you put in your fork or bite down you hear a ::CRUNCH::. Oh, it is so good.
Those old reliables, creamed spinach and mashed potatoes, still come in cast iron shareable sides, but I tried to ignore them in a failed effort to save room for dessert.
The dark chocolate mousse with strawberries and fresh whipped cream was so good that I almost wished I'd left some salmon on my plate so I could actually enjoy more mousse. Almost. The mousse has such a great consistency there, it was cold and really thick--if you had a flimsy plastic spoon, it would definitely bend and possibly snap. I can spot a bad mousse a mile away, when it's sort of like chocolate whipped cream, you know? And this was no such mousse!
Ray's the Steaks
1725 Wilson Blvd
Metro: Court House; there is a parking lot, but it is often full--some street parking is around the Rosslyn/CH area, though