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‘Dine-Around’ Alexandria

Six restaurants hosted 150 participants in a Taste of Old Town.

Welcome to The Taste of Old Town — a “culinary dine-around.”

Some 150 adventurous souls spent their Sunday afternoon experiencing six of Alexandria’s diverse restaurants. “The whole point of a dine-around is to allow people to try the food at a variety of restaurants that most of them have never been to,” said Charlie Adler, president of Taste DC Dining Society. “We have everyone register at one central location and go out in groups of about 25 to tour the restaurants.

“We try to select restaurants that are diverse – we wouldn’t have three Thai or three Mexican restaurants, for example. Also, we look for a variety of foods. This one’s a little heavy on the meat, but there’s still something for everyone.

“The restaurants don’t really make any money, but they get the publicity, and many people who participate in one of these dine-arounds come back to the restaurant for a meal later,” Adler said.

SUNDAY’S DINE-AROUND began at Las Tapas, where diners enjoyed shrimp wrapped in Serrano ham and empanadas stuffed with ground beef and chicken. Drinks were not included in the $35 price of the tour.

“We usually host wine tastings, but we make it clear that this is just food,” Adler said. “We are a for-profit company, and we need to make money to stay in business.”

From Las Tapas, the group moved to Café Salsa to sample ham and cheese croquettes, papas rellena de carne (potatoes stuffed with seasoned meat), and red onions served with criolla sauce. John Ocampo is the bartender at Café Salsa and introduced several game members of the group to the house specialty, a mojito.

“It’s our most popular drink,” Ocampo said. “It’s made with rum, sour mix, lime juice and sugar cane,” he said.

Raeshel, one of the members of the dining group, appreciated the drink. “I’ve never done anything like this before, but the food is good and interesting,” she said. “I’ll come back to the restaurants again.”

From Café Salsa, it was on to fine French cuisine at Bistro Lafayette to sample beef bourguignon cooked in a red wine sauce with mushrooms and bacon served over rice, and salmon filet served with sorrel sauce. Judy, from Annapolis, and Virginia, from Rockville, were very impressed with the food.

“I’ve been to some of Taste DC’s other events but never to a dine-around,” Judy said. “This is a great way to spend the day. My husband and I sometimes bike to Old Town, and we will definitely come back to try these restaurants again.”

Virginia agreed. “I don’t get down here very often, but I’m going to come back with my husband for our next date night,” she said.

THE THAI FOOD at Masaya Thai Restaurant was a departure from the other offerings. Owner Tsida “Vikki” Porn prepared a feast for her guests. She served Larb Gai (cooked minced chicken mixed with lime juice, dry chili powder, red onion, cilantro and scallions); Yum Talay (seafood combination of black Tiger shrimp, scallops, mussels and squid steamed and mixed with spicy lime dressing sauce with red onion and carrot); Pad Thai (thin rice noodles and mixed vegetables stir-fried with fresh bean sprouts, scallions, soft bean curd and crushed roasted peanuts).

“I decided to participate in the dine-around because I want people to know that we are here and that we serve only the healthiest Thai food,” Porn said. “We have drunken noodles that are made from green beans instead of rice, and we make a very healthy Thai mayonnaise. We’ve been open a year and want people to come and try our food.”

Finally, the last stop on the epicurean tour was Founder’s Restaurant and Brewing Co. It served flank steak marinated in beer and balsamic vinaigrette, grilled Atlantic salmon with habanero pepper and honey glazed served over rice pilaf, and hot crab and artichoke dip.

“If the weather hadn’t been so hard to predict, we would have had many more people,” Adler said. “But this turned out very well, and we will definitely be back to Old Town again.”

Taste DC sponsors two to three events a week. The only way to find out about what they’re doing is on their Web site or by e-mail. For more information, go to www.tastedc.com.