Relic: Bethesda's Hidden Treasure
The popular dance club also offers happy hour and great food.
Serving as memorials to something past, most relics are hidden away in museum vaults or lie untouched in glass cases. Thus, the name Relic is apropos for the year-old restaurant on Fairmont Avenue that remains a hidden treasure in our midst--except to those who go out dancing after 10 pm. After dinner is served, Relic staff push back the walnut dining tables and pump up the volume.
But if you'd rather dine than dance, you're still going to enjoy an evening spent at Relic. The décor is eclectic. Bar stools are made from real bridle saddles. Moose antler chandeliers adorn the walls. You might choose to relax on a low-slung, velvet couch perched along the wall, or alight on a comfy cowhide ottoman. The tables are made from polished wooden tree trunks. Enormous portraits of Henry XIII and Anne Boleyn stare irreverently from behind the bar. There's a back room with a fireplace, perfect for a special event. A few seating clusters are enveloped in sheer drapes, making them just right for romance.
The best time to sample Relic is happy hour, when they roll back their already reasonable prices, and offer dynamic drink and food specials. I recommend experimenting with their "Have it Your Way" wood-fired burgers that you can customize with toppings--tiny onion rings, 10 different gourmet cheeses, homemade sauces and veggies including roasted red peppers, brandy sautéed mushrooms or smoked jalapenos just to name a few. You can design a multi-course dinner from the happy hour menu alone. Three dollars buys you a hearty order of frog legs, sliders, crispy calamari or crab dip. For only $2, try the crusty rustic bread appetizer with options like goat cheese and honey or tomato and prosciutto. The wine and martini's are $5; beers are $3. Two regular entrees come with a pitcher of sangria.
Happy hour extends from 5 – 8 pm, and the lovely servers are happy to make recommendations. They'll check back regularly in case you want to add to your order. But don't be alarmed by the sparseness of the crowd; it is not a reflection of the quality of the food. As I mentioned before, it's just because Relic isn't on the radar of many folks older than 35.
Despite the low-key atmosphere of early evening, groups of savvy customers do gather there to chat, eat and drink. The gracious owner, Jesse, hails from Morocco, but his menu features modern American cuisine. He's built a refrigerated chamber below the restaurant where he takes marbleized, prime cuts of beef and ages them for six weeks before using them in his burgers or steaks. He employs Tibetan salt crystals to absorb fat from the meats and enhance flavor. Jesse took me on a tour of the process from start to finish, and it's comparable to the process used by upscale steak restaurants like Capital Grill.
I ate there in the early evening on a Friday night, and the acoustics were ideal for relaxed conversation. Groupings felt intimate and comfortable. Then, I brought my parents, kids and husband on a Tuesday night, and we all ordered the Have it Your Way burger. Not one was the same, but all were simply delicious. You can add fries for $3, but I recommend ordering the veggie tower—layers of baked eggplant, spinach and mushroom—for a delightfully different side dish. The small plates are perfect for sharing, but Relic's salads are popular too.
I haven't checked out the dancing yet, but if I can stay up late enough some night, I will report back. In the meantime, I would feel bad enjoying all that great food and not letting you in on this secret. So, next time you're meeting friends, romancing your date, or even dining with your mother, try Relic. You'll feel you've discovered a hidden treasure.