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Places To Eat In Capitol Hill


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#1 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:40 AM

Aatish Asian
Indian
Pakistani

609 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 544-0931
Open for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner until 10 Sunday through Thursday, until 10:30 Friday and Saturday.


Patrons of Capitol Hill restaurants tend to live or work in the neighborhood, but the number of restaurants that might lead Washingtonians to make a special trip to the Hill is increasing. La Colline, Robert Greault's fine French restaurant, has long been among these. B. Smith's in Union Station offers a updated menu of Southern favorites in a elegant setting. The Monocle, with its dependably good American cooking, remains the most popular stop for those who want to catch a glance of Washington's political celebrities. Enzo Fargione has brought a new standard of Italian cooking to the Hill with Barolo. There also is an increasing number of fine, inexpensive ethnic restaurants, including the Turkish Anatolia at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, Southeast, and in the same block, Aatish, a Pakistani restaurant that holds its own with the area's best.
Even though Aatish calls itself Pakistani, there's not much on the menu to distinguish it from other restaurants that call themselves Indian. In fact, fans of Haandi in Falls Church or Bethesda will find that much of the menu looks familiar--the owner spent more than seven years working there.

The name Aatish means volcano, an appropriate name for a restaurant specializing in tandoori cooking--meats, seafood, vegetables, and breads cooked in the intense heat of a clay oven. Even though tandoori cooking has its origin in the northwest part of the subcontinent, it is now almost universal in Indian and Pakistani restaurants. With the exception of Udupi Palace in Langley Park and a couple of other Indian vegetarian restaurants, menus of area Indian restaurants are more alike than they are different.

What distinguishes Aatish from the competition is not that its food is distinctive but that it is cooked very well. In run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants, tandoori chicken is dry, cooked in advance and sometimes served as a part of a buffet. At Aatish, the half chicken, skinless and marinated overnight, is served direct from the tandoor--bright red, spicy, and marvelously succulent. Don't order the chicken tikka or the chicken kebab. While they might save you the trouble of cutting the chicken off the bone, they cannot compare in flavor to the bone-in bird.

Lamb is also beautifully cooked in the tandoor. The kebab is tender with good flavor, but the best lamb dishes are sauced--lamb vindaloo with potatoes in a hot curry sauce; rogan josh in yogurt with curry spices; and lamb saag in finely pureed, long-cooked spinach. Those who have eaten at Haandi will recognize lamb Karahi, a dish from the northwest frontier, done very well here--cooked in a wok with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, vegetables, and spices.

One of the glories of tandoor cookery is the bread, and any meal here should include one or more of them--white-flour nan, wheat-flour roti, onion kulcha, aloo paratha stuffed with spicy potatoes and peas, lacha paratha with a delicious buttery flavor. The basket of assorted breads will probably be too much for two people, but three can finish it off handily.

I'm more interested in the breads than in the appetizers at subcontinental restaurants, but here it's worth trying to make room for the samosa. Often a bland mixture of potatoes in a tough pastry shell, the samosa at Aatish is a revelation, flaky pastry enclosing a delicious spiced mixture of potatoes and peas.

Thomas Head
February 1999



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#2 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:41 AM

Anatolia Middle Eastern
Turkish

633 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 544-4753
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner only. Dinner served until 10. Dinner for two is about $55.


Good food, attractive surroundings, and genuine hospitality make this Turkish restaurant one of the most pleasant places for a casual meal on the House side of the Capitol. The selection of mezze, or appetizers, that usually start a Middle Eastern meal are of very high quality. Baba ghanoush is smoky with the flavor of roasted eggplant. Hummus is tart, gar######y, and fresh-tasting. Grape leaves are stuffed with rice, pine nuts, currants, and fresh mint. Roasted eggplant is topped with a tart, house-made yogurt. All are accompanied by freshly baked pita bread. You can sample them all by ordering a mezze platter for the table.
Kebabs--meat cooked on a skewer--are a big part of the menu. Try the lamb or beef yogurtlu kebab, good-quality meat served over crisp pita bread with yogurt and marinara sauce, accompanied by grilled vegetables and a delicious rice pilaf. Adana kebab, ground lamb molded around a skewer and grilled, is nicely spiced and delicious. Doner kebab--thin slices of marinated lamb formed into a loaf, roasted on a vertical rotisserie, then sliced and served with yogurt and tomato sauce over crisp pieces of pita bread--is served as a Friday-night special, which means that Fridays are Anatolia's busiest nights. Lamb shank is long-cooked, falling-off-the-bone tender, and full of flavor. Izgara köfte, grilled-lamb patties, are crisp on the outside and moist and spicy within. Chicken dishes tend to be dry and not as interesting as lamb or beef.

Anatolia, 633 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-544-4753. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#3 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:41 AM

B. Smith's American
Southern

50 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC
(202) 289-6188
Open for lunch and dinner daily. Dinner until 11 Monday through Thursday, until 12 Friday and Saturday, 9 on Sunday. Sunday brunch 11:30 to 3. Dinner for two is about $90.


The space in Union Station occupied by B. Smith's was a presidential reception room, and it is the grandest dining room on the Hill and maybe in the city. The appearance of the room is less formal than when Adirondacks occupied it after the train station was refurbished, but the real difference is in atmosphere--friendly, lively, casual, a good setting for chef James Oakley's upscale Southern cooking.
You can start with any one of a number of dressed-up, down-home favorites. What Oakley calls Florida Gulf Dip, a gratin of crabmeat, artichoke hearts, spinach, and garlic-flavored cream cheese, seems straight out of a Junior League cookbook--one of those dishes people secretly love but seldom admit to making. A bowl of spicy red beans and rice, offered as an appetizer, is delicious--and enough for a meal. The only disappointment has been fried green tomatoes, as tasteless out of season as their ripe, red counterparts.

As hard as it is to resist a dish called Swamp Thing, a mixture of seafood over greens in a mustard-based sauce, there's much else to explore on this menu. Shrimp Lafayette are fresh-tasting and nicely fried, served on a warm black-eyed-pea relish with portobello mushrooms and wilted spinach. Lemon Pepper Catfish, topped with stewed tomatoes and okra, is a treat, as are the macaroni and cheese and spicy greens that accompany it. Cajun Chicken Maque Choux was marred by soggy breading.

Homey desserts include a good peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream and a delicious chocolate Bayou Voodoo cake.

While B. Smith's Union Station location is a plus for the restaurant, the lack of valet parking is not. You can park in the Union Station parking facility, a long walk from the restaurant's door, or take the Metro.

B. Smith's, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-289-6188. Open daily for dinner, Monday through Friday for lunch, Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#4 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:42 AM

Barolo Italian

223 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 547-5011
Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.


Chef Enzo Fargione's Barolo is the most ambitious Italian restaurant on the Hill. The wood-paneled front dining room soars up two stories, and the windows provide a nice view of Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet it's a restaurant that's hard to love. A surly reception at the door is where it begins, but the problems don't end there.
On a recent visit, the best of the cold appetizers sampled was a simple, satisfying dish of asparagus and prosciutto with Taleggio cheese. Diver scallops in a crust of black pepper were served with black olives, peppers, and capers, strong-flavored garnishes that obscured the natural sweetness of the scallops. A dish of freshly seared scallops with prosciutto and green olives was much better, the saltiness of the olives and ham in nice contrast to the perfectly cooked scallops. Slices of seared tuna, served too cold, were almost tasteless, but the accompanying caponata was flavorful and well cooked.

Pasta dishes included very good agnolotti filled with ricotta and spinach in Gorgonzola sauce, but fettuccine with a ragu of venison tasted mostly of salt. Beef tenderloin--a nice piece of beef cooked as ordered--had an odd, sweet sauce of reduced balsamic vinegar and honey. Lamb was very well prepared and served with a tasty stew of artichokes, pancetta, and potatoes.

A restaurant in this price range should have more consistent cooking. Il Radicchio, Barolo's sister restaurant downstairs, is a better value.

Barolo, 223 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-547-5011. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#5 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:43 AM

Bistro Bis, George Hotel French

15 E St., NW
Washington, DC
(202) 661-2700
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Wheelchair accessible.


At Jeffrey Buben's first restaurant, Vidalia, he reinterpreted traditional recipes from the South and the Eastern seaboard using the techniques of classic French cooking. The result was a striking style that represented very good Modern American cooking. At Bis, he chose to reverse the formula: The dishes are drawn from the rich repertory of French cuisine bourgeoise and given contemporary American treatments.
Although there are a few missteps, the cooking at Bis is generally very good. Executive chef Cathal Armstrong has both a passion and a talent for charcuterie. A collection of his saucissons secs hangs from the rafters of the glass-walled wine cellar. Start a meal with a combination plate of pates, terrines, and an exquisitely buttery mousse of chicken livers, or with his signature gallantine of duck with foie gras, and you'll be impressed from the outset. For a lighter beginning, choose the splendid Brandade Provencale, a heady puree of salt cod, potatoes, and garlic that evokes memories of a summer lunch in the south of France.

The main courses that secure Bis's two-star rating include striped bass with a saffron-and-fennel bouillabaisse sauce; braised veal short ribs with aromatic vegetables; and a contemporary treatment of the classic saute of rabbit with mustard sauce. As an alternative to dessert, consider selections from Bis's impressive selection of small-production cheese, offered at a very reasonable $7.50 for three portions.

Robert Shoffner
January 2003



At Bistro Bis in the George Hotel, Jeffrey and Sallie Buben seem to have hit on the perfect formula for a Washington restaurant. The decor is modern yet comfortable. The bar scene is lively but doesn't interfere with the dining experience. Service is polished and friendly. Chef Cathal Armstrong's French-bistro cooking is both familiar and innovative. The result is a restaurant that's elegant enough to serve as a setting for Hill business, youthful enough to attract an after-work crowd, and accomplished enough to attract diners who go to restaurants for the food.
Good beginnings include a lovely plate of rabbit rillettes, snowy white against the colors of pickled spring vegetables; beautifully textured duck galantine paired with seared fresh foie gras and a tart-sweet compote of apples and cherries; and a hearty Moroccan lamb salad--rare-roasted loin of lamb with Moroccan spices, olives, artichokes, and greens.

Familiar bistro fare includes a main course of rabbit Dijonnaise, the leg and loin in a tangy mustard sauce with perfectly cooked baby vegetables. Steak frites is cooked as ordered, and the fries are thin-cut and crisp. Monkfish--an often-abused staple of New American cooking--is pan-roasted and served on a bed of Savoy cabbage, baby turnips, and braised lardons.

Pastry chef Maura Clark's desserts are lovely: an intense Lemon Opera Torte, layers of almond genoise with honey buttercream and lemon mousse; pineapple beignets, served with coriander sugar and muscat sabayon; and a dream of a pear tart, which is even dreamier if you accompany it with a glass of Belle de Brillet, a liqueur that tastes like essence of pears.

Thomas Head
August 2001



With the exception of a zinc-topped bar and a couple of framed ads for aperitifs, there is little about the setting that bespeaks a bistro. Sheathed in blond wood, its tiered dining areas descend gracefully toward an open kitchen. Bis has a grand sweep about it that befits its proximity to the corridors of power on Capitol Hill.
Although they are no longer trying as hard to reinvent traditional bistro cooking as when they opened Bis three years ago, co-owner Jeffrey Buben and executive chef Cathal Armstrong are least successful when they create dishes meant to reflect the restaurant's motto: "Classic French Cooking with an American Sensibility." A filet of near-raw salmon served over a tart shell filled with shredded braised oxtail bound in a gelatin-rich brown sauce is not a fortuitous combination; nor is grilled tuna with foie gras, a pairing that was a bad idea in France ten years ago.

What is a good idea is starting a meal at Bis with chef Armstrong's superb galantine of duck paired with a slices of seared foie gras in an apple-cherry compote. Equally good is a fantasy called "Moroccan Lamb and Merguez Salad," with incisive spicing that whets the appetite for the main course to follow. For a starter that is pure comfort, look for the splendid Brandade Provencale, a gratin of pureed salt cod, potatoes, and garlic, meant to be scooped up with slices of grilled bread glistening with olive oil.

For the main course, the simplest choices are the best: Look for such bistro classics as braised veal short ribs, rabbit with mustard sauce, duck confit, and a quite wonderful monkfish bouillabaisse. For dessert, you can't go wrong with pastry chef Maura Clark's tarte Tatin.

Robert Shoffner
January 2002

#6 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:43 AM

RESTAURANT
REVIEW



Cafe Berlin German

322 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC
(202) 543-7656
Open daily for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.


German restaurants, once a part of the trio of European cuisines that made up Washington's "foreign" food, are now almost an endangered species. The metro area has many fewer German restaurants than Thai restaurants, making a meal at Cafe Berlin seem almost like an adventure in exotic eating.
Starters include very good marinated herring, served with onions, apples, and sour cream. The limp potato pancakes were a disappointment.

Schnitzels get top billing. The Wiener schnitzel is terrific, breaded and fried to a delicious crustiness; there's also Rahm Schnitzel, with a cream-and-mushroom sauce, and Jaegerschnitzel, a sauteed pork steak with bacon and mushrooms.

Another German standby that's done well is Kassler Rippchen, smoked pork loin served with sauerkraut. Zwiebelrostbraten, a sirloin steak topped with crisp onions, was cooked to order and served with a delicious gratin of potatoes. If you're not a beer drinker, a dry German Riesling is a good accompaniment to this hearty cooking.

Cafe Berlin, 322 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-543-7656. Open daily for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#7 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:44 AM

Heart & Soul Cafe American
Southern

801 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 546-8801
Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.


Recent unannounced closings, a skimpy selection at the bar, and many unavailable menu items make one fear for the future of this Capitol Hill eatery, but service is cheerful and the Southern cooking is the real thing. Good starters include chicken wings in a mild barbecue sauce and Catfish Bites, deep-fried nuggets of fish in a cornmeal batter. Country-fried chicken is crisp and nicely seasoned. Pork ribs are doused with a spicy barbecue sauce. Each main course comes with a choice of two sides, all of which are good: rice with an unusual white gravy that tastes of green peppers; soul-satisfying black-eyed peas; a mixture of collards and cabbage; and long-cooked green beans.
Heart & Soul lives up to its name by indicating heart-healthy low- and no-fat dishes in the menu.

Thomas Head
May 2000

#8 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:44 AM

Il Radicchio Italian

223 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 547-5114
Open daily for lunch and dinner.


The branches of Chef Roberto Donna's moderately priced "spaghetteria" in Georgetown and on 17th Street have disappeared, but the Capitol Hill location is thriving. It's so busy that on a recent Monday evening it ran out of bread, but it's a good-humored kind of place, and most of the patrons seemed willing to put up with the chaos for the inexpensive and well-prepared food.
Spaghetti is at the center of the menu--$6.50 for a quart of plain spaghetti, and $1.50 to $4.50 for eight-ounce portions of sauces that range from plain tomato to shrimp-and-broccoli-rabe. The pasta is well cooked, and the sauces are tasty.

Pizzas are also very good here, thin and crisp-crusted with properly spare applications of toppings. Sandwiches, made on large rounds of house-baked bread, are filled with tasty combinations of good Italian ingredients; chicken with roasted peppers and black-olive paste is particularly good. Two people could dine well here by ordering appetizers--maybe the calamari-and-octopus salad or the asparagus salad with bresaola--and splitting a sandwich.

House specialties include a delicious vitello tonnato, slices of cold roasted veal with tuna mayonnaise. There's always roast chicken on the menu and generally another roasted-meat special--a leg of lamb, flavored with rosemary, was excellent.

Il Radicchio, 223 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-547-5114. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001




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#9 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:45 AM

La Brasserie French

239 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC
(202) 546-9154
Open Sunday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, daily for dinner.


Few places on the Hill are more pleasant for eating outdoors than the front garden at La Brasserie. Through changes of ownership (and despite rumors of naughty VIP behavior on the premises), La Brasserie has remained remarkably constant. The French-inspired restaurant does not aspire to serve haute cuisine, and while its range is limited, its execution is very good.
The cold three-pepper soup is a wonderful way to start a summer meal--each of the colors is kept separate in the bowl, and the taste of each of the peppers remains distinct. The separate elements of a feuillete of asparagus were also perfectly done--the puff pastry crisp and warm, the asparagus cooked al dente, the hollandaise rich and lemony.

A selection of savory tarts on the menu makes a satisfying lunch or light supper. In the leek-and-goat-cheese selection, the sweetness of the leeks and tanginess of the goat cheese combined beautifully in the crisp puff-pastry shell. Crabmeat-and-mozzarella lasagna, a French interpretation of an Italian idea, succeeds very well. The chef's touch is light, and the fresh, sweet crabmeat shines through.

Desserts are a treat at La Brasserie, particularly the Hot Creme Brulee aux Fruits, the berries molded into a rich custard, and the tarte Tatin with an impressive dome of pastry.

La Brasserie, 239 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-546-9154. Open Sunday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, daily for dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#10 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:46 AM

La Colline French

400 N. Capitol St., NW
Washington, DC
(202) 737-0400
Open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. Wheelchair accessible.


Although one would expect to pay top dollar at a restaurant that caters to lobbyists and lawmakers, La Colline's prices seem more like 1993 than 2003. And although Robert Greault's sprawling bistro no longer offers a dizzying list of daily specials based on the weekly market, the cooking remains a model of excellence. The menu still reflects the season but now changes by the month instead of the day. Unlisted daily specials--announced by waiters or co-owner and maître d', Paul Zucconi--can be counted on to provide the sort of pleasure that a ballottine of duck with green lentils recently did.
In the comfort of an expansive booth or seated on a banquette, it is hard to resist beginning a meal here with Greault's signature terrine of fresh duck foie gras, generously portioned and a steal at $12.50. Almost as luxurious are the fine plates of house-smoked salmon or trout. For a first course as light as it is delicious, ask for a half order of the kitchen's splendid ravioli stuffed with mixed wild mushrooms sparked by a zesty tomato sauce.

In this cold season, La Colline's regulars find comfort in a robust cassoulet or a classic choucroute garni. Less weighty but similarly satisfying are the sautes of lamb or rabbit; a classic regional specialty from Normandy, tripe stewed in cider and apple brandy; and an excellent made-to-order stew of local seafood cooked in the style of bouillabaisse.

Thomas Head
January 2003



Robert Greault, the last of the classic chefs who shaped Washington's tastes for French cuisine in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, has traded his hands-on duties in La Colline's kitchen for a consultant's role. Admired as a mentor of talented young cooks--Todd Gray of Equinox and Patrick Orange of La Chaumiere are La Colline alumni--Greault has left the day-to-day direction of his kitchen to chef de cuisine Xavier Deshayes.
The menu, formerly a long list of dishes composed daily from the seasonal market, has changed to a set menu bolstered by a list of daily specials. Like the old menu, the new one has its share of surprises: braised veal cheeks with gnocchi and a splendid dish of squid stewed in its own ink and presented in a molded ring of buttery pilaf studded with flecks of red bell pepper. Inventive garnishes add interest to familiar preparations in such dishes as sauteed calf's liver with fricasseed apples and a grilled filet of rockfish garnished with a miniature nicoise pissaladiere topped with eggplant and onion. Among opening courses, the house-smoked trout and the house-smoked salmon are superb, as is the terrine of duck foie gras. But if a gratin of crayfish is on the list of daily specials, order that. Overall, Deshayes's kitchen achieves a consistent level of technical proficiency every bit as impressive as when Robert Greault was a daily presence at the range.

Robert Shoffner
February 2001



As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, La Colline easily earns the right to be designated a Capitol Hill institution. But at Robert Greault's sprawling bistro, there is no frayed carpeting or scuffed paneling to be seen in the L-shaped dining room framed by floor-to-ceiling windows, and the kitchen continues to produce the sort of impeccable cooking unexpected in a high-volume restaurant. In the comfortable embrace of one of its booths or seated on a cushy banquette, one cannot help but admire a menu whose prices seem more like 1982 than 2002.
It is hard to resist beginning a meal here with Greault's signature terrine of fresh foie gras--a steal at $12.50 that begs to be accompanied with a glass of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, whose fine balance of fruit and acidity leavens the velvety richness of the fatted duck-liver. Or with house-smoked trout and salmon that are better than many of the top products from domestic and foreign producers. Almost equally impressive beginnings are a half order of the usually available mushroom ravioli with a splendid sauce of fresh tomatoes, and, in season, a gratin of crayfish.

Either a steak and fries or chicken breast in various guises will provide comfort among the main courses. For those who expect the kitchen to work a bit more for their money, dishes to look for on the market-driven menu are the sensational, prepared-to-order bouillabaisse; impeccable, lushly sauced sautees or fricassees of lamb or rabbit; and tripes a la mode de Caen, the classic stew of tripe in apple cider and apple brandy, which remains on the menu at the demand of stalwarts who dote on it year after year.

Thomas Head
January 2002



In the search for the hot new restaurant, it's all too easy to lose sight of the pleasures of older restaurants--places that have been around long enough to learn how to do it right just about all the time. La Colline is one of these. A favorite dining place of congressional members, lobbyists, and staff--though some Democrats reluctantly boycott the place because of a labor dispute a couple of years ago--La Colline has the kind of assured service and excellent food that make eating there a pleasure.
Chef Robert Greault's country-style pate is a good place to start, or perhaps the milder but still flavorful rabbit terrine with mushrooms. If they're offered as a special, try the mussels Provencal, broiled with garlic, parsley, butter, and a sprinkling of bread crumbs. It's one of the best mussel preparations in town. If your taste in French cooking doesn't run to tripes a la mode de Caen, cooked with Calvados, you can find a good steak frites, cooked to order, served with textbook-perfect bearnaise sauce and crisp and salty fries. Plump Lauren Bay scallops, cooked to a lovely translucence and served Provencal-style with tomatoes and garlic, were another recent lunchtime treat.

The warm gratin of raspberries makes for a luxurious, not-too-sweet ending to the meal, as does the Criollo of chocolate, a rich chocolate mousse in a dark-chocolate shell. For those after a glass of good wine to drink with a meal, another appealing thing about La Colline is the card on the table listing inexpensive, well-chosen wines available by the glass or bottle.

Thomas Head
August 2001

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:48 AM

Monocle, The American

107 D St., NE
Washington, DC
(202) 546-4488
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner.


The Valonos family has played host to senators and staff at the Monocle, the restaurant closest to the Senate side of the Capitol, for 40 years. No matter which party controls Congress, the Monocle's upstairs rooms are a favorite place for congressional fundraisers, and the restaurant has become the venue for caucuses by the Senate's women members. Staffers still call the Monocle to warn the restaurant that an important vote is coming up. The restaurant's enduring popularity is a tribute to the hospitality of a remarkable family.
Senate connection aside, the Monocle is a better restaurant than it's given credit for. The crabcakes are probably the Monocle's signature dish, in sandwich form or as a platter. Pan-fried, deep-fried, or broiled, they're well cooked, with plenty of lumps of sweet crab. The menu offers everything from burgers to steaks to fish, all top-quality ingredients cooked well. A recent offering on the dinner menu has been a whole roasted Maine lobster with Sauternes-butter sauce, a sweet, rich complement to the delicate sweetness of the crustacean.

The Monocle, 107 D St., NE; 202-546-4488. Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:49 AM

Montmartre French

327 Seventh St., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 544-1244
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Wheelchair accessible.


Little more than a year old, Montmartre is the most recent manifestation of the neighborhood-bistro boomlet that brought Lavandou to Cleveland Park and Bistrot Lepic to upper Georgetown in the early '90s and then Petits Plats to Woodley Park and Bistrot du Coin to Dupont Circle. Montmartre's young proprietors, chef Stephane Lezla and co-owner Christophe Raynal, are alumni of Lavandou and Bistrot Lepic, but the cuisine at Montmartre has been more impressive than it was during the first year at either of those establishments.
Chef Lezla's sturdy fare is well suited to the wooden tables and heavy chairs of the attractive little dining room. One starts very well with a meaty salad of curly endive tossed with batons of excellent bacon and nuggets of duck-gizzard confit, or with a bowl of mussels steamed with a touch of anise-scented Ricard, which could be a shared first course or a main course.

Among the seafood dishes on the set menu, perfectly cooked slices of monkfish glistening with an anchovy-butter sauce and served over a cooked-to-order potato gratin is recommended. When a confit of guinea-hen with Jerusalem artichokes is offered among the daily specials, don't hesitate to order it. It is almost the rival of Lezla's house signature, a sensational composition of braised legs of rabbit coated with a red-wine sauce served over fresh noodles tossed with a Parmesan-cream sauce. This is the sort of cooking that makes a two-star rating well within Stephane Lezla's grasp.

Robert Shoffner
January 2003



Chef Stephane Lezla and co-owner Christophe Raynal learned the virtues--and the economics--of working small at two neighborhood bistros, Lavandou in DC's Cleveland Park and Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown. Although the formula at their new venture on Capitol Hill is identical--a neat little dining room of fewer than 50 seats, very good cooking at fair prices, and service that is friendly and efficient--the quality of the cuisine at Montmartre has been more impressive than it was in the early days of either Lavandou or Bistrot Lepic.
One of the best ways to begin a meal here is with a salad of baby chicory tossed with batons of crisp bacon and nuggets of duck-gizzard confit. The contrast between the bacon and the gizzards is appealing, but the dish would be even better if its precious garnish of a halved, hard-boiled quail egg were replaced with the soft-poached hen's egg that traditionally tops this bistro classic.

Equally good is chef Lezla's quick saute of seasonal vegetables--a thread-thin julienne of carrots and zucchini, sliced shiitake mushrooms, tiny cuts of leafy greens, and a scattering of grape-tomato halves--which, with its last-minute splash of balsamic vinegar, evokes a cross between an Asian stir-fry and a hot salad.

Soups, whether an anemic soupe au pistou--a dice of mixed vegetables in a bowl of meek chicken stock with a bland mixture of basil and garlic that begs for more Parmesan cheese--or a slightly better cream of cauliflower, tinted with saffron and garnished with mussels, are disappointing. But not so disappointing as the menu's two charcuterie offerings, a fatty pâte maison studded with raisins, and underfatted rilletes of duck, both dulled by being served too cold.

A strapping portion of mussels, steamed with a touch of anise-scented Ricard, serves as either a light main course or a satisfying first course when shared by two. Among other seafood preparations sampled, one worth a return visit was a perfectly cooked filet of monkfish served over a thin potato cake. The slices of dark-brown potatoes sprinkled with finely minced garlic provided a delicious textural contrast to the almost gelatinous monkfish moistened with a subtle anchovy-butter sauce.

There is a neatness of presentation about Stephane Lezla's main courses, but more important, his sense of taste belies his youth. Instead of serving the thin cut of rump steak with the plate piled with fries that one would expect in a neighborhood bistro, he offers medium-rare slices of richly beefy hanger steak over crisp halves of fingerling potatoes, showered with sauteed shallots and sparely moistened with demi-glace sauce. This is meat and potatoes to savor at leisure.

Because the world is divided into people who adore calf's liver and people who don't--and the two factions often are married to each other--some menus offer the treat for those who cannot enjoy it at home. Great treatments of it are La Chaumière's classic version with mixed herbs and shallots; Bistrot Lepic's saute, deglazed with sherry vinegar and garnished with black olives; and Petits Plats' version, edged with a sweet-sour accent of raspberry vinegar. Add to that list Montmartre's entry, a combination of sauteed calf's liver with smothered onions, baby bok choy, potato puree, and a restrained balsamic-vinegar sauce. The natural sweetness of the liver is complemented by the onions and the sweet-sour of the balsamic vinegar. The puree is everything it should be but seldom is: richly buttery and the very essence of potato flavor. And rather than being briefly cooked to preserve its crunchiness, the baby bok choy has the texture of braised cabbage, a perfect match for the comfort-food theme of the plate.

Most of the main courses on Lezla's set menu are so good that, as has happened to chef Bruno Fortin at Bistrot Lepic, he may have difficulty changing it because regulars might complain about the absence of their favorite dishes.

Two daily specials sampled in December were the match of the best main courses on the regular menu. Both were examples of chef Lezla's carefully thought-out compositions, and both would have been equally impressive if served at a restaurant where the final check is twice the size. Splendidly tender venison rib chops, cooked to a medium rare, were complemented by the pleasant bitterness of braised endives, which refreshes the palate between bites of the meat and makes the young venison seem lighter than it might with another garnish, such as the classic chestnut puree.

The venison was topped by a rustic dish of guinea-hen confit, whose crisp skin and country-ham saltiness were thrown into relief by a garnish of steamed Jerusalem artichokes. This confit deserves a place on the set menu, where it would rival the sensational dish that is the house signature--braised legs of rabbit coated with a wine sauce and served over fresh noodles tossed in a Parmesan-cream sauce. With the aromatic vegetables from its braising stock, as well as a julienne of shiitake mushrooms and a few pitted black olives, the rabbit slips off its bones yet is perfectly moist. It is another of the wonderful dishes that will make you wish Montmartre were your neighborhood bistro.

Space is tight in both the kitchen and the dining room, which explains the brevity of Montmartre's wine list and dessert offerings. Still, the wines are intelligently chosen and fairly priced--the sort of wines you might encounter at a very good neighborhood bistro in Paris.

Montmartre offers a cheese course as an alternative to dessert. It suffers the same fate as the kitchen's charcuterie: Served too cold, the flavors of the cheese are dull. For a sweet course, try the Alsatian apple tart, which can be elevated by accompanying it with a glass of Saint Jean de Minervois, a lightly sweet dessert wine reminiscent of the more familiar Muscat-de-Baumes-de-Venise. Like an initial meal at Montmartre, it is a delightful discovery.

Robert Shoffner
February 2002

#13 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:50 AM

Sheridan's American
Steak

713 Eighth St., SE
Washington, DC
(202) 546-6955
Open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner.


It's a dance hall. It's a gay cowboy bar. It's a steakhouse. It's a community center with fundraisers for local charities. In two years, Sheridan's has become something of an institution for Hill residents, gay and straight. The ground floor is devoted to the bar and dance floor, with special events like Game Show Wednesday featuring Bimbo Bingo and Saturday Chaps and Hats night. Upstairs, there's a big dining room with wooden floors, brick walls, and high-backed wooden chairs.
Good appetizers include cornmeal-crusted calamari, a crisp and puffy chicken quesadilla, and--best of all on a hot summer day--chilled bloody-mary soup, a seafood gazpacho with a shot of pepper vodka.

When eating at a cowboy bar, it's best to stick to beef. Wednesday is prime-rib night. The 16-ounce King cut is priced at a bargain $20. Miss Kitty's filet mignon--best to order it "unclothed" rather than with the odd topping of Brie and Cajun candied pecans--is fine for $24. If you're not in a beef mood, the pepper-and-rosemary-crusted rack of lamb is a good alternative.

Sheridan's offers an $18.74 pretheater menu from 5:30 to 6:30 daily and all day on Thursdays. On Sundays--a.k.a. Mom's Home Cookin' night--there's a choice of kebabs, baby back ribs, or Cajun-fried catfish for $10.

Sheridan's, 713 Eighth St., SE; 202-546-6955. Open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#14 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:50 AM

Two Quail American
Modern American

320 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC
(202) 543-8030
Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.


In a time of cookie-cutter chain restaurants, Two Quail is a place with a personality of its own. Occupying three townhouses on Massachusetts Avenue, it provokes two different reactions, both unrelated to the food. Its partisans love it for its countercultural charm. Its detractors find its flea-market decor cluttered.
Like the decor, the menu is a collection of ideas pulled together from various sources of inspiration. Most of the currently popular dishes from New American cooking are represented--a Caesar salad, portobello mushrooms and organic mache, mussels, and--on the main-course side--pasta and grilled venison, beef, and duck.

There are also some unexpected delights. A grilled-tomato-and-shrimp "martini" was delightful: a martini glass filled with chopped grilled tomatoes, smoky with a bit of heat, and four grilled shrimp perched on the edge. Roasted Chipotle Cornish Hen was nicely cooked.

The best-looking selection from the dessert tray, raspberry tart, had tough, doughy pastry and a bland pastry cream. However, the food is not likely to be a deciding factor in any discussion of the restaurant's merits.

Two Quail, 320 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-543-8030. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner.

Thomas Head
August 2001

#15 Court Jester

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:51 AM

White Tiger, The Asian
Indian

301 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC
(202) 546-5900
Open daily for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch.


This dependable Indian restaurant's location on Massachusetts Avenue gives it the most spacious outdoor dining area on the Hill. The menu doesn't break new ground--it's similar to that of most other Indian restaurants in town--but there are a few unusual treats. Chaat is often served as an afternoon snack in India, the ingredients spread out in separate bowls to be selected to the individual tastes of guests. Papri Chaat, listed under salads at the White Tiger, is assembled just before being served, a combination of crisp semolina and flour chips, lentil sprouts, yogurt, herbs, and chutney. It's a lovely mix of textures and tastes. Reshmi Kabob is chicken marinated in cheese, yogurt, and cardamom to a spice-infused tenderness.
Among the lamb items, Rogan Josh, cooked in a creamy yogurt-curry sauce, is a winner. The seafood specialties include Malai Jheenga, shrimp in a fenugreek-cardamom sauce finished with cream. The menu has several very good vegetarian dishes. A splendid cauliflower preparation, Gobi Pithiwali, is topped with farmer's cheese and nuts. Black lentils simmered overnight with tomatoes and cream are luscious and rich.

Breads, one of the high points of Indian cooking, are done very well; you can sample several by ordering the Anaj Thaal combination. The buffet brunch, served from 11:30 till 2:30, is a bargain at $8.95 (it's $9.95 on weekends, with more options).

The White Tiger, 301 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-546-5900. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

Thomas Head
August 2001



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