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Court Jester

Brightwood Park--food

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Colorado Kitchen American

New Southern

 

5515 Colorado Ave., NW

Washington, DC

(202) 545-8280

Open for breakfast Tuesday through Friday, Friday lunch, Saturday and Sunday brunch, dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

 

 

It's not often that I come across a restaurant that seems so honest, so personal, and so well realized that I want for it to succeed and for other people to like it as much as I do. Colorado Kitchen in DC's Brightwood Park neighborhood is one of those. It's a treasure for a part of town that has few sit-down restaurants.

It's a very attractive place--a storefront space cheerfully decorated with a black-and-white checkerboard floor and bright-red vinyl upholstery. The chef's collection of whimsical salt and pepper shakers is on the tables, and the walls are hung with vintage advertising.

 

Through the pass-throughs into the kitchen, customers can see chef Gillian Clark, co-owner with Robin Smith, at work. Clark has worked in some of the area's best kitchens, including the Morrison-Clark Inn and Cashion's Eat Place, but is probably best known from her time as chef at the Evening Star Cafe. Clark's cooking owes a debt to the South, but her menu is not limited by it.

 

That menu is divided into sections called Firsts, Small Food, and Big Food. Firsts include a soup of the day (one day a lovely leek-and-potato soup), carefully made salads, and an interesting onion toast served with a relish of citrus fruit spiced with garlic and jalapenos.

 

Small Plates--which can serve either as an appetizer or, with a soup or salad, as a small meal--include a tasty "napoleon" of layered Virginia ham and Gruyere, cooked until the cheese is toasted on the edges. A gratin of pearl onions is delicately sweet under a blanket of cheese and bread crumbs. Probably the best of all is veal cheeks, slowly cooked to fork tenderness in a flavorful sauce of sherry and shiitake mushrooms.

 

To call Clark's main courses "home cooking" might give the impression that they're less carefully prepared than they are. A pork chop, marinated in brandy and brown sugar, is cooked to perfect juiciness and served with delicious spaetzle and braised cabbage. Salmon, seared to a beautiful crustiness, remains moist and is nicely accompanied by mushrooms, potatoes, and batons of pancetta. Meatloaf is a homey treat. Roasted lemon-sage chicken is juicy and flavorful. Shrimp and scallops are crisply fried and served with a tangy house-made tartar sauce. Most of the main courses are priced between $9.50 and $15. Children's plates of many dishes are available for $4.95.

 

There are a couple of drawbacks. First, there's no alcohol--a glass of wine would be great with that pork chop. Second, service is uneven--not negligent, but vascillating between friendly and helpful at times and indifferent at others. At a restaurant with so much going for it, the staff should be as welcoming as the decor.

 

Colorado Kitchen, 5515 Colorado Ave., NW; 202-545-8280. Open for breakfast Tuesday through Friday, Friday lunch, Saturday and Sunday brunch, dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

 

— Thomas Head

February 2002

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