2005 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Clocks on the wall announce the time in five different cities, and black-and-white photographs of pilots expand on the flight theme in this snug dining room, inspired by author-aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Chef Barton Seaver gives a neat twist or two to such standards as roast chicken, laced here with pistachio butter, and rib-eye steak, paired with sweet-potato fries. Ordering bruschetta brings a clumsy heap of tuna and white bean puree on bread, and potato gnocchi lands dull and heavy. But my raves outnumber my rants. Beets, oranges and goat cheese add up to a fine salad, while grilled tuna sits on a creamy bed of risotto made interesting with cauliflower and black olive oil, and dessert includes an elegant goat cheese cake lightened with honey. There's more: patio seating in good weather and a cozy lounge, dubbed Gate 54, downstairs. And it's all an easy stroll from the Studio Theatre in Logan Circle.
The Scene: Inspired by bars in Paris' Latin Quarter, Cafe Saint-Ex combines a neighborhood bistro with a cozy, basement-level DJ bar. The main bar and dining areas has a long, antique wooden bar, and the yellowed walls are covered with aviation memorabilia, including the propeller from a World War I-era plane. Seats at the bar -- including a few prime people-watching seats in the front window -- are hard to come by at prime times. Downstairs, the low-ceilinged, hanger-like Gate 54 Lounge offers DJs every night of the week, spinning funk, rock, soul, jazz, country, punk -- there's no format and most DJs only play once a month, making each trip an adventure.
In Your Glass: Saint-Ex features a decent (if sometimes overly pricey) list of imported bottled beers and six draft lines. Stella Artois and Delirum Tremens are fixtures, while the others seem to rotate every few months. Note that some bottles are only available upstairs. The drink of choice is Viking, an Iceland beer which Saint-Ex's owner imports to this country. A dozen wines are offered by the glass.
Need to Know: On weekends, limited seating and a narrow room mean that getting to Gate 54's small bar can be an ordeal after 9 p.m. You may not want to meet a group of friends here for late-night dancing, because there simply isn't room to breathe, let alone sip a beer. Also, when the basement hits capacity -- and it does, thanks to a steady stream of twentysomethings looking for a place to party -- crowds can snake through the dining room, past the bar, making everything that much more congested.
Nice to Know: Gate 54 has hosted official and unofficial afterparties for artists playing at the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, including the Arcade Fire, Jens Lekman, Dizzee Rascal and Arab Strap. If you're lucky, the artists themselves with spin a few songs.
Price Points: Beers are in the $5-6 range, as are mixed drinks. There's never a cover charge to see DJs.
-- Fritz Hahn (Updated December 2011)