Sure to Satisfy a Kiwi Sweet Tooth
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008
At first (or last) glance: Some foodies might say that the test of a good restaurant is not what comes at the main course, but rather, what comes before it. The bread, they say, is a good indication of what is to come.
For me, it's the opposite. It's what comes at the end of the meal (the desserts and coffee) that is the true test of a good restaurant.
With that in mind, Cassatt's, "a Kiwi cafe" in Arlington with its own in-house pastry chef, Dawn Lahr, is a pleaser. From the lemon tart to the apple and pine nut torte, there is a treat for every type of sweet tooth. The pavlova is especially tasty, so light that it practically melts in your mouth.
Another plus for Cassatt's post-entree experience is the coffee. How many times have I ordered coffee at the end of a nice dinner only to get the warm dregs left over (no doubt) from the lunch rush. (And don't get me started about asking for a cup of decaf!) At Cassatt's, the coffee is such a priority that it's really a coffee shop first, bistro second. The coffee ranges from cappuccinos to a simple cup of joe. It's all good and hot. If you really want to be in the know, order the "flat white." Served in New Zealand, the Cassatt's specialty is a twist on your standard latte.
Art Hauptman, a policy analyst, opened Cassatt's after spending eight months in New Zealand. Casual diners might not notice any overt Kiwi style, but Cassatt's has a nice dining atmosphere, with local art for sale on the walls and low candles on the table.
At your service: Your server might forget a couple of things (your water or your wine), but remember: This is a local joint -- no sommeliers here. The employees, however, are very nice and do their best to accommodate you, whether you show up on a busy Saturday night or six minutes before closing on a Monday. They aim to please and they do -- as does their food.
On the menu: The food at Cassatt's is not about delicate, sophisticated dishes. Rather, expect filling but classier versions of meat-and-potato plates, such as confit pork belly in sage and lemon sauce (good and moist) or the hanger steak in an onion and cranberry sauce, a special that comes with a heap of mashed potatoes.
Then there's the classic meatloaf, which is anything but the classic dish your mom used to make with ketchup and ground chuck in a loaf pan. This meatloaf includes a veal demi-glace and caramelized onions and is actually good.
Cassatt's burger is another twist on a standard. It comes with a fried egg on top. (In New Zealand it also comes with beets on it, but Hauptman thankfully bent tradition here.)
What to avoid: Stick with the salads over the soups as starters. The salads are fresh and light, while the soups are less appetizing. (The bean soup was served warm and overloaded with bacon.)
Wet your whistle: With an inexpensive wine list, by the glass or the bottle, you won't feel like you're breaking the bank. The beer selection, like the food, goes beyond the norm, and Cassatt's offers ales, a porter, Pilsner and a lager, from smaller (tastier) breweries.
Bottom line: Being in suburbia across from a convenience store, Cassatt's might not ever be considered a hip place. But if you come on Saturday nights, you can catch really good music with your meal. The music includes jazz, blues and acoustic guitars and is a perfect addition to the cafe. On these nights, Cassatt's feels like a great date night for mom and dad, leaving the teenagers at home.