Critic rating
(Good)
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Neighborhood: Cleveland Park
Cuisine: American
Price: $$ ($15-$24)
Sound check: 71 decibels (Must speak with raised voice)
Basil lends intrigue to a slice of carrot torte (with walnuts, Stilton and carrot bacon) at New Heights.
Our Review

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 20, 2012

Then: Less formality, more finesse (2009)
Again: The beat goes on

For a restaurant to stay relevant, a fresh coat of paint helps. So does a change of kitchen talent. New Heights is 26 years old, but even a regular patron doesn't sense the passage of time, given the autumnal brush strokes on its walls and the arrival of Ron Tanaka, the opening chef at Cork Wine Bar, in October.

Owners Umbi and Kavita Singh have a history of hiring skilled hands, and Tanaka, who has also stirred at CityZen and Palena, follows the pattern. His current menu is a breeze to read, but the short list includes something for food lovers and tourists who ascend to the second-story dining room overlooking a spread of treetops.

I count a sea of seviches out there. Tanaka tucks sweet raw scallops, cool cucumber and pomegranate seeds in a squat Mason jar, adds a beet-red plantain chip, and garnishes the plate with paprika-tossed popcorn. The combination of the dewy scallops, fresh lime juice and fine crunch makes for a joyous sensation. Cumin-bolstered lentil soup is perked up with crumbled bacon and minced vegetables on its golden yellow surface. Even a salad of braised endive and radicchio tastes novel. Credit goes to its sumac vinaigrette and sugared walnuts.

It's not all finery. There's steak in the lineup, because when you have two major hotels within walking distance, you need something familiar for visitors. The only flaw on a plate of flank steak, rosy and racy with rosemary and garlic, is a beige puddle of parsnip puree reminiscent of winter rather than spring. Those who like to fish should order sauteed rockfish, bedded on nutty wild rice and dappled with an herb puree as well as a delicate corn sauce.

Expect a twist everywhere. Basil lends intrigue to a slice of carrot torte, and churros come scented with saffron. Signaling the end of dinner may be lollipops made with gin, a reminder that the bar downstairs, stashed with 50 kinds of the spirit, is a swell place to wet your whistle.

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