$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

1331: The Right Address
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008

At first glance: The 1331 Bar & Lounge, an L-shaped executive-club-style hideaway in the downtown J.W. Marriott, is sleek and low-lit, with high-def flat-screens lined up behind the bar and along the back wall. You can dine (or plug in a laptop) at cocktail or tall bar tables, sink into leather fireside armchairs or spread out in booths as the space segues from lounge to dining room. The larger TVs in the back are tuned to news or sports but are not too loud; the background music is classic R&B/Top 40.

On the menu: The menu of small plates, light entrees and desserts, all available until 11, makes this a great pre- or post-theater stop for the downtown venues. The impressively layered club sandwich and fries, Caesar salad, bacon-cheeseburger and eggs and bacon are available from 11 until closing. (Even better, although the tasty panini-like Reuben is no longer on the 1331 menu, it is still made for the Avenue Grill across the lobby. Waitresses let it slip that you can get it after hours, too.) Through the November election, Tuesday night specials include $9 slider platters (usually $12) and plates of spicy Asian "left wings" or honey barbecued "right wings" for $6.

At your service: The room sometimes seems short-staffed, with the same waiters serving both the bar area and the dining room. Though very pleasant and usually attentive, they can get distracted. (Some bring bowls of peanuts with cocktails; others forget.) The servers from other countries wear name tags that list their home towns, a Disney World-style detail that adds to the feel of an airport terminal lounge. But as this is definitely a place where making friendly contact is worthwhile -- witness the tip about the Reuben -- international travel might be a conversation starter.

On the table: Among the best dishes is the pair of delicately seared diver sea scallops wrapped in pancetta and flanking a mound of silken cauliflower puree. The lamb chops -- three well-trimmed, coarse-pepper-crusted lollipops with nicely cleaned bones -- come with a small serving of the kitchen's admirable shoestring fries. Chef Devon Capili spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, and the spring rolls -- long, crisp cigars surrounded by Vietnamese-style fried rice crackers -- are a good first-round bet. The butternut squash bisque with little bay scallops is first-rate and unexpectedly filling. The sauteed baby shrimp are plentiful and not too garlicky. Beef satay isn't the usual marinated strips, but tasty two-bite morsels of steak skewered after grilling, topped with a purportedly (but barely) tamarind-flavored brown sauce and served over a veggie stir-fry.

The restaurant has clambered, albeit belatedly, onto the slider bandwagon with trios of mini-burgers, grilled chicken, seared tuna with wasabi mayo, a mildly tangy pork barbecue and an uncommon grilled salmon with melted dill havarti. Sliders don't come with fries, but you can order a side of them.

What to avoid: Don't take a crowd; except for one tall drinks table, where six or eight can elbow in, seating is best for two or four. The restrooms by the bar are not equipped for wheelchair use; the accessible bathrooms are up or down a floor, but the elevators are nearby.

Wet your whistle: The bar has a moderately broad liquor selection. The wine list is above average, with a fair variety by the glass; there are about 10 beers on draft and two dozen in bottles.