Bistro menu, neighborly vibe
By Julia Beizer
Friday, May 14, 2010
At a glance: There's a sparkle in the air on an average Friday night at Cedar Crossing Tavern in Takoma, D.C. A steady hum of conversation bubbles up in the cozy 50-seat space as neighbors gab about topics from local politics to basketball scores.
Ravi Kukadia and his uncle, Sarbjit Kochhar, opened the bistro in November. In January, the pair brought on Cliff Schleifer, a chef who has cooked locally at Evening Star Cafe, Kinkead's, Persimmon and Poste Moderne Brasserie. The tiny kitchen in the back has only a griddle and an oven -- no gas stove -- but Schleifer has managed to create a satisfying menu of small plates that pair deliciously with wine.
On the menu: Many diners here start by sharing a cheese or charcuterie spread. The available cheeses change often, but expect Humboldt Fog goat cheese and Roaring Forties Blue to make regular appearances on the board. The five selections are served with raisin-walnut bread, fruit and nuts. On the charcuterie platter, cured meats are artfully arranged with rustic bread and a long sprig of rosemary.
Schleifer changes the menu often -- three times last week!-- to take advantage of different ingredients and try new things. Last month, a salad of fennel and baby arugula with a bright, lemony dressing perfectly captured the budding spring. Shavings of sharp Parmesan added bite, while folds of rich prosciutto (optional) delivered a salty sweetness. My thoughts turned to summer as I sipped a cold melon soup. The chef uses chive oil and ginger to contrast with the sweet flavor of the fruit.
The six-ounce burger is one of the menu's constants and one of the more filling entrees. Schleifer's version of the American classic is topped with a fontina cheese fondue and a tomato-onion coulis. Another standard on the menu is paprika chicken: Juicy meat that has been brined before cooking is wrapped in a chewy, warm pita. When the sweet and tender short ribs are on the menu, they're not to be missed.
At your service: Because of its size, the restaurant fills up quickly at dinnertime, and there isn't a good place to stand while waiting for a table. Expect to feel as if you're in the way. The tableside service can feel a little frazzled during the dinner rush, but it's adequate and friendly. Service at the bar is especially warm.
What to avoid: I've found fewer misses on the menu since Schleifer settled in. Desserts have always felt lackluster and pre-packaged, but Schleifer tells me he's now making more of them in-house. It's a short menu, and, vegetarians, there isn't much for you on it besides bruschetta and salad.
Wet your whistle: Drinking is as much of the experience here as eating. Kukadia estimates there are about 80 selections on his wine list, about two dozen of which are available by the glass. The suds lineup here is also top-notch. The bar sells Belgian beers, including Delirium Tremens and Brigand, on tap. A group can share the "Beer Roulette" special, in which patrons get six bottles of assorted microbrews for $20. The restaurant also offers cocktails, soda and juice.
Bottom line: This is a quintessential neighborhood restaurant. If you can snag a seat, Cedar Crossing Tavern is a great place to share some nibbles and sips with a small group of friends