Editors' pick

Pavilion Cafe -- National Gallery of Art

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

The Mall occupies a significant piece of Washington real estate that's heavily traveled by both tourists and locals.

But finding a place to eat appealing food in a pretty setting there has often been a challenge. In recent years, some of the neighborhood museum cafeterias and cafes -- notably the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian -- have turned that problem around. Now the Pavilion Cafe at the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden has joined that list. (All three are run by Restaurant Associates, an upmarket food service that caters to museums and performing arts venues as well as restaurants).

Visitors to the glassed-in pavilion can look out over the central pool (an ice rink in season) and enjoy a spectacular vista while they sample the cafe's fall and winter menu. Sandwiches (here dubbed panini) are made on a variety of pleasantly chewy breads, and served with vegetable chips or a balsamic vegetable salad. We liked the sandwiches more than the wraps, and particularly enjoyed the roast beef and havarti cheese panini ($8.25). A vegetarian panini suffered from out-of-season tomatoes. Salads were fresh and ample, and the salmon Caesar ($8.95) with a good-sized chunk of salmon was a pleasant surprise.

There are also daily hot entrees, soups, individual specialty pizzas and desserts.

The National Gallery of Art's Pavilion Cafe can be accessed from Seventh or Ninth Streets NW, both from Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive. At night, access is restricted to the Ninth Street entrance. No table service.

-- Judith Weinraub (January 11, 2006)