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The New Black's

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page W37

** Black Market Bistro
4600 Waverly Ave. (near Kenilworth Avenue),
Garrett Park. 301-933-3000
Open: for lunch Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; for brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; for light fare Tuesday through Friday 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 9:30 p.m., Sunday 5 to 8 p.m. Closed Monday. All major credit cards. No reservations. No smoking. Parking lot. Prices: appetizers $3 to $9; lunch entrees $7 to $14; dinner entrees $8 to $22. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $50 per person.

The meal was just what I was looking for after fighting rush-hour traffic: flank steak and buttery whipped potatoes, the rosy beef slathered with a garlicky green herb sauce and crowned with lacy onion rings. That and a glass of shiraz were as soothing as a bedtime story.

_____Tom Sietsema_____
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The small dining room where I was sitting was a true comfort zone, even if my friends and I did have to wait 20 minutes for a table on a weeknight. Old-fashioned light fixtures, buffed wood floors, a counter set with fresh cookies -- Black Market Bistro looks as if Restoration Hardware and Mayberry's Aunt Bee had put their heads together to come up with a cozy space for supper.

Halfway into my entree, though, the sides of the building shivered, and what sounded like the Polar Express overtook the hum of conversation. Strangers looked at one another in confusion; regulars to the restaurant merely smiled in recognition. Another freight train was rumbling by, over tracks just yards from the restaurant's front door.

The train quickly passed. Diners returned to their food and "So, you were saying . . ."

This vignette is brought to Garrett Park by restaurateurs Jeff and Barbara Black. If their names aren't familiar, their other dining rooms should be. The husband and wife made Rockville a better place to eat with Addie's, which offers a bungalow setting and imaginative American cooking, and made Bethesda a more appealing

destination with the seafood-themed Black's Bar and Kitchen. Black Market Bistro opened in this leafy residential neighborhood in September, but it is not the couple's youngest business: Yet another tribute to the family name -- Black Salt -- set sail on MacArthur Boulevard in Northwest Washington last month.

To get to the best of Black Market Bistro, you have to know how to navigate the menu, which means tiptoeing through the appetizers. This is not to fault the steamed mussels, zesty with lemon grass and red chilies, or whatever soup happens to be on the burner, maybe a puree of carrot and ginger tweaked with red onion. But there aren't more than a handful of first courses to choose from, and they tend to be less compelling than what follows. Thinking of sharing a pizza to start? Reconsider. The crusts are pallid and indifferent; too bad, because the toppings are interesting.

Among entrees, seafood provides the most tempting lure, which should come as no surprise, given chef Allison Krzyminski's three-year stint at Black's Bar and Kitchen. (She has also worked, as a cook and a pastry chef, at Addie's.) Cod is everywhere this season, and Krzyminski does the fish proud, paving it with airy herbed bread crumbs and cooking it so that the cod practically melts on the tongue. Warm spinach gives the dish some color, and a light sauce of lemon and capers provides a nice kick. A jazzier choice is finely seared salmon served with fluffy, saffron-perfumed couscous, plus a yogurt sauce and a tomato-cucumber salad made crunchy with bits of toasted whole-wheat pita (baked in-house, by the way). Barbecued shrimp, sweet and tender, yields another winner, its Southern accent echoed in tasty grits.

Sandwiches show up at brunch and dinner as well as lunch, and they're good company, particularly the one fattened with golden fried chicken. It's a disappointment, then, to order the "hardwood grilled herb mustard marinated chicken breast" entree at a subsequent dinner and get a small lump of what might as well be sawdust in the center of your plate. Thank goodness for the mustard greens and crisp layered potato cake that completed the meal.

Vegetarians will not be happy to see their choices limited to a single entree, and then to see that it is a heapin' helpin'

of everything the kitchen made that day that doesn't include meat. I relish those onion rings. And I admire those lump-free mashed potatoes and the fresh wilted spinach as well. Pile a dozen starches and greens on a plate, however, and it looks like a crowded buffet. This kitchen can

do better.

The bistro's wine list is small, yet it looks far and wide -- to Italy, Spain and Australia -- for inspiration. Among the reds, I'm partial to the 2002 Greg Norman Estates shiraz ($36), redolent of plums and blackberries, and the 2003 malbec ($18), with its pronounced vanilla aromas, from Luis Felipe Edwards in Chile. Half of the 23 labels are offered by the glass. Sweet.

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