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The Weekly Dish

Wednesday, December 8, 2004; Page F07

FASHION ALERT: "If this doesn't work out, let me know," the bartender at Tallula (2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-778-5051) says as he places an elegant tumbler of Spanish albarino before a patron at the just-opened restaurant. "There are 69 other wines by the glass on our menu."

There are also Pop Rocks riding the rim of some cocktails and corn dogs waiting on the eclectic menu in the space that used to house Whitey's. The principals behind Evening Star in Del Ray, Vermilion in Old Town Alexandria and Clarendon Grill and Clarendon Ballroom have joined forces at Tallula to see that its neighbors experience some serious fun.

The charms start with that gregarious mixologist and a smoke-free lounge, handsomely decorated with sheer curtains, low couches, flickering candles and a zinc-paved bar. And they continue in the sunnier dining room, although the stiff-backed booths could double as airline seats in economy class. Ouch.

Tallula's menu invites a diner to "Amuse Yourself" with a dozen different nibbles, priced from $1.50 to $2.50 apiece and stretching the notion of hors d'oeuvres by, oh, 10 miles. Baby burgers are sweet with onion marmalade and haute with truffle butter. A doll's serving of scallop seviche weaves lush mango with breezy mint. Oyster shooters? Check. Foie gras finger sandwiches? Ditto.

One or two of these snacks and you might skip over the appetizers and head right into main courses. Braised short ribs could use more flavor, but their base of cheddar cheese grits couldn't be more soul-satisfying. A designer pork chop is nicely accessorized with a chanterelle mushroom-laced bread pudding and apple cider sauce. Chef Nathan Anda comes to his new job with a promising résumé, having previously cooked at Equinox in Washington and Market Salamander in Middleburg.

P.S.: His corn dog -- fluffy on the outside and spicy with chorizo -- bests that of any county fair.

Entrees $15-$22.


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