The Cafe at State

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Cafe at State

Grade: C

On my first visit, nearly a dozen representatives of the State Department, GSA and vendor I.L. Creations guided me through the cafeteria, showing off the nutrition panels, the healthful selection of snacks, a roast turkey that looked as pretty as a magazine cover at Thanksgiving and beautiful prepared salads, such as a nutty wheatberry salad dotted with artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes. Much to my guides' dismay, I insisted on skipping the buffet they had laid out for me and chose my own food off the regular line. (Though after nearly igniting World War III, I still was unable to persuade them to take my money.) Still, I was eating what everyone else was eating. And from the al dente grilled asparagus (40 cents per ounce) to the salmon-avocado sushi ($7.30), it was terrific.

The second visit, when I came back anonymously, was a totally different experience. Nutrition facts were posted on only one-third of the salad offerings, many of which, like the gluey carrot-raisin-walnut mix, looked as if they had escaped from a salad bar sponsored by Miracle Whip. The roast beef at the carving bar certainly would not have qualified as a cover shot for Bon Appetit. My companion thought the Louisiana gumbo looked like "vomit in a chafing dish." We did not try it.

What we did eat was . . . fine. The sushi was still good. A chicken quesadilla ($4.95) topped with processed, shredded cheese, bell peppers and jalapeƱos was bland but would have made decent late-night grub. Fusilli pasta in roasted pepper sauce with eggplant ($6.99) technically was made to order (precooked pasta was tossed with sauce and vegetables), but it tasted as if it had come out of a reheat-in-the-microwave bag. The accompanying garlic bread had the texture of Styrofoam. State is capable of getting top marks. It gets a gentleman's C for just not trying.

-- Jane Black

C Street and Constitution Avenue. Hours: Weekdays 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guests must have an escort and security clearance.

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