Pentagon Dining Room

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pentagon Dining Room

Grade: C

Like air travel, breaking bread at the Pentagon Dining Room involves standing in line, showing identification and sending bags through metal detectors. I'm also required to share my Social Security number and stand still for a photograph before a contractor can escort me to Room 2B121, directly above the Pentagon's this-could-be-anywhere-in-America food court.

Introduced in December and run by the National and State Park Concession, the formal 220-seat venue has the air of a mid-tier hotel restaurant. Near the host lectern is a small waiting area with a shiny black player piano. A spray of faux flowers brightens the center of a room that's already cheerful in soft shades of yellow. White-jacketed servers appear to be attending (or not; the service is s-l-o-w) as many suits as uniforms.

The vichyssoise ($4.50 per cup) is cool with cream and subtly sweet with leeks, just the sort of respectable French starter you'd expect from an executive chef who once worked at the late La Colline on Capitol Hill. Roger Wiles also turns out a satisfying crab cake ($14), crisp with a coat of Japanese bread crumbs and jazzed up on its plate with a colorful slaw. An appetizer of seared tuna ($8.50), on the other hand, is best for its nest of seaweed kissed with sesame oil; the slices of fish are a snooze. Oven-roasted halibut ($16) shoots blanks, too. Where is its promised (if politically incorrect) "Oriental Scent"? Lamb ($14) is sliced so thinly over its (dry) bed of greens, it's hard to identify the meat, and Kraft trumps the kitchen's wan macaroni and cheese ($4.50 for a side dish).

Cool detail: The menu includes calorie, fat and other counts for most dishes.

Veteran local chef Gerard Pangaud helped launch the Pentagon Dining Room. (He left in April.) Glimmers of his influence can be tasted in the restaurant's fruit desserts, foremost a caramelized pineapple tart ($6.95) that sings with ginger and vanilla.

-- Tom Sietsema

The Pentagon, Room 2B121, 703-892-0436. Hours: weekdays 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Must be escorted by security-credentialed Pentagon staff members or contractors.

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