U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Roundhouse Cafe

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Roundhouse Cafe

Grade: C

There is such promise in the expanse of tasteful decor, comfy banquettes and spacious food stations in the round! Too bad the food falls short overall at this relatively new and bright government office complex off Duke Street in Alexandria. Posters and pocket guides hammer home the message of healthful eating, but no nutritional analysis is displayed for what's being served. Having tasted several lunchtime dishes, I'm guessing the sodium levels would have been too frightful to see.

General Tso's good name was dragged down to the level of squishy, gloppy, salty pieces of chicken ($5.89). Someone had the good sense not to call the noodle bowl a "pho" ($5.99), even though its wannabe ingredients included a too-sweet broth with too much cinnamon and star anise, plus rice noodles, basil, red onion, bean sprouts, jalapeƱo slices and thin slices of beef or chicken with hoisin sauce on the side. Pizza ($3.29 per slice), a popular choice at many tables, had a solid seal of congealed cheese and stale-tasting crust by the time I passed through the utensil carousels. (Multi-purpose spoons? C'mon.) A duo of flour (!) tostadas with poor squiggles of cumin shrimp and dry black beans, shredded cabbage and corn was missing any true Mexican flair ($6.99).

On the upside, the sushi looked good, and a Japanese sushimaker was on hand. The international station did Persian ancestry proud with marinated grilled chicken kebab, rice, a tomato-cucumber salad and a yogurt sauce for dipping two flimsy triangles of pita bread ($7.49). My tablemates, who work at the National Inventors Hall of Fame, said the pasta station that appears on other days makes a satisfying warm pasta salad with chicken.

And did I mention how pleasant the sitting area was?

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

600 Dulany St., Alexandria, 703-535-3104. Hours: weekdays, breakfast 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Open to the public.

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