Big Band sound is enjoying a resurgence these days, and rightly so: Too many airwaves are filled with garble that's hard to decipher and sounds that hurt the ears. Not so at the new Bread Oven at Federal Triangle, where the 16-piece Washington Jazz Battalion takes up residence on Friday and Saturday nights.
Led by 25-year-old trombonist Bob Israel, the band includes several of Washington's finest musicians: for example, baritone saxophonist Charlie Young, a member of the Navy jazz ensemble "The Commodores," and drummer Tony Sweet, who drummed with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. An amazingly tight group, they know how to play to an audience with such classics as Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000"; the Tommy Dorsey theme "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and Count Basie's "April in Paris," "Quincy and the Count," "Wind Machine" and "Who's Sorry Now." But the seven-year-old "modern-day swing band" also likes to throw in new material by Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Count Basie, according to Israel, who started the band after graduating from Walt Whitman High School in 1975.
The orchestra attracts a mix of people of all ages and colors. They flood the small dance floor, making it look more like a family wedding than a downtown French restaurant.
The newest of four in town, this Bread Oven has been opened for less than four months, yet its staff appears to still have opening-night jitters: the food is good, but the service needs some work. On a recent weekend night, the maitre d' desperately tried to find a reservation made earlier in the afternoon. After much confusion, some negotiation and a little more waiting, he was able to offer a table off the dance floor and within reasonable distance of the band.
The waiter, overloaded by a large crowd that surprised the management, ran frantically from table to table only remembering parts of orders -- the stuff waiters' nightmares are made of.
Manager Allan Goss said he has increased the staff and ironed out the service problems. Goss, a Parisian who has spent the last nine years owning or operating some of Washington's more notable French restaurants, says there is smoother sailing ahead for the Bread Oven.
The dining room, which occupies a sizable portion of a new glass-and-steel semi- skyscraper, can seat as many as 180 patrons. From the room's wooden beams hang an assortment of bread baskets; the orchestra sits on a platform above most of the dining room, which is sectioned off in tiers tiled in country-kitchen patterns.
There's a $3 cover per person added to the check when the Washington Jazz Battalion plays and a one-drink minimum unless dinner is ordered. To entice package- oriented diners, $9.95 brings a generous cup of French onion soup topped with plenty of melted cheese, coq au vin Bourgogne and vegetables du jour, dessert and includes cover. There's an extensive menu of mussels, lamb, chicken, beef and fish for those who want to test the chef. The wine list, bound like a family album and just as thick, offers an international selection at reasonable prices. House wines are $6.25 for a carafe or $1.75 by the glass.
THE BREAD OVEN -- 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,at Federal Triangle. Call 737-7772. The Washington Jazz Battalion plays 8 to 12, Friday to Saturday through November; Saturdays only in December.