"DO YOU LIKE THAT COFFEE?" asks the proprietor of Pan Lourdes, a new Salvadoran bakery on 18th Street just below Columbia Road.
"It's Colombian. Is it too acid?" And all this for free coffee. He also offers tastes of the pastries and urges you to tell him which you like and whether they are too sweet. Many of these little Salvadoran desserts are named for dishes we usually consider savory: empanåadas, quesadillas, menudo.
I liked the quesadilla, a thin flat spongey cake topped with a faint glaze and sesame seeds. It was both sweet and salty, since it has parmesan cheese in it. And the custard-filled empanåada was homey and pleasant, with a powdery dough that tasted as if it were made of cornstarch, as are some of the barely sweet, thick, rough cookies. There are also breads and rolls, covered tartlets of apple and pineapple -- with a crumbly dough that tastes like rice flour -- and spongey cake rounds filled with strawberry jam.
The pastries aren't great, but they are rustic and homey and pleasant, some very sweet and others hardly at all. And if you can judge by the steady stream of patrons, obviously they strike some Salvadoran heartstring.
SOFTSHELL WATCH --
In Indiana the daily news keeps you informed about hog prices. In D.C. we're much more concerned about softshell crab prices, so I'll try to keep you current here. The best value I've found this month is at the Fishery in I Street's Metro Market. It's $3.95 for a softshell sandwich to eat there or carry out, and the softshell is a jumbo, fresh and cooked (just right) to order, then stuffed into a seeded soft roll with the claws hanging out like a turtle in its shell. The Fishery also has sushi now, and that, too, is a good value: $2.25 for two pieces of good fresh yellowtail, eel or other fancy varieties of sushi fish.
FLORIANA & HER TWO RESTAURANTS --
For several years Chevy Chase insiders have been enjoying Floriana, a little Wisconsin Avenue Italian restaurant that has quietly built a following. Now Floriana has branched out into a more visible presence with its Tavola Calda across the street at 4907 Wisconsin.
A bright delicatessen with an archway framing the kitchen, Floriana's Tavola Calda sells homemade pastas -- crab-stuffed and spinach-stuffed, for example -- and such tomato sauces as clam or crab, as well as the more commonplace meat, from its refrigerator and freezer. Ready to eat are pasta dishes such as stuffed shells and lasagne, as well as eggplant parmesan and cold accompaniments: mixed vegetable, rice, green bean and fruit salads.
The salamis are particularly impressive; there are mild and spicy ones that are the specialties of various regions of Italy, and they are made into sandwiches with such racy names as Maserati and Ferrari, on good crusty stark-white Italian bread. Floriana's Tavola Calda has just opened, and needs to settle into an efficient system; in the meantime, the Italian charm of the staff carries it through its growing pains.