THE TEXANS are squaring off in Bethesda. Rio Grande Cafe (a branch of Uncle Julio's in Dallas, itself an offspring of Papacito's in Houston) opened there last month, and Tila's (cloned from a Houston restaurant of the same name) is opening this month.
Rio Grande Cafe, in the old Luigi's site at 4919 Fairmont Ave., is a Tex-Mex restaurant, or what manager John Meute calls "border style," with a heavy emphasis on grilling over mesquite from Texas. Fajitas are its specialty, but Meute also touts the grilled quail and grilled shrimp stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese and jalapenos. The main difference between this and the Dallas branch, he says, is that in Texas there is "a lot of parking."
Tila's, above the Friendship Heights Metro station, will serve what kitchen manager Lloyd Hartsfield calls "freestyle Latin American" cooking. He further defines it as "Latin American evolved with Oriental influences," and wants it clear that the food will have "the same amount of heat" as Tila's in Houston. Furthermore, it will have chef Clive DuVal (whose father is a Virginia state senator) commuting between the two restaurants. Parking? Valet, at least in the evening, and in nearby garages and lots.
POPCORN PROPAGANDA --
Cineplex Odeon cinemas are talking more of butter than the Dairy Council is these days; they're spending as much ad space bragging about the "real butter" on their popcorn as about the Dolby sound. So, is it really revolutionary to serve butter on movie popcorn?
Circle Theaters also use butter, but it has been pasteurized in such a way that it needs only cool temperatures, not refrigeration. Circle spokesman Freeman Fisher says this processed butter showed best in taste tests and that normal butter tastes heavier. Cineplex Odeon sniffs that this processed butter is inferior to its fresh-frozen butter. KB Theaters use no butter; they found that it got rancid, a spokesperson explained, so they chose some other kind of oil. Cineplex Odeon's butter is kept frozen until being melted for the popcorn, which is served in leakproof bags and priced about the same as at other area theaters (except its 85-ounce "regular" size is $2 to Circle Theaters' $2.25).
Which leaves me with two questions: Why don't theaters give discounts for buying popcorn plain, just as gas stations give discounts for cash and self-service? And when will Cineplex Odeon do something really brag- worthy and start opening cafes in its D.C.-area theaters? In Toronto, its theaters serve homemade soups and baked goods, hot cider, 14 kinds of tea, cheese platters, sandwiches and expresso.
SKIP THE POPCORN --
If you forgo popcorn altogether for a few movie visits, you will have saved enough money to splurge on Chocolate Truffle Butter. It contains no butter at all but is made of chocolate and hazelnuts whipped into the smoothest, ooziest, richest spread that ever hit a warmed croissant. Chocolate Truffle Butter costs $8.95 a jar at Schoofs, a Belgian chocolate shop next to the new Dupont Circle Theaters. It has branches at Georgetown Park II, at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, and at 1433 G St. NW, but it would be risky to expect your Chocolate Truffle Butter from those locations to last until you got to the nearest theater.