"THERE SHE BLOWS!" at Moby Dick in Bethesda doesn't refer to a whale, but to the pita bread. It puffs up like a miniature white whale when it is pulled out of the oven, then flattens into something more closely resembling the pita we know from the supermarket. But it is bigger, thinner, paler and much better.
Moby Dick, at 7027 Wisconsin Ave., is actually a Persian cafe and carryout, and while its kebabs don't have enough character for me to suggest you make a special trip, the bread-making does. The baker kneads and shapes the dough in full view of the customers, and slips it into a tile-faced clay oven, which turns it into a big white puff blistered with brown.
The staff suggest you wait a half-hour or so before you eat it, and they are right. It develops a wonderful wheaty flavor as it cools and rests.
The bread comes with the kebabs and vegetarian sandwiches, or you can buy it alone at 25 cents apiece. It will spoil you for the factory-made pita.
IN THESE RISKY days, restaurants are cutting prices, adding amenities, modernizing menus, upgrading quality -- anything they can think of to stay in business. And some are diversifying. Still, I don't think it was a sign of the times, the one I saw on Route 60 towards Williamsburg, Va.: "Providence Forge Exxon -- Try Our Fried Chicken."
What is a sign of the times is waffle and pancake houses. Like pasta, waffles and pancakes allow a lot of variation to suit a wide range of tastes, and a lot of markup over the cost of the ingredients. In Williamsburg I spotted at least a dozen waffle and pancake houses, including the grandiose Belgian Waffle Buffet and Food Hall of Fame.
I NEVER THOUGHT I'd see the day when the lavish and luxurious Sutton Place Gourmet would sell bologna and cheese sandwiches. But maybe anything can be called "gourmet" if the price is right. Sutton Place is also selling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (with natural peanut butter and "award-winning jams") and spaghetti and meatballs as part of its "Sutton Place Kids" program to start children early to appreciate boutique grocery shopping. Homemade chicken alphabet soup does win my approval, but I think it is going a little far to use prime beef in a chili taco filling or to wrap hot dogs in puff pastry (where do you put the mustard?).
As an alternative, the store is making its own hamburger and hot dog rolls, as well as animal-shaped breads. And the produce department is selling carrot and celery sticks. We were all tired of kiwis anyway.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.