"MOOD INDIGO" was playing on the tape, and outside the sky was stormy. But inside Crepe a` la Carte (1304 18th St. NW, just below Massachusetts Avenue), fluffy white clouds floated across a painted blue ceiling, underneath which white marble table tops glowed.
Crepe a` la Carte is a tiny Victorian French oasis on a gray day. And on sunny days its outdoor tables are even more welcoming. It has just a few tables and a carryout counter, but in this tiny space a very French crew cooks enormous crepes in front of your eyes, and fills them with a choice of 10 savory combinations (including spinach and mushrooms, ham, cheese, chicken fricassee, seafood Newburg or Provencal, ratatouille) or 13 sweets (preserves, lemon, maple syrup, honey-pecan, fruits, ice cream, chocolate mousse and the like).
They also bake quiches and fashion such Gallic sandwiches as croque monsieurs, French sausages, pa~te's and a grilled French hot dog with Dijon mustard on a toasted baguette. At breakfast there are croissants and egg-cheese crepes; at lunch or for carryout dinner there are soups, salads and French pastries, and sometimes fresh unsweetened lemonade.
A lot is crammed into a tiny space; Crepe a` la Carte offers so much variety that you could sample something different each workday lunch for a month, then start returning for your favorites. And while the seafood crepe wouldn't be a threat to the city's expense-account restaurants, I particularly liked the spinach-mushroom; either would make a satisfying, homey lunch for under $5.
FRESH FISH is not always quite that, particularly when it has sat in a boat for five days before being shipped to a wholesaler, then to a restaurant. So Clyde's fresh Alaskan halibut festival is indeed something to celebrate. This halibut can only be caught within one or two 24-hour periods a year. Clyde's then immediately flies in its own supply.
Clyde's catch will arrive this Friday or Saturday at the latest (but call to make sure). It will be served at Clyde's restaurants (Clyde's of Georgetown, Columbia and Tysons Corner; the Old Ebbitt Grill, F. Scott's, the Tombs and 1789) until the supply runs out. When Clyde's had the last halibut catch, in May, it sold out 3,600 pounds in four days.
The restaurants will prepare it several different ways. I can't imagine any being better than the plain grilled version I had in May at the Old Ebbitt Grill, where the grill smoke and squeeze of lemon just accented this pure, mild, rich-fleshed fish, and where the accompanying tomato vinaigrette and steamed asparagus were light, fresh contrasts.
I thought I'd want to follow with nothing, just to hold onto the taste of that pearly white fish. But I was captured by the Old Ebbitt Grill's strawberry shortcake, a classic version with a sensational light and flaky sugar-crusted biscuit.
EVERY LITTLE bit helps -- or hurts, depending on which side you're on. At the Ritz, the new multi-floor disco at 919 E St. NW, they charge $1 for a glass of water in the top-floor Freezone bar. And that's after a $10 cover. Asked why they charge for what most bars give free, a spokesperson said that the dollar goes to the bartender, to make up for the fact that patrons on that floor don't tend to tip.
There must be a fairer solution than that. In the meantime, patrons might try ordering their scotch with water and ask for the water on the side (or to carry that further, a pina colada with water on the side), or to remember, if they tip, that they deserve a free glass of water.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.