THE SAD restaurant news of this season is the closing of Dar Es Salam, which was as near as Washington got to an appropriate setting for Scheherazade. Owner Michel Sellier, who inspired a generation of restaurateurs with his Cafe de Paris and La Serre, has never fully recovered from an auto accident he was in last year, so he is retiring from the restaurant business. He leaves behind recollections of some of this city's most memorable meals. In the '70s he brought new glory to the french fry and the French sandwich at the Cafe de Paris, then he served baskets of raw vegetables with aioli in the glorious garden of La Serre. Finally, with Dar Es Salam he went to extraordinary efforts to get the Moroccan decor and the food right.
Michel Sellier is going sailing. Maybe someday he'll return with some inspirations for galley cooking.
A VERY promising restaurant marriage is occurring this season: John Lenchner, much admired as chef of McPherson Grill, is taking over the Iron Gate Inn. He left McPherson Grill in December, and plans to be at the Iron Gate by late February. His inventive American cooking will concentrate on the rustic, much like Olives restaurant in Boston, Lenchner says. And at last that lovely old vine-covered building, with its walled garden, can be expected to serve food worthy of its architectural charm.
HERE'S AN idea for local environmentalists: The trade magazine Nation's Restaurant News reports that a chain of Los Angeles Chinese restaurants has begun recycling chopsticks. They are washed and accumulated in large garbage bags, not for reuse as eating utensils, but as kindling. The chopsticks are donated to a firewood retailer for him to give out free to customers. At 30,000 pairs of chopsticks a month, they add up to a lot of free heat.
RESTAURANT promoters are not known for their modesty, but Duck Heaven, a new Chinese restaurant in Adams-Morgan, has taken boasting to new heights. Its flyers call Duck Heaven "the best and newest Hunan, Szechuan and Peking Cuisine in town." It could probably do a brisk business just with all the other Hunan, Szechuan and Peking chefs who feel challenged to test this claim.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.