Dining Capsules

Restaurants previously reviewed by Eve Zibart:

LAST MANGO (654 Center Point Way in the Kentlands Market Square, Gaithersburg; 240-243-0550) -- For all its exotic decor and pirates of the Caribbean menu descriptions, this is really just a big ol' friendly family hangout, not too spicy, just across from the multiplex and open late to boot -- which may be one reason the sandwiches and piles 'o fries are large enough to share. Ribs are generous and well-done but not terribly flavorful; the pork loin and the various seafoods (including a pan-fried snapper and frequent oyster specials) are good bets; and the risotto cake is an unusually good version. Entrees $7.85-$23.95.

MEDITERRANEAN CAFE (4629 41st St. NW; 202-3621006) -- If your commute to Tenleytown is getting a little routine, drop into this fuschia and purple flower box of a deli and take a break. The meats are familiar (chicken, beef and lamb kebabs, shawarma in pita, good kafta), but the vegetarian dishes here, especially the fava bean foul, the baba ghanouj and the fennel seed-spiced felafel are fine. Even the pot-crusted rice is worth ordering, meat or no. And Thursday night's belly dancing performance is a real lift. Entrees $9.95-$14.95. Not wheelchair accessible.

FINN & PORTER (5000 Seminary Rd. in the Mark Center), Alexandria; 703-379-2346) --

For a place whose name bellows big beef and bass, this is a surprisingly modest and well-mannered restaurant with a commendably broad but moderately-priced wine list. Steaks are generous but not gigantic, the fish is flown in daily and generally they are all treated with simple respect, although the kitchen has a nervous tendency to overcook and oversalt. And unlike many restaurants that dangle sushi as bait, F&P's bar and adjoining shellfish bar are worth a visit (and stay open all day). Entrees $14-$29.

PETE'S DINER (212 Second St. SE; 202-544-7335. Metro: Capitol South) -- Even inside the Beltway, it can be hard to remember that Capitol Hill is a people's address as much as a power address; but breakfast or lunch at Pete's not only brings you back home (waffles, country fried steak, mac 'n' cheese, home fries) at a price your mom could love -- nothing tops the $6 mark -- but thanks to owner Gum Tong, reminds you just how great the melting pot really is. Try the Asian veggie special, a soy-ful heart healthy dream, and you may not even miss those fries. Entrees $5.45-$5.95. Not wheelchair accessible.

CASTLE COMMONS (1000 Jefferson Dr. SW in the Smithsonian Institution Building; 202-371-1083. Metro: Smithsonian) -- It's a dream of a backdrop, and with gentle string music to match, but cold reality can set in at the buffet. The food is pretty good when the spirit lamps are burning high, but it's still best to stick to the dishes that don't need to be hot: carved roast, cured salmon, fruit and salads and the array of desserts and cheeses. The seafood chowder with corn muffins and the chicken and dumplings are in covered pots, so they're a fair bet. Once things warm up, either outside or in, try out the roasted veggies, the poached eggs with crab and hollandaise, and the orange-marinated French toast. The first cocktail is included. All-you-can-eat buffet $32.95, under 12 $16.

ATHENIAN PLAKA (7833 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-1337. Metro: Bethesda) -- In the bad old days, when dishes from Greece were as often dinners of grease as of grace, the crisp-roasted rockfish and the custard-light pastichio here would have seemed like myths. However, since its purchase by the brothers Kotsatos, the Plaka's food has gained in almost every way except weight: The casseroles are lighter, the lamb slow-roasted and tender (or grilled to order), the giant favas are succulent and the melitzano very nearly the mousse the menu calls it. The feta-and-spinach-stuffed shrimp Santorini have become an Atkins cult fave, and the orange peel-flavored loukaniko sausage should be, too. Entrees $12-$18.

BLUE POINT GRILL (600 Franklin St., Alexandria; 703-739-0404) -- This popular neighborhood raw bar-cum-bistro is so nearly a success that it's tempting to forgive its missteps, especially as many of them have to do with seasoning, while the cooking technique, especially those having to do with fish (pepito-crusted salmon, monkfish "osso buco," pan-seared hallibut, butter-poached scallops) is solid. Even the roast chicken is happily hearty. Stick to the simpler dishes, therefore, and you'll be happy. For a grin, try the bouncy shrimp mousse-stuffed spring roll, and the greaseless and crisp calamari may restore your faith in the dish. Entrees $19-$28.

RAINBOW (312 E. Diamond Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-947-0099) -- Even if you abandoned the blackened fish craze back in Paul Prudhomme's era, this personable West African mom-and-pop-and-friends kitchen (in Old Town Gaithersburg, no less) might reconvert you with its crisp and spicy, though not salty, pan-fried tilapia. The simmered okra base that is the apparent background but real star of various stews has its own chili staying power, though the jerk chicken is modest compared to trendier lip-chapping wings; and the spinach-egussi saute, condensed to a sort of duxelle, is real soul food. (Who needs cheesy spinach dip?) Injera fans note: The fermented-cornmeal banku is the sop of which dreams are made. Entrees $6.95-$9.95.

BANGKOK JOE'S (3000 K St. NW in Washington Harbour; 202-333-4422) -- Under Whitehurst Freeway is still Un-hip, but this smart and cineplex-friendly dumpling bar does its best to bend the trend. Sake and ginger vodka martinis, exotic decor and a baker's dozen choices of dumplings and rolls top the upscaled (i.e., "foie gras and shrimp") pan-Asian menu, with yum seafood and green curry noodle bowls toward the center weight and coriander duck and five spice lamb at the heavy end. Other good bets: mushroom and ginger dumplings, samosa-like duck wontons over shiitake salad, eggplant and bean sauce rice bowls, spicy grilled beef salad, and crispy veggie spring rolls like breadsticks. Dumplings $5.25-$8.95; entrees $9.95-$24.95.

SAKE CLUB (2635 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-322-2711. Metro: Woodley Park) -- If looks could chill, this new-Tokyo style sippery would be the coolest lounge in town. And it may be anyway, with sushi that's alternatingly biting (the vampire roll of spicy tuna con tuna), buttery (seared toro and yellowtail), bling-bling (flecked with gold) and -- where it counts, as with the well-tempered rice -- solidly basic. For heartier nibbling, try the chicken heart skewers, the pan-seared pork tenderloin, gobo and salmon skin rolls or break out of the protein rut with one of the many vegetarian sushi options. But remember: chic sake doesn't come cheap. A la carte sushi $4-$15, entrees $14-$40.

DANTE (1148 Walker Rd., Great Falls; 703-759-3131) -- With a generally meaty menu but a light touch that extends to the pappardalle, chef Guiseppe DiBenigno takes full advantage of natural flavors and skips the frills. Darker dishes -- rabbit legs, lean and not-too-gamy boar chops and spicy duck ragu -- show him at his best. The doughs testify to his sense of balance, and it's no small thing to say the scaloppine is tender (or that the seafoods are carefully monitored) ; but the finishing touches (trimming, seasoning, siding) sometimes get short shrift, suggesting a shortage of manpower rather than of imagination. Entrees $21-$32.

IRISH INN AT GLEN ECHO (MacArthur Boulveard at Tulane Avenue, Glen Echo: 301-229-6600) -- A fine back of the hand to fatty and floury "theme pubs" that give Irish stew a bad name, this beautifully renovated old favorite now offers Irish-inflected fare -- pan-roasted salmon with corned beef-stuffed cabbage roll, whiskey smoked salmon, lamb shank with root vegetables -- that don't need a schtick to lean on. In fact, as if to defy the heavy-food stereotype to the utmost, the kitchen dispenses with most of the fat and flour, sometimes going so lean it could use a little extra liquid to help wash it down -- Guinness on tap, of course. Even the reuben sandwich could make the diet cut. Entrees $20-$24.

COEUR DE LION (926 Massachusetts Ave. NW in the Henley Park Hotel; 202-638-5200. Metro: Mount Vernon) -- This romantics' hideaway, like a castle's wine cellar, is also a happily theatrical dining escape with a modernized hunt-country sensibility and an aristocratic wine list to match. Among good bets are swordfish, honey-glazed quail, roast pheasant, and an immaculately fresh rack of lamb with a light mustard coating. The first-rate terrine de fois gras, and the veal en croute it stars in, are two of the best dishes on the menu. The only drawback is a tendency to over-sweet sauces, prettily reduced and macerated fruits that go a little too far to the medieval taste. Entrees $18-$30. Not wheelchair accessible.

HUNTER'S HEAD TAVERN (9048 John Mosby Hwy/Route 50, Upperville, Va.; 540-592-9020) -- Once you realize that nearly everything on this menu, including side dishes and appetizers and definitely desserts, are big enough for a meal, you can lean back and play into the neo-colonial atmosphere. Most of the meats are organic, and the real flavor of the steak will remind you of what those big-name chophouses have sacrificed for size. The pate is chewy and the cheeses rich; the bean soup senatorial, the bangers discreet and the beef stew (and yes, mac 'n' cheese) homesick-making. And you don't have to wait till spring for perfect asparagus. Entrees $12.95-$21.95

NEISHA THAI (4445 Wisconsin Ave., NW: 202-966-7088) -- This fantasy of a Thai cave, complete with faux rock veining, stalagmites and waterfall, is as cheery and fresh, if not quite as bold, as its Virginia siblings. Still, if you can urge your servers to accentuate the seasoning, regardless of the supposed chili-pod rating, you'll be particularly happy with the quality of the fish and seafood. (Wait till the soft-shell crabs are fresh, then go hog wild.) Turning up the heat on the duck would make for crisper skin; on the other hand, gentler handling of the marinated pork and beef dishes might keep them from going a little tough. And while fat rice noodles are real comfort food, some of the cellophane-noodle dishes, such as the "Thai-style sukiyaki," are simply curiosities. Entrees $6.95-$14.95.

TAIPEI TOKYO ( 14921-D Shady Grove Rd. in the Fallsgrove Village Center; 301-738-8813) -- While this third TT covers a lot of Asian culinary territory -- Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Malay and Korean -- it doesn't get terribly far with any. The problem is mostly one-recipe-fits-all, and the various apparently commercial dipping sauces don't help a whole lot; but the ingredients are fresh and carefully tended. The sushi here is better than at a lot of the other pan-Asian places, thanks to correctly prepared rice, but this is best considered a family- or mixed-group destination, with a little something for everyone and nothing especially challenging for any. Entrees $7-$16; a la carte sushi $4-$11.

EL GUAJIRO (8650 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-565-4985. Metro: Silver Spring) -- If this were any more homestyle (or any snugger), you really would be in the kitchen. This plain and unpretentious Cuban storefront is not only authentically suburban -- the name is roughly the equivalent of "paisano" -- it comes as a relief after the bustle and hullabaloo of all the franchised eateries across in City Place. And it's as much food for the money as any. Best bets include the chicharonnes de pollo, chicken so crisp Colonel Sanders would weep; picadillo, a sort of non-sweet sloppy Joe; ropa vieja, beef stewed until it collapses like "old clothes"; cubano sandwiches; and black beans and rice you can actually taste. $6.95-$9.99. Not wheelchair accessible.

ASIA BISTRO (1301 S. Joyce St. in the Pentagon Row shopping center; 703-. Metro: Pentagon City) -- The menu does lip service to the Pan-Asian concept (Korean-lite short ribs, Thai drunken noodles, Vietnamese lemongrass beef), but the Japanese fare, particularly the sushi, is this sleek little shoebox's strong suit, and its most ambitious in terms of choice, rising above its otherwise modest outlook. Even the special rolls are of above average. Of the other choices, the tempura and the two salmon entrees are the best; but you can do a lot with the happy hour nibblies of edamame, California roll, grilled chicken, etc. Entrees $10-$27; a la carte $3.50-$12.

THE NIBBLER (18556 Woodfield Rd./Route 124 in the 124 Plaza, Gaithersburg; 301-417-0233) -- German-born chef-owner Manfred Ochs and his Filipino wife, Rowena, fell in love with Latino fare when he was a hotel chef in Panama, so it's no surprise that this seemingly casual Peruvian restaurant comes close to making haute cuisine out of such homey favorites as aji de gallina (chicken stew), chupa de camarrones (shrimp bisque), ropa vieja (shredded brisket) and carapulce (a peanut-flavored pork and chicken stew). Fried calamari and yucca are crisp delights, and the lomo de saltado (flank steak), steak sandwich, grilled fish or nightly continental specials will lure even the tamale-challenged. Entrees $10.95-$16.95. Not wheelchair accessible.

THE JEFFERSON (1200 16th St. NW in the Jefferson Hotel; 202-833-6206) -- Perhaps because of the hotel's traditional style, chef Andrew Saba is plating a far more conservative menu than might have been expected, but glimmers of his technique make you pray for another rebellion: Dover sole dressed with fried parsley and pine nuts; decadently unctuous veal cheeks; Arctic char with mushrooms and gnocchi; and foie gras over matchstick beets with squash puree and fleur de sel. Entrees $25-$37.

ROY'S (720-B Aliceanna St., Baltimore; 410-659-0099) -- It's flowery, it's fusiony, it's a little too fussy, but when on-site chef Damon Morrison focuses his energies, his recipes seem fresher than the Roy Yamaguchi standards that fill out the menu. Avoid the cliched raw-chili powder blackened tuna and look instead for (the menu changes daily) the relatively simple dishes: fish with fresh salsas; crab cakes; "bento boxes" of mixed appetizers; smoked rather than fried rolls; and rooty eel-shiitake ravioli. Entrees $18-$27; three-course prix fixe $30.

SAVEUR (2218 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-5885) -- The understudy for a hot spot, just waiting for the big break, and perhaps a bolder, project-to-the-peanut gallery seasoning style: ingratiating staff, nice wine list and a rotating palette of mini-meal-size indulgences. Good bets include bric pastry tuna spring roll, braised veal cheeks, venison carpaccio and such old-fashioned charcuterie treats as house-made pates, frog legs and escargots. Entrees $16-$26. Not wheelchair accessible.

SORRISO (3578 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-537-4800. Metro: Cleveland Park) -- The wood-fired brick oven pizza is the most visible calling card and a quick, no-reservation bar fave, but the unusually delicate layered-crepe lasagna, the equally light eggplant parmigiana and the osso buco over polenta are the reasons for returning. The saltimbocca is draped rather than laden with prosciutto, and though the tuna carpaccio can be icy, the quality of the seafood is high. Pizzas $9-$14, entrees $12-$19.

LEWNES' (Severn Avenue at Fourth Street, Eastport Annapolis; 410-263-1617) -- In the assembly-line world of big-name big-beef, Lewnes' is your father's Oldsmobile, the steakhouse even Sunday grillers would bow to. Dark-woody, white-lineny and generous in the family-service style, Lewnes' serves up expense-account portions but concentrates on the bottom line: dry-aged porterhouse, strip, rib-eye, prime rib, and veal and lamb chops cooked exactly to order, under broilers hot enough to sear the surface and render the fat, which is what gives it that old-fashioned flavor. Worthy of denting your appetite is the pristine lump crabmeat cocktail (the crab cakes aren't bad, either), clams casino and sides of asparagus and onion-spiced sauteed spinach. Entrees $16.95-$32-95.

VERMILION (1120 King St., Alexandria; 703-684-9669) -- Despite the boldness of the name, redlining it is not Vermilion's style. The kitchen does best when it holds back a bit: feta- and spinach-stuffed lamb with sun-dried tomato and potato gratin; mini-risotto cakes with fontina and spicy tomato sauce; unfussy crab cakes; pork tenderloin with sweet potato fries; pan-seared scallops with red pepper coulis and potato croqette. Vermilion also treats bar regulars with unusual respect. At $7, the plate of four "shredded pork sliders," not-so-mini barbecue buns, is a steal, and considering the quality, the $9 crab cakes are, too. Entrees $15-$26.

CAFE PROMENADE (1127 Connecticut Ave. NW in the Mayflower Hotel; 202-347-2233. Metro: Farragut North, Farragut West or Dupont Circle) -- Looking for the in-laws' or out-of-towners' summer special? Look no further. While longtime chef "Tino" Buggio can soothe a nostalgic weeknight palate with such continental classics as Muscovy duck and Guinea hen with Savoy cabbage (and lure a smaller appetite with lamb chop lollipops and foie gras), the Friday night seafood buffet is a magnet for protein addicts: clams, oysters, shrimp, antipasto and green salads, grilled, baked and sauteed fish, crab cakes, tenderloin of beef and a surprisingly good gargantuan paella for $39. And low-cal/low-carb, if you avert your eyes from the desserts. Entrees $15.95-$25; Friday buffet $39 adults, $19.50 11 and under.