Dining Capsules

Restaurants previously reviewed by Eve Zibart:

SINGAPORE BISTRO (1134 19th St. NW; 202-659-2660. Metro: Dupont Circle or Farragut North) -- The sushi chefs at this low-key Asian cafe have trained at some of the more serious Japanese restaurants in town, and it shows (particularly in the rice), although fans of its happy hour prices may not even notice. The noodle and soup dishes vary in quality, but if you can establish a serious spice preference so that the kitchen doesn't feel required to rewrite recipe history, you can find some real bargains: mee goring, the Indonesian veggie-noodle toss; seasoned and barely panko-breaded calamari (also on the happy hour menu); grilled lime chicken; and the sushi. Entrees $7.95-$11.95. Not wheelchair accessible.

HARD TIMES CAFE (1404 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-0050. Metro: King Street. Thirteen other area locations) -- This 25-year-old family-friendly local chain still serves up bargain bowls of chili -- Texas-style coarse ground, the family recipe; slightly sweet, cinnamony Cincinnati style; mushroomy veggie; and somewhat spicier, competition-style Terlingua Red -- and all the fixin's, from neutral spaghetti and cheese to potent jalapenos and chili vinegar, but nowadays it also serves up good grilled chicken, salmon and even some of those smaller, old-fashioned steaks you don't need to refinance for (not at all locations). Chili from $5.79, entrees $8.99-$10.99 (prices may vary slightly).

PASHA CAFE (3911 N. Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-528-1111) -- Easy-tempered, and with food just as easy to get along with, Pasha offers Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare that ranges from the familiar dips and purees (notably a pungent-sweet blend of roasted peppers, walnuts and pomegranate called maramar, the all-in-one hummous shawarma with lamb and chopped tomatoes and the summer cooler zucchini pureed called kosa bel zabadi) to parsley-peppery tabbouleh, lightly spiced shrimp with dry-sauteed okra, fine artichoke ravioli in sun-dried tomato sauce and citrus-marinated salmon. Don't look for spice here, indulge in texture. Entrees $7.50-$19.95.

DIVINO (7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-497-0300. Metro: Bethesda) -- Be cool, at least in the beginning: The kitchen of this Argentine steakhouse and tapas lounge takes a little while to get warmed up, and there are plenty of cold tapas to choose from early in the cocktail hour (and often a little complementary tasting); but once the grill gets agoing, the going gets hot. Don't miss the custard-soft grilled sweetbreads, the skirt steak, mushroom mousse with white asparagus sauce, stuffed eggplant, marinated semi-boneless quail, lamb or venison and, surprisingly, fish of the day. Paellas come mostly for two, but there are some tapa-size versions, or try the lobster cazuela. Tapas $5-$8; entrees $14-$32.

SOBE SEAFOOD CO. (3100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-528-0033. Metro: Clarendon) -- This South Beach-style restaurant may be a little more style-conscious than substantive, and the staff can get a little wired; but the kitchen is getting its rhythm down and already pays unusual attention to presentation details. But pace yourself; most dishes are generous, especially the appetizers. Try the jerk shrimp, spinach-artichoke dip, crab-crusted salmon, not-too-marinated tuna or fried calamari. The Caesar salad dressing may not be eggs-actly authentic, but it's pretty good. Entrees $10-$20.

MISS SAIGON (11 N. Washington St., Rockville; 301-838-9070. Metro: Rockville) -- This youngest member of the popular Washington restaurant family wouldn't win the local talent competition, but it could make a good case for the beauty title, and Miss Congeniality as well. The kitchen's main failing is a curious blandness that spoils the effect of its crunchy and grease-free batters, gentle stir-fries and not-tangy-enough salads; and it has an excess sweet tooth as well that makes the "caramel" dishes near-desserts. On the other hand, the vegetarian dishes, the grilled meats and chicken, anise-scented beef noodle soup, clay pots and huge "lobster shrimp" can be real treats. Entrees $7.95-$17.95.

ESPUMA (28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.; 302-227-4199) -- Jay Caputo's modern Mediterranean style is still evolving, and occasionally his curiosity makes him just clever, but he understands restraint: His food is never boring, often intentionally comic or smart and frequently elating. Don't miss the foie gras dish of the moment (most recently a raviolo with fig compote); crisped duck confit cut by cherries and manchego cheese; caramelized diver scallops with a black truffle-mushroom raviolo; or the coriander-crusted -- really dusted -- rockfish with baby artichokes, a smattering of prosciutto and fabulously silken Robuchon potato gnocchi. Entrees $21-$35.

CABANAS (K Street in Washington Harbour; 202-944-4242. Metro: Foggy Bottom) -- Under the gentling hand of longtime area chef Hector Guerra, this restive Nuevo Latino establishment is trying to settle into its paces, though still with uncertain results. Its strongest points are more along the drinking and nibbling lines than pure dining, and the lounge is a real draw; but among good bets are the guacamole, crab fritters, coconut shrimp, various quesadillas, tortilla-crusted salmon and simply grilled seafoods. Entrees $9-$24.

DC BOAT HOUSE (5441 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 202-362-2628) -- It's not the food that makes this Palisades cafe such a popular neighborhood hangout, but the family atmosphere, complete with the "living room" sofa seating behind the dining room (and, no doubt, the neighborly sized drinks). Let the butcher-paper table covers and the hands-on underage spaghetti-eaters be your guide: Leave the fancier entrees for another night, and head for the home-style cheeseburgers, subs, barbecue ribs and such appetizers as fried calamari and spinach-artichoke dip. And when spanikopita is on the menu, even as a first course, make it the centerpiece of your meal; it's as light as a souffle. Entrees $13.50-$22.95.

NAGE (19730 Coastal Hwy./Route 1, Rehoboth Beach, Del.; 302-226-2037) -- Think modern eclectic fare is getting cutesy? Sure it has; but try Kevin Reading's lemon-salt-seared scallops with "mustard seed toffee" or the pan-roasted grouper in "warm lobster gazpacho" and see what just one degree of irreverence can produce. The seafood nage is a little clumsy, but it's probably worth the occasional splash of lobster-tomato-fennel broth; and the tender, meaty frogs legs could start a revolution even here in chicken country. And the clams casino flatbread and white truffle french fries are a serious threat to resolutions. The salt levels can be a little high (must be that ocean breeze); ask for a light touch. Entrees $16-$28.

TAJITU (9 E. Patrick St., Frederick; 301-631-6800) -- This pretty, novice-friendly and unusually good Ethiopian restaurant gives "home cooking" a good name. Decorated in part to resemble an open-air patio, and with unobtrusively pleasant music, Tajitu feels like a friend's house, and the airy house-made injera and complex ground spices suggest a host's special attention. Among the best dishes are yabeg wot alicha, gingery sauteed lamb; rich, dark doro wot, with its traditional drumstick and boiled egg in reduced onions; kinche, a sort of tabbouleh salad; and the lentil and yellow pea stews. The layered, chili-hot but not bitter berbere sauce is an essential condiment. Leave time for coffee -- green beans skillet-roasted and ground to order, and steeped like incense. Entrees $8.50-$19.50.

The back room of Tajitu, an Ethiopian restaurant in Frederick, has an intimate feel.