Dining Capsules

Restaurants previously reviewed by Eve Zibart:

CILANTRO (3241 M St. NW; 202-334-6247) -- This is the sort of relaxed, hospitable, all-day-hours place whose overall satisfaction rating is better than the sum of its parts. The tapas are always interesting and often pleasing, the wine list adequate (although some sherry might be nice) and the mojitos first-rate. Good bets include the paella (for two); eggplant Catalana, a sort of batterless parmigiana; soujouk, a lightly spicy beef sausage; the more substantial tequila duck; and the mixed mezze platter, with nice hummus, baba ghanouj and lemony dolmades. Tapas $5.50-$11.50.

BOMBAY (11229 New Hampshire Ave. in the White Oak Shopping Center, Silver Spring; 301-593-7222) -- Even in a time when shopping strip restaurants can be quite good, this meticulous Indian kitchen stands out: for its complex and carefully thought out seasonings, its layered sauces and its deft timing. The chicken tikka masala, with its hint of sweetness and roasty-tomato sauce, puts most butter chicken to shame. Goat curry is nutty, spicy, gamy, rich and aromatic all at once. Almond-milky lamb korma is more Persian, lightly spicy and sweet; Bombay biryani, with its variety of meats and shrimp, gets its real power from the quality of its rice; and the bhindi masala, sauteed okra, is as good as it gets. Entrees $7.95-$14.95.

CASSATT'S (4536 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-527-3330) -- This "Kiwi cafe," referring to the New Zealand casual mindset, not the fruit, takes on family-style dining in a new and, considering the tight space, remarkably successful way -- fast food their way, to paraphrase Jacques Pepin. With an easy, affordable and just-variable-enough menu of sandwiches (particularly the turkey BLT) and good but not pretentious mains (really good scallops and flavorful lamb), New World wines and espresso drinks, plus the lure of eggs Benedict on weekends and a built-in babysitter on Thursdays, it's no wonder it's a neighborhood staple. Panini $7.34, entrees $9.87-$15.60.

AMICI MIEI (1093 Seven Locks Rd. in the Potomac Wood Plaza; 301-545-0966) -- Deft, meticulous and rigorously polished, the food at "My Friends' Place" almost convinces you to take the name seriously, especially when the joint is jumping with three-generational families and the expansive staff. Don't miss the simply grilled seafood, the fabulous vitello tonato, the veal-stuffed ravioli or, when available, the venison stew -- and don't let the heft of the osso bucco distract you from the delicacy of the polenta. And if you're in the mood for pizza, make sure to spring for the buffalo mozzarella. Entrees $11.95-$21.95.

JERK PIT (8145-C Baltimore Ave./Route 1, College Park; 301-441-4786) -- Pack your appetite and leave the dry-cleanables at home, because this friendly Jamaican grill gives "finger-lickin' good" a whole new meaning. The wings are particularly fine, moist and with a layered, nutty-dark rub with insinuating rather than wham-bam heat; the Pop-Tart size patties -- stuffed with your choice of ground beef, chicken, shrimp or greens -- are flaky and have their own sly spicing; and the pork, though traditionally left a little fatty, has the most allspice punch. Watch for bones in the jerk and curry chicken, and for Friday night oxtail stew. Entrees $5.95-$12.

NOOSHI (1120 19th St. NW; 202-298-3138. Metro: Dupont Circle or Farragut North) -- This stylish and savvy pan-Asian establishment -- its nickname is a contraction of Oodles Noodles, its original moniker, and "sushi" -- has always served up bowls o' plenty at moderate prices, especially when it comes to variously flavored noodles, though sometimes with wan or, more likely, Americanized or "pan"-homogenized seasonings. (There are also occasionally nights when there seems an odd shortage of vegetables, for those who prefer the "greener" mixes.) That concept carries over to the sushi bar, which has nightly all-you-can-eat menus for $25 or $30; it's not always expert but of good quality. Presentation is, as always, chic and also smart, such as the stainless steel basket tray beneath the fried calamari; and the service is savvy. Find a few favorites and go with them. Entrees $7.25-$12.50.

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) -- This low-key, cheery and increasingly sure-footed neighborhood restaurant follows the spirit, if not the letter, of the nearby original cafe (now Portabellos, which shares ownership with Pasha). 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 (hence the name) may a little more style-conscious than substantive, and the staff can get a little wired; but the kitchen 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, no-too-marinated tuna or fried calamari. The Caesar salad dressing may not be egg-sactly 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 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; 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; 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.