Dining Capsules

Restaurants previously reviewed by Eve Zibart:

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.

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 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 (especially the mock duck), the grilled meats and chicken (fragrant roast quail), 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 sillken 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 souffle. Entrees $13.50-$22.95.

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.

CHLOE (2473 18th St. NW upstairs; 202-265-6592. Metro: Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams-Morgan) -- Chloe's food is good enough, and so moderately priced, that you'll probably go back, especially while the roof terrace is open. But the earlier the better; the noise level jumps quickly, and the trend radar goes up as soon as the sun goes down. (Of course, there's nothing wrong with licking your fingers in the VIP lounge, if you can make it look good.) Try the first-rate steak salad, the indulgent lump crab cocktail, duck bruschetta, barbecue ribs, teriyaki salmon or homey roasted chicken. Entrees $10-$19. Not wheelchair accessible.

LE VIEUX LOGIS (7925 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-652-6816. Metro: Bethesda) -- In a trend-driven town, consistency and resilience are rare virtues. For 25 years, this cheerily cluttered mini-inn has been serving up classics and old-fashioned continentalism with as much affection for tradition as for its customers. Regulars know to go for the delicate scallops -- and you'll never find escargots more garlicky than these. Entrees $24-$33. Wheelchair access limited.

RESTAURANT KOLUMBIA (1801 K St. NW; 202-331-5551. Metro: Farragut North or Farragut West) -- Jamie Stachowski's cooking isn't fusion, it's fascination: He's interested in so many styles and schools he can't help making a little this and a little that. Sometimes it's fabulous: a torchon of foie gras just brushed with sea salt and aspic; a tart of fresh anchovies and oven-dried tomatoes; braised veal cheeks so tender they seem held together by memory alone; grilled squid with kalamata olives, mint, fried lemons and arugula; and lightly floured sauteed sweetbreads over baby spinach with pine nuts, capers and grapes. And even when the recipes are a little strange (lobster-she crab bisque slick with okra), they're always entertaining. Entrees $24-$35.

BISTRO 123 (Tysons Corner Center lower level, Route 123, Tysons Corner; 703-288-1369) -- It looks a little like a shopping mall cafe, with its bright shiny wood and repro-art decor, but someone's in the kitchen for the diner. And if bistro classics make you sing, head for the leg of lamb steak, the beets and goat cheese salad, pan-seared snapper and frog's legs, if only for the ethereal onion ravioli. Entrees $12.95-$29.95.

VERMILION (1120 King St., Alexandria; 703-684-9669. Metro: King Street) -- Ever smarter, ever sharper, this good-looking and accessible modern- American hangout has enough tricks up its sleeve to keep us interested: fabulous scallop ceviche, robust bison hanger steak, rich tuna tartare balanced by rooty beets, crunchy risotto cakes and meticulously balanced seasonings. Entrees $17-$25.

CUBA DE AYER (15446 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville; 301-476-9622) -- This mom-and-pop shoebox wears its heart on its sign -- the name means "yesterday's Cuba," i.e., the good old days -- and turns out fine comfort food just because that's how its supposed to be. Ropa vieja, the simmered-to- shredding beef, is the finest around; the ground beef picadillo, with green olives and raisins, has a very subtle, fruit-spice tang like chutney; the roast pork has a similar edge from its citrus and caramelized onions -- but always the meat is the star, not the sauce. And arroz con pollo shows you why baked chicken is mom's best medicine in any cuisine. Entrees $11-$14.