Dining Capsules

Restaurants previously reviewed by Eve Zibart:

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. 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. 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.

BISTRO ASIATIQUE (4936 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-718-3400) -- This lavishly decorated restaurant specializes in fusion of the all-in style, which sometimes leads to a busyness or fussiness in the presentation. Chef Dennis Friedman has passed through the kitchens of Kinkead's and Citronelle, and he's clearly been paying attention. But he is only beginning to appreciate something the best Asian chefs have known for centuries: when to stop. Tempura tuna roll is one of the best things on the menu, and the "Kobe beef poke pines" appetizer's ground beef balls are supplied with fried wonton spines and surrounded by nicely ripe avocado. The house salad, which has bits of daikon and baby radish plus goat-cheese-stuffed wonton purses, is served on a platter. Similarly, the Thai beef salad, tangy with lemon and ginger and a hoisin vinaigrette, is a hearty and perfectly executed meal. One of the best dishes on the menu is also one of the simplest: The tender and moist pan-seared Chilean sea bass. Entrees $19-$32.

In Bethesda, Le Vieux Logis's just desserts: blueberry bread pudding, left, and peach Melba.