Calling all cowboys (and girls): What's to separate the new Sheridan's steakhouse (713 Eighth St. SE; 202-546-6955) from the surplus of beef purveyors around town? A dance floor and an Old West theme, for starters. "We don't want the country-western culture to die out," says co-owner Sandy Thompson, an Oklahoma native and the proprietor of Red River Western Wear on Capitol Hill. To that end, there's a buffalo head hanging over the ground-floor bar and cow skin-covered stools surrounding it. Upstairs finds a more formal dining room, distinguished with white linens on the tables, vintage chandeliers and a menu that embraces black bean cakes ($6), a lusty buffalo strip steak ($23) and an upscale version of chicken-fried steak ($10). A tip for the calorie-conscious: work off the ranch hand-size portions on the dance floor, where Thompson's husband, Jerry, serves as disc jockey and instructor. Beginner two-step classes are offered Monday nights, line dance classes on Wednesdays.

Welcome to the neighborhood: No trend goes untapped at Bethesda's new Fairmont Bar & Dining (4936 Fairmont Ave.; 301-654-7989), replete with an open kitchen, a 12-seat "family table" for private dining, miniature desserts priced at $2 a plate and two TV sets poised above the welcoming bar--one tuned into the news, another featuring movies. "We're giving the neighborhood what it wants," says Bob McKay, who owns the contemporary American restaurant along with Jim Davis. And what are Bethesdans hungry for? "They want value," offers McKay, who promotes three-course $9.95 menus for early birds at both lunch and dinner. "They want flavor," he continues. So choices run from grilled pizza to steak frites to a vegan-friendly entree salad. "They want convenience," he winds up. Indeed, almost 30 wines are poured by the glass, and the bar is fronted with deep shelves--big enough to stow purses and even laptops while diners sup from their stools. Most endearing discovery: those tiny finales, including a single, gold leaf-flecked caramel and cookies created by Ann Amernick; a small wedge of cheese garnished with curls of pear; and a Shirley Temple-size banana split.

--Tom Sietsema


Sauteed Pork Chops

With Grapes

(4 servings)

Grapes are hot. Literally. They're turning up in all sorts of warmed-up ways, from focaccia to roast quail to pan-fried pork. Why for dinner? A high temperature concentrates the juice from the grapes and any pan drippings into a wonderfully sweet-tart sauce that pairs well with seared or roast pork or poultry.

We found this recipe in Giuliano Hazan's "Every Night Italian: 120 Simple, Delicious Recipes You Can Prepare in 45 Minutes or Less" (Scribner, $25). Hazan prefers thinly sliced pork chops for the practical reason that they take less time to cook than thicker cuts.

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds boneless pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons grappa or brandy*

1/4 cup Concord grape juice

8 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) red or green seedless grapes, cut in half

In a skillet large enough to hold the pork chops in a single layer, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the oil over medium-high heat until the butter is completely melted. Add the pork chops and cook until there is no longer any sign of pink inside, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chops to a plate; season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and, being careful to avert your face from the pan, carefully add the grappa or brandy to the pan. Cook until the steam has subsided and the alcohol has almost entirely evaporated, 10 to 15 seconds. Add the grape juice, grapes and salt to taste and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the mixture becomes slightly syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan and cook, whisking, until the butter is melted. Return the pork chops to the pan, and cook until heated through, turning them in the sauce to coat both sides.

Transfer the pork chops to individual plates and spoon the grapes and sauce around and over the pork. Serve immediately.

* Note: Grappa is a colorless, high-alcohol Italian brandy.

Per serving: 392 calories, 38 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 137 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

SHELF LIFE; More for Your Condiment Collection

Dinnertime need a little oomph? How about a four-star spice blend from the mortar and pestle of New York celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten? Keep these blends on the counter for weeknights when you want a meal that's long on flavor but you're short on time.

Our favorite of the line is curry. Everyone knows that curry powder varies tremendously depending on the mixture of spices, herbs and seeds; this one is full-bodied and mellow. It doesn't need the long simmering most curries require to smooth out the pungency. Jazz up your chicken, shrimp, lamb or vegetables with a sprinkling and a quick turn in the pan.

That said, we definitely aren't averse to the Asian or Fisherman's spices. But use caution when opening any of these snazzy little containers; the snug lids give way with a powdery flurry if you're not careful.

The spice blends are $5.25 to $6 for a 2.5-ounce canister. Available at Dean & DeLuca, Sutton Place Gourmet stores and Pica Deli (4536 Lee Hwy., Arlington; call 703-524-5656).

To Do

FRIDAY-SUNDAY: 20th anniversary celebration with food and wine tastings at local Sutton Place Gourmet stores. Portion of proceeds benefits Share Our Strength. Friday, free, noon-2 p.m.: book signing with "Jewish Cooking in America" author Joan Nathan at the Bethesda store; Saturday, free, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.: chef demonstrations at all stores. Call 301-564-3100.

TUESDAY: Wine 102: Tasting like a Pro--lecture and tasting sponsored by the Tasting Society International. $39. 7-9 p.m. Radisson Barcelo Hotel, 2121 P St. NW. Call 202-333-5588 or


JAN. 19: Wine dinner at the Mark restaurant. $60 excludes tax and tip. 7:30 p.m. 401 Seventh St. NW. Call 202-783-3133.

JAN. 24: Weekly sushi class with chef Kaz Okochi begins at KAZ Sushi Bistro. $60 includes dinner, tax and tip. 7 p.m. 1915 Eye St. NW. Call 202-530-5500.

Add this Web site to your bookmarks:

This site is the equivalent of "Dear Abby" for bewildered or baffled cooks--novices and pros alike. The founders of the Inquisitive Cook, Anne Gardiner and Sue Wilson, promote it as "The Science of Cooking Made Simple"; this claim may be a tad ambitious, but the site is a great resource if you've been pondering a not too scientific question and haven't been bold enough to ask anyone. For instance, what exactly is "liquid smoke"? If Gardiner and Wilson don't have an answer, they'll find someone who does or refer the question to the chat section of the site.

(Nota bene: We like how Gardiner and Wilson took it upon themselves to make chocolate the fifth basic food group.)