ENLIGHTENED EATING: "Cook what you know" is the mantra of Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, a native of Equador who has done just that over the years at restaurants including the Chi-Cha Lounge on U Street NW and Gua-Rapo on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, both of which pulse with Latin American flavors. His latest creation, Agua Ardiente (1250 24th St. NW; 202-833-8500), follows a similar if lighter path, with an extensive menu that the health-conscious restaurateur hopes leaves guests "satisfied but not full." Thus the empanadas are baked, the meats are mostly grilled and the seviches (go for tuna spiked with ginger) are tossed with a mere suggestion of oil. Decorated with handcrafted mirrors and a cathedral's worth of candles, Agua Ardiente assumes the underground space vacated by West 24, the southern-themed restaurant launched in 2000 by politicos James Carville and Mary Matalin; veteran chef Hector Guerra, most recently of the nearby Vida, is overseeing the cooking. The name of the newcomer translates as "fire water," and turns out to be the restaurant's signature beverage as well. Tasting of anise, the clear and bracing liqueur goes for $5 a shot -- and is better sampled at dinner than at lunch, we should caution. Entrees $7.50-$16.50.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: A diner expects to see the likes of snails in garlic butter and cassoulet on a French menu, and sure enough, there those dishes are at the new Bistro d'OC (518 10th St. NW; 202-393-5444) across the street from Ford's Theater in Washington. But a crab and lobster "cigar" served with green papaya salad? The Asian inclusion comes from Thasanee Grenier, the Thai-born wife of chef Bernard Grenier, who traded La Miche in Bethesda for a place in the city after more than 20 years at the former. Other family members are also involved. Grenier's son Benoit is a manager, and another son, Ted, serves as a waiter in the 50-seat bistro, awash in the vivid orange colors found in Languedoc, the chef's birthplace. Let's hope the ongoing construction on the street out front is finished soon; it would be a shame if the mess kept anyone away from the kitchen's crisp-skinned duck, lapped with orange sauce; glorious pommes frites; and tender crepes suzette. Lunch entrees $8.95-$15.95; dinner entrees $13.95-$21.95.
-- Tom Sietsema