NOW PLAYING: The loss two years ago of Zuki Moon in Foggy Bottom hit a lot of theatergoers hard. There aren't many restaurants within walking distance of the Kennedy Center to begin with, and the Asian-inspired retreat ranked among the more inviting venues in the area. No wonder its equally cozy replacement, the recently opened Nectar (824 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-298-8085), is playing to a full house before curtain most nights.

Owned by George Washington University, the honey-colored, 42-seat dining room is watched over by restaurant director Jarad Slipp, who spent a year learning the fine points of service at the acclaimed Gordon Ramsay in London. Backstage, in what he calls "the world's smallest kitchen," Jamison Blankenship is turning out dishes that pay tribute to the season and look like art.

The self-taught chef comes to Nectar from Tahoga in Georgetown. "There's no walk-in" freezer, he says. "Everything's fresh" and used the day it is brought in. A recent lunch underscored that boast. Think all tuna burgers are created equal? At Nectar, the sandwich is fashioned from toasted brioche and served with light-as-air house-made potato chips and a basil mayonnaise that tastes bright and summery. Other dishes follow sophisticated suit.

Within the confines of their budget, "We're trying to apply the Michelin three-star dynamic to what we do here," says Slipp, referring to the lofty standards set by the French restaurant guide. "We're trying to do the little things right." One detail among many: Nectar stocks 14 different glasses to flatter specific wines.

Slipp doubles as the restaurant's pastry chef. As ubiquitous as creme brulee is, the version here takes a fresh approach. The delicate custard, subtly flavored with (surprise!) oatmeal, is in the shape of a cone and drizzled with fine maple syrup. The "brulee" shows up on the side, in the form of three tiny amber disks separated by jewellike blueberries. Just try not to finish it.

Lunch entrees $10-$17; dinner entrees $18-$26.

-- Tom Sietsema

Nectar's Oatmeal Creme Brulee.