CARVING A NICHE: Giles Becker wants to make a few things clear about his new Italian restaurant and nightclub in the behemoth Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. One, "we're not competing with the Toscas and Galileos in town," the restaurateur says. And two, "we want to be known as a neighborhood restaurant for the 17,000 federal workers that surround us." So Aria (1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-312-1250), which began serving pizza, penne Bolognese and roast pork loin in its ground-floor dining room mid-June, is open for breakfast and offers a serve-yourself antipasti bar at lunch for $5, $8 and $11 a plate. If the prices are modest, so is the cooking, at least for the moment. "We're looking for a chef," Becker freely admits. His restaurant, which includes outdoor seating, morphs into a nightclub, called Air, which spills out on the plaza every Friday and Saturday night beginning at 9:30 p.m. (Admission to the club is $15, or $10 if you register at www.ariatrattoria.com.) As for the cavernous underground space that once housed Palomino and jordans restaurants, it is being groomed for special events, including receptions, wine dinners and a club-within-a-club to be known as Gypsy, says Becker. Dinner entrees $10-$19.
CATCH OF THE DAY: From the local restaurant company that brought us crowd-pleasers such as Artie's, Caryle, Mike's American Grill, Silverado and Sweetwater Tavern in Northern Virginia swims something different: Coastal Flats, a casual seafood restaurant poised to open July 28 at 11901 Grand Commons Ave., in Fairfax. "I never thought we'd have a $20 sandwich," says Bill Jackson, the veteran corporate chef for Great American Restaurants. He's referring to the lobster roll that will appear on Coastal Flats' menu, along with rock shrimp fritters, hazelnut-crusted trout, Asian-style sea bass and grouper "fingers" (beer-battered fish and chips). There also will be some steaks, ribs and chicken. In tune with the breezy, Florida-meets-New England theme, Coastal Flats will mix mojitos, caipirinhas and cosmopolitans, the last brightened with pomegranate juice. Heading up the kitchen: Ascary Rivera, the former chef of the Merrifield branch of Sweetwater Tavern. Dinner entrees $12-$29.