Open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday until 3 a.m. All major credit cards.
Food: Concentrate on the crepes
Style: Southern California chic
TINKER'S IS THE ROBERT REDFORD of Washington restaurants. With looks like that, who remembers whether he is tall or short, and who cares whether he can sing?
Tinker's is skylit and gleaming with white marble. Its dazzle is shaded by trees growing from the bar, its mirrors muted by an entire landscape of window boxes. Stars are welcomed indoors in the evening with the sparkle of candles against the brown carpet and tablecloths. Now there is even a year-round heated terrace. Everything is coordinated, from the contemporary cane chairs to the flowers in glass bowls. One wonders whether the waiters are assigned moustaches, or they all just happen to have them.
Who notices the food?
Whether Tinker's is worth the trip depends on what you order and whether you are willing to pay for where you eat more than for what you eat, for the food is iffy. It is sometimes glorious, sometimes boring; it is always expensive. Lunch can run over $15, dinner $20 or more. Brunch is $7.50 before tax and tip. Of the seventeen dinner entrees, eleven cost $8 or more, yet most are simple grills. There are four brochettes; my sample was dull and overcooked. Four steaks are varied by cut (a butterflied mariposa, sirloin or filet) or by topping (bearnaise or femoring, which has fried egg, onions and anchovy); again, the one I tried was overcooked. There are lamb chops with or without garlic butter, chicken cordon bleu, and several fish dishes, among them frozen Dover sole and frozen trout "with sharp sauce."
A poached salmon with butter sauce turned out to be a nicely cooked salmon steak with plain melted butter to pour over it. Prettily garnished and accompanied by marinated cucumbers and garlicky broiled tomato, but at $8.75, that is the least one can expect. And veal Oscar, at $9.75, was a disaster of beefy-tasting veal with asparagus and stringy king crab, underwhelmed by bland bearnaise and overwhelmed by capers.
Appetizers do better. The crepes filled with creamed sea-food, with mushrooms in a lemony cream, or with smoked oysters, onion and tomato are not only imaginative combinations, they are tastefully seasoned, wrapped in fragile, cris-edged crepes and glazed with paprika and cheese. $2 to $2.50 as a dinner appetizer, $4 to $4.50 as a lunch main dish, they are the restaurant's culinary coup. Bouchee Joinville is a similar creamed seafood, this time nestled into a tough, chewy puff pastry shell rather than a gossamer pancake.
Salads are fresh and crisp, dressed with a tangy vinaigrette and overdressed with acrid grated cheese. Tabouleh, a Middle Eastern salad of cracked wheat, tomato, parsley and mint was a clever idea but a bland rendition. And desserts are pretty, with not much else to recommend them. Pastries taste like window displays. Fresh raspberries or strawberries - how can you ruin them? Tinker's doesn't, nor does it improve them with a bright yellow grainy sauce which tasted like whipped syrup and goes under the pseudonym of zabaglione.
Tinker's, you are beautiful. I love your style. You serve me with a hospitable manner and brush the crumbs from my table between courses. You feed me a moist omelet tingling with chorizo, along with coffee that tastes brewed with care. You concoct some elegant soups. You offer a thoughtful wine list with a healthy choice of half bottles. You garnish everything as if you were photographing it. But you give me string beans cooked to a mush. You make me wait fifty-five minutes for my lunch appetizer.You underseason and overcharge. At $4.50, an "East Coast salad" should be more than a little mayonnaised mound of mussels and shrimp fleshed out with tomato and egg slices. I applaud a menu simple and imaginative, but it should not be priced as if stocks were simmering down to demi-glaces and sauces were being skimmed for hours. Your chef is a master at crepes, handy with an omelet pan. I'll come any time for the prettiest light meal in town, but won't bother to travel the full course.