Hugo's Rottisserie, Hyatt Arlington, 1325 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 841-9595.
The Golden Lettuce Leaf Cluster for Culinare Excellence goes to Hugo's salad bar. Not the restaurant itself, mind you, but just the salad bar. This is a salad bar worthy of a grand cruise ship, which unexpected combinations and extravagances like mounds of baby srimp and large strips of bacon.
Its corner of the dining roor is handsomely decorated with tiles, artifacts and a glass-fronted rotisserie roasting ducks. Salads are artfully arranged and garnished. First comes crudities, the raw vegetable sticks to be dipped in mayonnaise seasoned with bits of ham. Next, the greens, predominantly iceberg lettuce but perky and crisp. The array includes appetizers -- fine herring and cucumbers in sour cream, unfortunately bitter chopped liver, and several marinated vegetables, not just the usual but tropical vegetables such as chayote and jicama. Each is savory enough to stand on its own; even the tomatoes are ribboned with Russian dressing and chopped egg. The generosity extends to a large bowl of crumbled blue cheese. And the originality extends to, instead of crotons, garlic bread sizzling on an electric griddle. Of the four salad dressings, the only standout is a tangy, creamy one called Esquire. fThe salad bar is a distinguished buffet.
Perhaps Hugo's should have retrained itself, though. For, instead of a fresh array of fruits like Fiddler's or G.D. Graffiti, Hugo's messes up its finale with a dessert bar, a muck of artifical tasting soft ice cream with an acceptable brandied coffee syrup and fake-tasting coconut crunch and chocolate chunks as well as a burned hot fudge sauce. The alternatives are even worse bread pudding and cobbler.
The rest of the meal, too, goes overboard in a dozen ways. Lemon slices float in the water glasses. The wine list is pasted in a clumsy, heave wooden treasure chest. Between courses, to refresh your palate, is sherbet, but a sherbet too sweet for midmeal, and, I blush even to remember it, served in miniature cones. Some of the plush touches work well; the curved banquettes and high back upholstered chairs are appealing, and the copper and wood tables look sumptuous. Cube sugar and whipped cream served with coffee are a happy ending. But until that point, the vegetables are the best part. In fact, the spinach one night was extraordinarily good. Not so the main courses, the fatty and tasteless duck buried under sweet sauce (even the green pepercore sauce was inesplicably sweet) or the shrimp stuffed with what tasted like tuna fish. Main courses -- including the salad and dessert bar -- run about $10 to $15, but if I were to dine again at Hugo's, I would negotiate to have just the salad bar. The only problem with doing that is that the other attraction at Hugo's is the service, and for such knowledgeable, skilled waiters as we had, it may be worth risking somethins simple like steak or roast beef. Trying the broiled pork chops kijafa or veal with charterelles and dill sour cream sauce could be venturing too deep, even for good service. Hunter's Inn, River and Falls Roads, Potomac. 299-4066.
I still believe all those people who told me of the excellence of the salad bar at the Potomac branch of the Hunter's Inn. I saw indicators of it myself, though when I was there they did not add up to what that salad bar was meant to be.
It looks very tasteful in a sedate way, this unusual salad bar. Besides the bowl of crisp greens and the usual Bacos, packaged croutons and onions, it includes homemade potato salad and bright yellow rice salad, red bean salad and chick peas with pickled onions, tomato-onion salad and cubes of cantaloupe. aThis is no breathtakingly vast assortment, but an interesting conglomeration, looking fresh and well-groomed. The problem is that when I wisited, everything was tasteless, dull, bland. The rice salad no longer had ham in it, nor any discernible flavor. The potato salad was dried out, the macaroni salad flabby. Neither bean salad had any zip to it. And my guest who had previously visited the restaurant was apalled at the change she perceived. Futhermore, the salad bar now cost $3.50 extra at lunch, whereas it had been free with a main course of $3.50 a la carte.
The hostess insisted that the salad bar was the same as ever; we had hoped to hear that the chef was off and yesterday's salads served in an emergency. I still nurse the hope this was an abberation. In any case, such prepared salads should be kept separate.
Otherwise, lunch at the Hunter's Inn showed promise. The room is fashionalby pretty, with flowered cushions on the bentwood chairs, brick and wood and skylights adding to more than a cliche. Crabcakes, light and creamy, were the most impressive effort I saw that day; their coleslaw accompaniment repeated the carelessness evident at the salad bar. The hamburgers are charcoal-broiled, thick and lean, suggesting the dinnertime's charcoaled specialties would be worth invesetingating. And for dessert, rice pudding was as creamy, rich and aromatic as this old fashioned dessert deserves to be.
In all, the Hunter's Inn salad bar looked like a good idea having a bad day. Salad Bars That Somebody Loves
The following is a list of salad bars nominated as favorites by readers, the first three nominated several times: Pistone's (Oxon Hill). Toms Sarris' Orleans House (Rosslyn). Mother's Pizza Parlour and Spaghetti House (Rockville). Sir Walter Raleigh Inns (several locations). Joshua Tree (mcLean). Phineas Prime Rib (rockville). Victoria Station (several locations). Mother Herb (in the Russell Senate Office Building). Gourmet II (L'Enfant Plaza). John Lewis Jr. Cafeteria (Diamond Labs, Adelphi). Mill Mining Company (Annandale). Intermission (White Flint Mall). Nicky's (Wisconsin Avenue). The Hecht Company (7th and F Streets NW). Stouffer's (Crystal City). Howard County School Cafeterias. Horn & Horn (Forestville). Binnacle III (urbanna, Va.) The Delly (Capitol Hill). Mr. T's Flaming Hearth (baileys Crossroads.). Golden Temple Conscious Cookery (Dupont Circle.) Treetop (Coolfont, W. Va.) apple Tree (McLean). Mama's (Arlington). Eddid Leonard's (Langely Park). Charley Brown's (Vero Beach and Ft. Myers Beach, Fla.).