Phyllis C. Richman is executive food editor of The Washington Post.
This has been a year to shake the unshakable, a year when even the most popular restaurants learned what it is to go hungry. The effects of 1982's economic downturn are yet to be fully revealed, but among them is opportunity for diners to demand more for their money.
The most startling restaurant event of the year was the closing of Le Pavillon, that extraordinary French restaurant which was the first to devote itself to new-style cuisine. The public was slow to recognize chef Yannick Cam's talent--or at least to accept his stellar prices--and labor controversies plagued the restaurant repeatedly. But with its newly refurbished dining room and Cam's increasing sureness in the kitchen, the restaurant had reached its most mature just as its owners decided to sell. Le Pavillon's quarters will soon house a Chinese restaurant, and Cam has plans to open another downtown restaurant.
Which brings us to the second startling change in Washington restaurants, the Eastern shift of downtown. The French and Italian booms have slowed if not altogether halted; most of the openings this year have been Chinese, and more are on their way. At least 14 new Chinese restaurants have been opened or planned between Georgetown and Chinatown in the past year. In the suburbs, too, it seems that every time a disco or French bistro closes, a Chinese restaurant takes its place. These newer restaurants are likely to be as glamorous--and expensive--as those they replace.
Farther down the economic scale, Salvadorean restaurants are beginning to appear in bunches, Ethiopian restaurants continue to proliferate and we have had four new Iranian restaurants open this year. The culinary-political connection continues to reveal itself.
Several of Washington's more promising restaurants have undergone recent management changes that necessitated our leaving them out of this guide at the last minute. In case you wonder what happened to T. Gregory's or Zeltner's, for instance, we felt it necessary to hold off for a fresh look after their new managements settle in. And as for the other hundreds of restaurants, undoubtedly some of your favorites, that have not been reviewed this time, we can only say that it is Washington's good fortune to have far too many worthwhile restaurants to fit between two covers. READER'S GUIDE
Reviewers are identified by initials: P.C.R. (Phyllis C. Richman), M.G.B. (Mark and Gail Barnett), C.S. (Carole Sugarman), and Z.R. (Daniel Zwerdling and Barbara Rothschild). Prices are for the least and most expensive main dishes at lunch (L) and dinner (D). Credit cards accepted are indicated by letters: AE (American Express), DC (Diners Club), CB (Carte Blanche), MC (Mastercard), V (Visa), C (Choice) and CC (Central Charge). "Free parking" indicates the establishment has a lot; otherwise, expect street parking or commercial lots. "Full bar" indicates the establishment is licensed to sell spirits and beer and wine. Information preceding the reviews was supplied by the restaurants themselves.
227 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
1211 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
L, D $3.95-$9.95. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Georgetown: no reservations accepted; Capitol Hill: reservations for more than five necessary. Full bar.
Bright, brassy, flashy, the American Cafe aims to please every appetite from brunch through late supper, with sandwiches, salads, the best mass-produced soups you can find, and elaborate entrees, such as meats or vegetables in homemade puff pastry or spareribs smoked over apple wood with sensational homemade baked beans. Virtually everything is made in a central commissary: home-roasted beef and home-smoked meats, fresh vegetables and outstanding brownies and carrot cake. The vegetable and noodle salads have become classics. Yet occasionally you are reminded that mass production is your chef. A parchment-bag flounder tastes a little dull, and the ribs lack soul and meatiness. American Caf,es have good, fun food, but the sandwiches are only sandwiches and the dinners aren't outstanding--except for the baked beans.--P.C.R.
3066 M St. NW.
D $7-$15. D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Here's some strange advice about this wonderful Indian restaurant: Don't eat the curry. Start with the delightful appetizers, preferably the combination platter. The puffy samosas are superb. Bhuja--vegetables quickly fried in the lightest of batters--are as delicate as tempura. And the miniature charcoal-grilled kebabs are impressive enough to make you order a kebab entree. But the shining lights among the main dishes are the trout and snapper, impeccably fresh, cooked in butter and served with broccoli, slices of sweet melon, almonds and mushrooms. Puri is much better than the stuffed paratha, which tends to be dense and soggy. The curries rate only a few words: flat, brazenly seasoned and sometimes too salty. A good dessert is mango pudding, which is tart and refreshing. Service at Apana remains quick and professional. And the lovely dining room doesn't have the feeling of frenzied claustrophobia that afflicts some M Street restaurants.--M.G.B.
1827 Jefferson Place. NW.
L $4.50-$7.95, D $7.50-$9.95. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Bacchus combines consistently excellent food, reasonable prices, attentive service and a quiet, comfortable prettiness. There's care and flair in the Middle Eastern cuisine here, beginning with appetizers-- homemade sausage; a lemony, minty tabulleh; tart stuffed baby eggplant; and a superlative, lightly fried kibbe. But the knockout appetizer is the hummus special, the dip ringed by almonds, pine nuts and ground lamb. Ouzi stands out among the entrees, combining moist lamb chunks, flavored rice and slivered almonds. The jewel is the lovely fatte bel djaj: Pieces of pita bread cleverly quick- fried so they'll hold up under moisture, then topped with chicken chunks in a yogurt- lemon sauce laced with garlic, topped again with fresh parsley and (when available) pomegranate seeds. Shish kebab is ordinary, and stuffed cabbage may be a bit heavy on the lemon juice. Last time, we found hidden treasure: cabernet sauvignon from Lebanon. --M.G.B.
300 King St., Alexandria.
L $4.50-$6.50, D $6.95-$10.50. L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. 3320 M St. NW. 338- 1896. D $6.95-$10.50. D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
What we love best about the Bamiyans are the kebabs-- tender, beautifully trimmed, masterfully marinated and grilled, generously portioned and reasonably priced. Everything in these two Afghan restaurants is remarkably economical, including a special complete dinner for two, at $27 with wine. Fried appetizers (bulaunee and sambosay goshti) are nicely light. Aushak--filled pasta topped with meat sauce, yogurt and mint--will win you over at first taste and are available as an entree. Sabsi chalow, a smooth, mild dish, shows off the Afghan talent for cooking lamb. But the beef in tomato- onion-pepper sauce (korma chalow) doesn't come off as well. The most unusual entree is quabili palow, a mountain of rice, lamb, candied carrot strips and raisins. For dessert try gosh-e-feel, a flat, crackly pastry rich with shortening and topped with sugar, cardamom and pistachios. --M.G.B.
1220 19th St. NW.
L $6.25-$8.25, D $7.45-$12. L, D daily. Sat brunch. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Branching throughout the Washington area, the Bread Oven hasn't neglected its downtown location. The big, breezy space retains its almost-country charm, the service is swift and competent, and the food is very French and good for the money. Where else is there a two-week cycle of cassoulet and blanquette de veau and couscous and boudin blanc, for example, at less than $8? The pork may be dry in Monday's marinated civet, but the vegetables are bright and firm, the sweet-sour sauce teasingly good. Fish is delicately poached and creamily sauced. Appetizers at dinner include fresh crab meat with avocado at a surprisingly low $3.30. And of course the bread on the table is the best. Perhaps the restaurant's finest hour, however, is around 9 a.m., when the breakfast bunch gathers over croissants and coffee before buckling down to running Washington. --P.C.R..
1214A 18th St., NW.
L $9.75-$17.50, D $12.50-$22.50. L, D daily. Closed Sat, Sun. AE, CB, C, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Full bar.
Among Washington's top echelon of Italian restaurants, Cantina d'Italia is the oldest, most flamboyant and most controversial. In a basement warren of dining nooks, owner-ma.itre d'h.otel Joseph hovers over the dining room. The best of the menu are the antipasti--the most succulent seafood salad or multi-cheese-stuffed mushrooms or the salads of the season's brightest produce--and pastas, which can be beyond rich, these days can turn up beet red or carrot orange and sauced with fresh herbs and luscious combinations of cream, cured meats, cheeses or seafoods. Portions are gargantuan, and often rich, so order lightly. Among main dishes, fish is a standout, especially when cooked in parchment with fresh herbs. Take veal with the least possible done to it and shy away from heavier meat dishes. The wine list is tempting, at least until you look at its prices. And desserts, from the most Italian of rum-custard concoctions to the least Italian chocolate espresso cheesecake, are delicious. --P.C.R.
1901 N. Moore St., Rosslyn.
L $3.50-$6.75, D $5.75-$19. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
The cooking here enlivens an otherwise standard blend of generally good Cantonese and Szechuan cooking with some unusual dishes. In addition to the usual ducks, you can order sliced moist duck topped with a pur,eed taro paste (which tastes like nutty mashed potatoes), then fried and topped with a mild sauce. Instead of sweet- and-sour fish, you can order conch with Chinese broccoli, nicely perfumed with ginger though the conch is overcooked. More typical dishes range from an ordinary chicken with black beans to an extraordinary Szechuan shrimp, large and tender, with just a hint of hot pepper. Ask the friendly waiter for fried ice cream balls: tennis-ball-sized scoops of vanilla coated with batter and fried to a crisp, ignited with rum, and doused with bittersweet chocolate. The spectacle vies with the dining room's panoramic view. -- Z.R.
629-631 H St., NW.
L $4.75-$22.00, D $5.25-$22. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Full bar.
The China Inn can be the best restaurant in Chinatown, then totally flop with some simple dish. Fortunately, prices are low enough to warrant a few errors, and the management is cheerful about taking back its failures; service, above all, is solicitous. Fried foods tend to be greasy, but for appetizers like squid in a puffy yellow batter or shrimp toast, the greasiness may be worth it. The poached fish with ginger, julienned roots and pickled shoots, is deletable, and either smoked lobster or smoked crabs are worth ordering. In general, stick to the house specialties, although some --Chef's Chicken with black beans and hot peppers, or moo shi pork -- are not outstanding. Concentrate on seafoods, and keep trying. --P.C.R.
3139 M St. NW.
L $6.50-$11.95, D $7-$48. L daily ex Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
Chinoiserie's beautiful environment and high prices set such high standards that one might reasonably anticipate the best Chinese food in town. It is not -- though it is good. It is food of delicacy and elegance that sometimes slips into blandness. If I were going to Chinoiserie for two dishes, they would be Peking duck and orange-flavored beef. No one makes a finer Peking duck; and the orange-flavored beef consists of large, thick slices of beef as tender as pot roast on the inside, crusty on the outside, with a thin veneer of seasoing that is caramelized, slightly spicy, faintly orange-flavored and a bit sweet. Steamed dumplings are a promising hot appetizers. The jumbo shrimp are crispy and juicy, the meats just cooked, the vegetables done but crisp. The equal proportion of disappointing dishes leaves this expensive and presumptuous restaurant on the brink. --P.C.R.
8012 Georgia Ave. NW.
L $2.50-$22, D $7-$22. L, D daily. Closed Mon. No credit cards accepted. No reservations. Free parking after 6 p.m. Beer and wine only.
Outside of Crisfield's little dining room, there's nearly always a line. Waiting for what? For reliability. For big portions of local seafood, always fresh, prepared with competence and simplicity. Look for good, buttery clam and oyster stews; tender steamed clams; fried clams and oysters done in an almost transparent batter; sweet, delicately spiced shrimp; crab imperial that's virtually all crab; and huge platters of impeccably broiled fish. Don't forget to ask about soft-shell crabs, because you'll find none better. Less than perfect are the coleslaw, the doughy rolls and the oomph-less clam chowder. Bring lots of cash. The prices are higher than appearances might indicate, and credit cards or checks aren't accepted. --M.G.B.
1900 Pensylvania Ave. NW.
L $5.25- $16.95, D $8.95-$23.95 (complete dinner $9.95). Pre- and post-theater fixed price menu ($9.95). L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, C, CC, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
Dominique's has everything. Of course, you may not want to have everything when that includes ostrich and rattlesnake. But that gives you an idea of what to expect: unbent elegance, with the service breezy, friendly and expert. Dominique raises his own quail and mallards, but his kitchen has been known to overcook and oversauce them. He also gives you the choice of live trout (ask for it "au bleu") or trout otherwise fresh but not still swimming. The fish can be wonderful; try them saut,eed with scallops and julienned vegetables. Seafoods in general are best bets, starting with the crab soup (skip the clam chowder). Ask advice. If the staff loves the mousse de foie, you probably will, too. But be wary of anything fanciful -- until dessert. Go all-out for Elizabeth Taylor's favorite, chocolate truffles drowned in whipped cream and almonds. --P.C.R.
809 King St., Alexandria.
L $6-$9, D $9- $13. L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested, required on the weekend. Full bar.
At this gorgeous restaurant, expect generally impressive, somewhat expensive Vietnamese dishes. Appetizers set the pace. Butterflied shrimp are big, sweet, tender, lightly fried. Skewered pork is superb. Shrimp on sugar cane is well executed, but to us intrinsically bland and untextured. Vietnamese spring rolls are nicely crisp outside, but they lack a certain zip. Two of the Vietnamese soups are standouts: pho, slightly sweet, laced with anise and crammed with rare, razor-thin beef; and the more spectacular fisherman's soup, fresh, firm seafood with pineapple and tomato. The best entrees are the grilled meats and the lone cury, a top-notch rendition with succulent chicken in a velvety sauce. Noodle dishes treat meats and vegetables wonderfully, but the noodles are without character. Equally characterless is chicken with snow peas, despite the inclusion of quail eggs. Steamed whole fish has a gorgeous vegetable topping and a fine, subtle, gingery sauce, but that beautiful sauce may cover an overcooked fish. Portions are generous, so a budget-minded couple might manage nicely here for about $25 plus tax, tip and drinks. --M.G.B.
1828 Columbia Rd. NW.
3288 M St. NW.
L $5.50-$9.25, D $6.50-$12.50. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
You can count on the El Caribes for good-to-excellent Latin American food, a low-key setting and moderate prices. The trick is to find the highlights. For appetizers, try the mussels: perfectly fresh, in a bright, chunky tomato sauce sparked by wine. Or shrimp in a heavenly broth of oil, butter, garlic and wine. Ceviche de pescado, a cold, pickled fish with raw vegetables, is tart and refreshing but sometimes fishy. Gazpacho is a garlicky gem, with chopped rather than pur,eed vegetables. Top entrees center on the seafoods. The outstanding paella is sweet, tender seafoods, a bright, pimiento-laden sauce and firm-grained rice. Just as delightful is mariscada costa brava, the seafood this time in a marvelous tomato-oil-wine garlic sauce. A nice unusual dish is fritadas con llapingachos, juicy cubes of roast pork with a light cumin flavor, served with mild cheese patties, sweet banana and yucca. Pollo asado is a lightly flavored, crisp-skinned roast chicken, and pollo cazuela is a chicken stew in a thick slightly peppery sauce with sausage bits. Both are good, but not special. --M.G.B.
2811 M St., NW.
L $3.75-$9.75, D $6.50- $11.50. L daily except Sat and Sun. D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
If you think Mexican food begins with tacos and ends with sopaipillas, you have yet to discover Enriqueta. Start with mussels baked in a chile or mustard sauce, both irresistible. The tacos, enchiladas and tamales have handmade character. Shrimps can be superb, sauced with seasonings from coriander to olives. Check out the daily specials, particularly the stuffed peppers. Enriqueta's dark and fiery mole or tangy and fiery salsa verde can be had on chicken or enchiladas. And though a few dishes sink into dullness--a shrimp ceviche that lacks pungency -- the elbow-to-elbow tables are invariably crowded. --P.C.R.
774 Walker Rd.
Great Falls, Va.
L $3.25-$8.95, D $9.50- $15.95. L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. Closed Mon. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
At this elegant seafood restaurant, prices are moderately high, but are in keeping with impeccable service and generally excellent food. Among the appetizers, the mussels in white sauce are a knockout. Clams casino are a fine, too, and the clam chowder is first rate. But under the napkin in the bread basket there are blobby little rolls and ordinary little "rum" buns. For reliable entrees, try shellfish: the chunky crab meat in the crab imperial or in the crab cakes, or the fine, tender sea scallops. The fish can sometimes be another matter. On our last visit, both the broiled swordfish brochettes and the salmon were dry, and the stuffed flounder had a first-class lump-crab filling surrounded by flounder mush. Order dessert, especially if you like macho mousses -- lots of liqueur, lots of chocolate, with a little chocolate grit. --M.G.B.
3636 16th St., NW.
L $1.20-$7.50, D $3.50-$7.50. Open daily. Closed Mon. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
This huge coffee shop-cum- Italian-restaurant looks like the 1950s and is priced accordingly. Pastas reach as high as $4, veal is a mere $5. And you can get everything from white pizza (definitely, if you dote on garlic) to a T-bone steak (definitely not -- a $6 steak is a $6 steak). The food is home-style Italian, which means daily specials from roast pork to grilled fish, and you'd better plan to wait for the kitchen to get around to your order. Stick to the hearty, the homey, the red sauces rather than white: fat, chewy ravioli; tortellini; bucatini alla carbonara that is a sensation, salty and pungent with prosciutto, onions and hot pepper. Don't bother with milky fettucine alfredo, and don't expect top quality from bargain-priced scaloppine or fancy fish. If it is stewed, braised or roasted, it is likely to be good at Fio's.Alongside the platters come either good al dente spaghetti or saut,eed peppers and mushrooms. Forget the salad but include a reasonably priced bottle of Italian wine. And don't neglect the pizza -- among the best in town. --P.C.R.
4936 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
L $4.50-$8.50, D $5.95-$10.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested for dinner. Beer and wine only.
At Floriana's, the food is likeable, better sometimes than what you would expect from a good neighborhood Italian restaurant. But the prices are out of that league. A complete dinner with wine (from the restaurant's meager list), tax and tip will run about $20. Floriana uses top-quality ingredients, firm and flavorful shrimp or veal. She also makes her food look pretty, as in fish salad, a pink m,elange of baby shrimp and squid mounded high over bright greens. If Floriana fails, it's that she frequently over-oils. That pretty fish salad with its strong chile pepper bite comes bathed in a pool of oil and vinegar; what could have been sprightly noodles in the spaghetti carbonara are doused to a soggy mush. But spumoni never tasted more refreshing.--C.S.
FOGGY BOTTOM CAFE
924 25th St. NW. (In the River Inn).
L $4.95-$11.95, D $4.95- $12.95. L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. Sun brunch. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Small, noisy, casual, lively and very stylish, the Foggy Bottom Caf,e can rush you to the theater with a good hamburger under your belt or treat you to a light seafood salad or a rich calf's liver in watercress-mustard sauce or lamb chops grilled with garlic and cassis. The food is fashionable -- pesto and sesame noodles and eggs benedict -- prettily served and usually quite good. The very popular shrimp and broccoli tempura is greasy and served with insipid sauces, but the shrimp are excellent, the broccoli spunky. There are always more hits than misses, and desserts are worth curtain calls. --P.C.R.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
1738 Connecticut Ave. NW.
L $3.25-$3.95, D$4.95-$5.95. L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. Credit cards not accepted. Reservations suggested for large groups. Full bar.
No nukes and no nitrates here, and the mostly vegetarian menu will make you remember the old days. But the food is up- to-date. Sandwiches (made with whole wheat pita) and salads (dressed with seasoned yogurt) are conchowdestructed with combinations of alfalfa sprouts, mushrooms, cheddar cheese and so on. Soups have been good, a rustic potato and corn chowder the antidote for an empty day. And the Greek-style sandwich is whole wheat pita packed with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, feta and black olives that have been tossed with just enough zippy Italian dressing to maintain the vegetables' crunch. Some strictly vegetarian dishes, like a tasteless mush of bulgur, lentils, garlic and onions, may not please even the most devout nonmeat-eater. But it's dessert that stuns. The special gingerbread cake was dense and black with molasses and threads of fresh ginger and clumps of raisins. --C.S.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL:
AUX BEAUX CHAMPS
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
L $9.00- $13.00, D $13.50-$22.50. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Full bar.
For environment alone, the Four Seasons' Aux Beaux Champs is peerless. And the wine list is as fascinating, with some good values. As for the food, it can be very good but too often is bizarre. Take a cold cream of almond soup, thick and sticky and reeking with almond flavoring that made it taste like cream of cologne. Or the medallions of lobster, each garnished precisely in the center with a single grain of red caviar, and that centered with a single grain of black caviar -- but the lobster itself juiceless. The Four Seasons grills salmon nicely and saut,ees red meats well, sauces them interestingly or innocuously, depending on your luck. And it garnishes the dishes with some wonderful vegetables-- embryonic peas in their pods, spaghetti-thin green beans -- and its unexciting p.at,es with a superb rhubarb compote. I'd opt for teatime here, at a sofa by the window in the lobby, one of Washington's most delightful eating treats. --P.C.R..
1800 M St. NW.
L $5-$11, D $9-$17.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking after 5 p.m. Full bar.
Do you want your thick steaks in the brightly lit din of The Palm? Or in the sedate and somber Gary's? The menus, cheery waiters and food quality are almost the same. And Gary's, too, is unabashedly American: crusted strip steaks and thick prime rib, rack of lamb and veal of the day, hefty portions of fresh broiled fish. Some side dishes are graceful: asparagus, steamed and wrapped in a white linen envelope, a bowl of superb light hollandaise on the side; or linguine with clam sauce, tangy with lemon, butter and herbs. We have our complaints: A recent steak came rare but surprisingly dry, and an otherwise perfect rack of lamb was swimming in a ghastly gravy. Desserts could be better. Other restaurants could learn something here about service -- caring but never solicitous, efficient but not rushed. --Z.R.
724 King St., Alexandria.
L $4.95-$8.95, D $9-$13.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Private room. Full bar.
Our waiter was rude and crass. Too bad, because service like this could tarnish a pleasant, unpretentious if somewhat overpriced Italian meal. Try mussels in pale red tomato broth, rich with herbs; or a great peasant soup, thick with beans and garlic. Find some surprises among the pastas: penne with fresh tuna may skimp on the tuna, but the noodles are al dente and the sauce of olives, tomatoes and capers is addictive. Geranio serves the usual dishes -- veal with marsala, veal with cream, trout with lemons, prawns with butter -- plus a half-dozen chicken dishes. Dinner is good but not great, partly because of the overcooking. Cannelloni alla fiorentina, pasta stuffed with veal, is cooked to mush. But you can end with fresh raspberries in season or good cannoli. --Z.R.
2400 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
L $5.50-$8.95, D $7.95-$22.95. L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Germaine's is an outlet for Germaine Swanson's variations of her Asian culinary tradition. Thus, watch for the daily specials. There is too much to choose for a single dinner, from regal-looking whole fish to pork cooked with eggplant to chicken with basil or lemon sauce or governor's style. One of the favorites, rightly so, is Pine Cone Fish, a large, fresh fillet deeply scored so it curls in the frying to resemble a giant pine cone. The surfaces are crisp and greaseless, the interior white and steamy, and there is a soy sauce dip to moisten it. The secret of Germaine's food is quality, delicately seasoned. So stir- fried dishes are bright and crunchy, charcoal-grilled sat,es are juicy and fragrant and tender. There are slips. The shrimp cake appetizers have been heavy, and paper-fried shrimp have been marred by greasiness. But in general this is light and fresh food. --P.C.R.
HOUSE OF HUNAN
1900 K St. NW.
L $5.25-$6.25, D $7.95- $14.95. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking after 6 p.m. Full bar.
Consider all previous reviews of House of Hunan superseded; this once-wonderful Chinese restaurant is resting on its laurels. The tables are so wedged in that one diner may have to get up so that those at another table can leave. The formerly exquisite crispy shrimp balls are still light inside, but grease-laden outside, and the spring rolls are greasy and filled with little but soggy cabbage. Bon bon chicken is no more piquant or exciting than a peanut butter sandwich, and the once delectable minced squab soup is no longer rich and no longer served in a charming bamboo cup. On to the main courses: You can get very good Peking duck, but for $20 it ought to be displayed and carved tableside rather than brought after being carved in the kitchen -- with not a lot of meat to show for it. The crispy prawns tasted as if they had sat too long, and the Neptune's Catch seafoods were in a sluggish sauce and an underfried potato basket. Nothing but the prices have been above run-of- the-mill. --P.C.R.
1110 21st St. NW.
L $8.95-$14.95, D $14.95-$23.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
Il Giardino doesn't prepare everything well, but a dinner here, amid velvet booths and your own long-stem rose, can be one of the nicer Italian meals in town -- if the staff wants it to be. The service can stray from doting to indifferent, and the kitchen waffles between sloppy and sublime. Pasta is generally good, the cream sauces light, especially in the delicate pillows stuffed with spinach or white and green noodles with strips of ham and peas. The kitchen is deft with shellfish, whether it's cooking mussels in lemon sauce, or saut,eeing shrimp in butter and herbs. A veal chop was graced with lovely sage sauce, but the meat was gray and dry (when we complained, the waiter cheerfully tried again). Make friends with the ma.itre d'h.otel, and he'll bring you dishes that aren't on the menu but that harmonize with the rest of the meal. The main drawback is the prices, which can easily climb above $125 for two. --Z.R.
INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON
D $14.95-$20.95. D daily. Closed Mon, Tues. MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
Move this inn to K Street and it would be on the top rung of Washington restaurants. Virginia's local goods are inspirations for delectables such as Silver Queen corn mousse or duck with raspberries. Start with smoked trout or crab and spinach timbale, or try tiny scallops as the most subtle of ceviches. Light, true, fresh tastes are chef Patrick O'Connell's hallmark, and his presentations are artistic but not precious. A few faults here and there: The sweet little corn muffins neither mate well with the herb butter nor serve to mop up the sauce one doesn't want to leave. But that is petty in the presence of perfect rare lamb. This inn takes every detail seriously, managing a wine list of quality and a dessert cart conspicuously elaborate. --P.C.R.
7401 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt.
L, D $3.50-$7.50. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. No reservations. Full bar. Free parking.
Jasper's is a big, deafeningly noisy, happily crowded watering hole. The menu contains more than 100 items, most of it snacks and light meals with generous portions and reasonable prices. The nacho permutations are excellent, as are the variously stuffed potato skins (and the baked potatoes). Onion rings are heavy, but fried artichokes are delightful. Broiled meats on sticks are tender and well marinated, available as appetizers or entrees. Omelets are first-rate, and the hamburgers (13 varieties) are magnificent behemoths. But fettucine primavera is a pasty, flavorless glop. For dessert, the apple pie and the peanut butter pie are delicious, but the super-chocolate creations are a let-down. --M.B.G.
2650 Virginia Ave. NW
L $30. D $40.- $70. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
Jean Louis' kitchen is adventurous, exciting, constantly issuing new ideas. Some don't always work, but efforts are worth encouraging. The menu is a small choice of multicourse fixed-price meals that force you to discover the joys of foie gras with pears or lobster with fresh fava beans or zucchini blossoms in truffle sauce. The plates are beautiful, with seafood terrines wrapped in dark green leek stems and aspic of pigeon embedded with tarragon leaves. And the desserts are incomparable. Taste them all: the strawberry cake with white chocolate ganache, the tiny flawless fruit tarts, the nutted meringue cake with the most subtle and silken of butter creams. Whatever is in season will have been immortalized in butter, flour and sugar on the cart. End with dark and white chocolate truffles. But there are heartbreaks at Jean Louis -- the inventions that don't work, the slippage when Jean Louis himself is not in the kitchen, and outrageous prices for wines, drinks, coffee and such. In all, Jean Louis has the makings of this city's superstar. But at half the price, Le Lion d'Or is a better value. Nobody's perfect, but with his $100 dinners Jean Louis had better continue aiming to be. --P.C.R.
1835 K St. NW.
L $6.75-$10.25, D $12.75- $18.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking after 6 p.m. Full bar.
Jean-Pierre is a reflection of its chef's considerable talent. Consider the cold appetizers: Chef Gerard Vettraino serves his supple raw salmon on a cloud of highly seasoned whipped cream, and surrounds it with morsels of multihued marinated vegetable salads.Fish pates can be heavy or dull, but they can also be a velvety salmon rilletes or an intriguing concoction of chopped oysters. Main dishes are more traditional: a beautifully roasted chicken with tarragon, a rockfish fillet grilled to smokiness and topped with a froth of buttery mustard sauce, perhaps rare slices of roasted lamb or pale and moist medallions of veal with tiny wedges of lemon. Duck is a favorite here, carved tableside. The garnishes of miniature bundles of crisply cooked vegetables raise very good food to grandeur. Jean-Pierre also accompanies dinner with what might be the best potatoes au gratin in town. The service shows its many years of experience, and the dining room has matured into a pleasant and restful place. Jean-Pierre's wine list shows meticulous concern for the quality of the food and for a varied range of budgets. And among the desserts -- generally good if not outstanding -- is a luscious omelet souffle, at its best when filled with fresh raspberries. --P.C.R.
THE JOCKEY CLUB
2100 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
L $9- $16.50, D $15.50-$24. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
The Jockey Club, recently dubbed a Reaganite hangout, offers a cozy dining room and a staff schooled in cosseting the mighty. The food is high-quality standard fare in the French mode with American accents, and while there are few show- stoppers, there are heart-stopping prices. What the kitchen does best is crab, and the crab cakes are large and sweet, perfectly seasoned, rolled in fresh crumbs and saut,eed in butter -- outstanding, but they should be at $21. At my last visit, they kept company with insipid and flavorless soup, soggy squab and wild rice that lacked savor. The pastry was oversweet and souffl,es looked pallid, though the menu includes a delicious orange-sauced custard. At such expense, one expects more flair. The wine list is more exciting than the menu, with special emphasis on hard-to-find Californias. But like the food, its prices would dent a Reagan budget. --P.C.R.
JOE AND MO'S
1211 Connecticut Ave. NW.
L $7-$11.75, D $11-$20. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, C, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
Joe and Mo's is strictly beef country: sirloin or prime rib or porterhouse or filet mignon. The thickest of slabs, the prime rib makes you glad you eat meat. Ditto for the beef medallions that come with a tasty if unnecessary b,earnaise and green peppercorn sauce. Potato pancakes are a spicy and lacy rendition that taste like the ones at home. But venturing out of meat and potatoes country, you could hit some rough territory. Veal marsala, for instance, is gloppy; spinach fettucine tastes as if it's been reheated. Fresh vegetables, such as broccoli or asparagus, could be cooked more adeptly. Joe and Mo's is still a place to see and be seen. But its glory is wearing thin, slipping Joe and Mo's into a solid steakhouse that is best left, on all accounts, for expense accounts. --C.S.
2228 18th St. NW.
L $2.25-$3.95, D $5.95- white $8.50. L, D daily except Sun. Sun brunch. Closed Mon. No credit cards. Reservations accepted. Beer and wine only.
Cosmopolitan vegetarian, that's Kalorama Caf,e. Lentil p.at,e. Carob honey mousse. Care and inventiveness have been employed in preparing this homespun food. Only fish are allowed (no meat or chicken) and are the bulk of the menu. The rest is various preparations and combinations of falafel, spinach noodles and vegetables. Tempura is a sure winner. Lentil pate had an earthy flavor, and garlic-soaked pita to perk it up. A bit misguided fish mornay is a delicate haddock drowned in a wine and cheese sauce that is a better accompaniment to the brown rice. The creamy honey cheesecake is exceptional, likewise the carob honey mousse. Service is pleasant if inattentive, and the restaurant is small and cozy. --C.S.
32871/2 M St. NW.
D $10.75-$13.75. D daily. Closed Mon. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Start here with soups -- a complex and delicious assh, or Soup Grandp,ere, a clear broth with diced turnips and meat that is spicy, savory, fragrant. Main dishes are divided into kebab entrees and Afghan entrees. Concentrate on the former, of which lamb is the best, cooked to a smoky juiciness. Shrimp is similarly well cooked and beautifully seasoned. This kitchen does less well with poultry, which may be pleasantly seasoned but cooked to dryness. It is the extras, though, that make the meal. First, the bread is made before your eyes, flat and crunchy loaves baked in a clay oven to a golden glaze. And with the main dishes come an array of homemade condiments. It is not one dish that makes Kandahar so surprisingly delightful, but the accumulation of grace notes. --P.C.R..
218 N. Lee St., Alexandria.
L $5.75-$8.75, D $9.75-$16.25. L daily except Sun, D daily. Sat brunch. AE, MC, V. Reservations required on weekends. Free parking after 6 p.m. Full bar.
La Bergerie has a lot going for it: location, a comfortable setting and a gracious and expert staff. As for the food, it is good rather than glorious, high quality rather than exciting. The menu lists a few Basque specialties but is otherwise a standard French array, with a particular emphasis on fish. The outstanding part of the meal is likely to be dessert, perhaps a crisp, sweet tart shell filled with kiwis and strawberries on a soft custard, or a chocolate-and-vanilla g.ateau St. Honor,e. La Bergerie is agreeable rather than spectacular, and has the good sense to price itself accordingly. --P.C.R.
239 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
L $3.75- $7.50, D $5.75-$17.50. Open daily. Sat and Sun brunch. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
This small Capitol Hill dining room has now made the full transition from caf,e to restaurant of elegance--and expense. Service is personable and the menu is small but packed with adventures: fresh quail, salmon with orange sauce. The old favorites are still fine: Creamy fish soup under a puff of pastry is an exceptional beginning, and for dessert there is a quite nice cr,eme br.ul,ee. Ingredients are top-notch. My quarrel with La Brasserie is that inventiveness is sometimes attained at the cost of appropriateness. A salade gourmande consisted of lovely leaves of m.ache, a fine mayonnaise, cold salmon wrapped around oysters (and unfortunately around bits of shell) and a delicious melon sorbet, but the blend was atrocious as the sorbet melted. Watch out for inventive excess and be prepared for $15 main dishes. --P.C.R.
400 North Capitol St. NW.
L, D $6.25-$9.95. L, D daily. Closed Sat, Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Full bar.
La Colline is a brasserie with food that's not sensational but sometimes out of the ordinary. The sleeper on the menu is a lamb chop cut from the saddle, nicely broiled and accompanied by a creditable sauce paloise. Fish is likely to be fresh and carefully cooked, and shrimp are also a tempting choice. But the seafood sauces falter. The same can be said of the duck's sauce. Only one main course was a total disaster--a dried-out rabbit swamped by a strong, unpleasant alcoholic sauce. More typical is the veal, almost excellent, a thick slice beautifully cooked, topped with duxelles and cream sauce. As for desserts, the butter cream tortes show the chef to best advantage, and chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup is worth saving space for. But the greatest asset to the restaurant is its wine orientation. The bar is a wine salon, with snacks available from the menu. In all, La Colline is a fresh, unpretentious and agreeable gathering place. --P.C.R.
7905 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda.
L $4.50-$7.75 D $8.75- $13.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted for lunch required for dinner. Full bar.
At La Miche, one of the best (and prettiest) French restaurants at its price in the area, salads might be composed with nutty arugula. Oysters are barely poached and then covered with an orange butter sauce with slivers of lime (one of Washington's best dishes). Main dishes shift with the daily specials. Veal might come in a cream sauce with pink peppercorns, or smoky with wild mushrooms. Tender sirloins might be topped with watercress sauce or slabs of unctuous marrow. The lobster, split and crowned with its whole shelled claws, drizzled with a light butter sauce accented by pernod, is marvelous. Occasionally the kitchen slips badly -- half a rabbit was smothered in a mustard sauce so heavy-handed and chalky that it was inedible. If you don't mind having to order dessert at the same time as the aperitifs, try some good souffl,es --the usual chocolate and Grand Marnier, of course, and a sublime hazelnut. The wine list is unadventurous, with a decent bottle for under $12. --Z.R.
L'AUBERGE CHEZ FRANCOIS
332 Springvale Rd.,
Great Falls, Va.
D $15.50-$18.00. D daily. Closed Mon. AE, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
The impossibly busy telephone, the two-week wait for reservations, the long drive home on winding roads should be discouraging. But this endearing country restaurant satisfies despite those drawbacks and even though the food is rarely outstanding. What's the secret? A rustic French environment, a staff that genuinely considers its patrons' welfare, an interesting wine list, a constantly changing menu that takes advantage of the season, and a fixed-price dinner that is reasonable. The p.at,e may fall flat, but it is garnished with several small, homey salads; the sauce choron may add little character to the beef but both will be accompanied by excellent fresh vegetables. And the saumon souffl,e de l'auberge, a salmon fillet topped with pike mousse, is superb. There is an unusually good selection of pastries, but include the house's own ice creams. --P.C.R.
2000 K St. NW.
L $6.50-$9.95, D $12.75- $16.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, C, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
You're not likely to find nouvelle oddities at Le Bagatelle, but even this bastion of classicism has edged into fresh, if restrained, new dishes. Take, for instance, a main dish of three salmon mousses, light as clouds, each with a different sauce; or a terrine of scallops, one of the few delicious seafood p.at,es in town, this one edged with a dark, winy aspic. But this pretty restaurant also does well by the standbys: its famous crab imperial, a rack of lamb crusty with coarsely cracked spices, hair-thin buttery green beans or batons of root vegetables. Desserts are elaborate looking, but lately haven't lived up to their visual promise. Le Bagatelle walks a high road, serving food -- particularly seafood--that is generally good, not likely to be either seriously flawed or inspired. --P.C.R.
2133 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
L, D $2.75- $14. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, C, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Steady and true, always interesting and still reasonable is the French cuisine at Le Gaulois. Although the dining room is crowded and service emphasizes efficiency rather than personableness, when the kitchen hits, it bats a home run. Look for complexity in the main dishes, perhaps the freshest and moistest fish enclosing a smidgen of vegetable and wrapped in a light and flaky puff pastry, or a cassoulet with depth and character. I have encountered dry and tough grilled fish and a braised veal and vegetable concoction that tasted lifeless. But the rule here is a wide choice of the season's best, cooked with distinction and offered in surprising combinations. --P.C.R.
1113 23rd St. NW.
L $5.50-$10.95, D $9-$14.50. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking for dinner. Full bar.But Le Jardin also has a sense of adventure for a restaurant in its price range, experimenting with dishes such as quenelles and quail. Unfortunately, the kitchen has a puzzling obsession with heavy- handed sauces. Scallop quenelles are delicate and light, but they swim in an overthickened sauce. Boneless quail are tender and moist, but the veal "mousse" stuffing is more like meatballs and the entire entree is awash in a boring red wine sauce. Dishes that escape from the saucier come alive, such as simple trout with cucumbers. The kitchen should let the food match the fresh simplicity of the decor. --Z.R.
LE LION D'OR
1150 Connecticut Ave. NW.
L $6-$21, D $12.50-$24. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
When a French restaurant stays at the top year after year, there is good reason. At Le Lion d'Or the reason is a highly professional, experienced and yet experimental kitchen staff and a similarly competent dining room staff. And compared with other top-echelon French restaurants, Le Lion d'Or these days is a bargain. Among the exciting experiments lately have been duck sausages, as light as quenelles and wrapped in crisp skin--superb. And fresh pigeon has been cooked to a fine juiciness and crispness, deliciously teamed with nearly melting cabbage or with wild mushrooms. Seafoods are well cared for, whether tiny scallops served cold in a julienne of vegetables, or the silkiest turbot in a delicate chervil cream, or a whole fish stuffed with a mousse or wrapped in a pastry. But remember that there are certainly missteps. And I still feel fresh irritation every time the list of specials-- too long to remember and without the prices even hinted -- is told to me rather than printed. Despite a glamorous array of pastries, stick to the high and airy souffl,es or the piquant sorbets. But the grand and blessedly fair-priced wine list, the continual stocking of the best and hardest-to-find ingredients and the sure touch in their preparation fix Le Lion d'Or firmly as a restaurant of excellence. --P.C.R.
LE VIEUX LOGIS
7925 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda.
L $5.85-$7.75, D $9.75- $14.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
This is part of the budding Bethesda French Quarter -- good, unassuming French dining that makes you wonder if it's worth going downtown. Start with thick p.at,es and crocks of onion soup; then move to elegant whole baby salmon, with the sheen of an airy butter sauce -- one of the loveliest dishes in town. Vieux Logis devotes more than half the daily specials to fish dishes such as trout and salmon in pastry or a tinge of the exotic such as shark fillets. You'll also find the standard steaks with peppercorns or b,earnaise and veal of the day (try veal with the tawny taste of wild mushrooms, in nut brown sauce). For each stunning success like the salmon there are flaws: frenetic waiters may forget you, and plates are delivered so hot that your food may overcook. But leave with thoughts of dessert--kiwis, strawberries, bananas or other fruits in a cloud of fluff -- and you'll undoubtedly return. --Z.R..
1725 F St. NW.
L $9-$14, D $13-$19. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. Pre- and post-theater fixed-price menu ($14.95). AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking after 6 p.m. Full bar.
More ambitious each year grows this highly proficient French kitchen, so nowadays the list of specials is long and filled with such enticements as truffled consomm,e afloat with lobster-stuffed ravioli. By and large, the food is as good as it sounds, which is very good. Occasionally there are slips, though no more precipitous than a very gamy pigeon eclipsing a sauce. Pates are excellent, and seafood is cared for well. And I have tasted veal -- cut thick, cooked to the instant beyond pinkness and gently seasoned with chives -- that was as close to ideal as one could hope. All this in a dining room of grand scale and with smooth service. We hear complaints about the service during the pre-theater bargain rush, and the cart of pastries is less delicious than it used to be. Yet by and large Maison Blanche sits firmly within a breath of the top among Washington's French restaurants. -- P.C.R.
MAMA AYESHA'S CALVERT CAFE
1967 Calvert St. NW.
L $4.95-$5.95, D $4.95-$6.50. Open daily. No credit cards. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Most of Mama's eaters know that at her kitschy Middle Eastern restaurant they can fill a plate with homey Arabic food at a limited expense. Bold seasonings predominate, and some dishes taste fatigued from oversteaming or overcooking. Stuffed eggplant is a waterlogged vegetable enclosing dry and unseasoned meat, and shish kebab is tangy marinated meat cubes grilled to toughness. Start with baba ghanouj (better than the hummus) and continue to kufta: ground lamb kebabs, peppery and charcoaly and tightly packed (and better than the kibbeh). Dry couscous is a pleasing dish for sweet teeth: a bed of sugary rice under a moist lamb shoulder. End with a bird's nest: tunnels of pastry filled with walnuts and centered with a clump of pistachios. -- C.S.
4840 Georgia Ave. NW.
L, D $4.85-$6.25. Open daily. No credit cards. Reservations accepted. Beer and wine only.
Save Mamma Desta for a group. Your waitress brings a large tray lined with injera, Ethiopia's wondrous white pancakes; she surrounds the tray with bowls of steaming lamb and chicken and beef, fragrant with onions and pungent with peppers. You spoon them onto the tray of injera. Mamma Desta prepares only a half- dozen basic dishes, but you can order variations on the themes by requesting your ground lamb and chicken alitcha-style (mild) or watt (hot). Also try kitfo, a sort of Ethiopian steak tartare -- raw, lean, freshly ground beef, smooth with melted butter and spicy with chile peppers. Some regulars fall in love with tej, a fermented honey wine with the perfume of fermented apricots. -- Z.R.
MAN IN THE GREEN HAT
301 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
L $4.25- 6.75, D $8.75-$13.95. L daily except Sat and Sun. Sat and Sun brunch. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations for groups of five or more. Full bar.
For observations of Capitol Hill life, the bar at the Man in the Green Hat is a good choice. And for a really good club sandwich, a nice vegetarian lunch of, say, zucchini stuffed with nuts and cheese, or a hefty salad, the Man in the Green Hat will suit well. But for a quiet talk, this place is too frenetic, and for complex cooking, the expertise is missing. The meats on the sandwiches taste freshly cooked, salad dressings use good oil and desserts sport exceptionally fine whipped cream. Too bad, then, when the service is excruciatingly slow, the quiche is rubbery and a sauce is indistinct. --P.C.R.
1120 Connecticut Ave. NW.
L $5.95-$9.95, D $11.95-$17.50. L,D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations not accepted for lunch, suggested for dinner. Free parking at dinner. Music. Full bar. Mel's is the carrier of the tradition, the tradition being reliable and solid he-man fare. Your chairs will be comfortable, your table topped with linen, and nobody winces if you start your meal with a garlicky dill pickle or fill up on homemade onion rolls or salt sticks. At Mel Krupin's healthy means chicken soup with a big fat matzo ball or a fine, thick steak to keep up your strength. Look for heartiness and plain stuff: fresh fish, plump oysters and clams, chicken or beef in a pot, roast beef. High prices, yes, and overcooking sometimes, but good reliable food. -- P.C.R.
1111 N. 19th St. Rosslyn.
L $3.95-$7.95, D $8.85-$14.95. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking for dinner. Full bar.
At Mon Paris, the menu is long and French, the food can be good -- though not always -- and, even at its best, it does not warrant the Ma la carte dinner prices. What makes Mon Paris worth braving the Rosslyn labyrinth is good value in the fixed-price lunches and dinners. The fish may taste overripe but its sauce is likely to be delicate; a sauteed chicken will be pleasantly drenched in tarragon sauce; homemade soup is well made; vegetables are fresh and the potatoes au gratin are wonderful. The menu covers all the ordinary bases, from tournedos to cr.epes, and the service is merely perfunctory. End a meal at Mon Paris with chocolate truffles on a bed of whipped cream and chocolate sauce or with a tangy lime pie.--P.C.R.
MR. M'S COFFEE SHOP
1120 Connecticut Ave. NW. (In the Bender Building).
L $1.25-$3.95. L daily. Closed Sat and Sun. No credit cards. No alcoholic beverages.
The pickles give it away. They tell you that Mr. M is Mel Krupin and that this coffee shop shares the same kitchen. Hot turkey and gravy, meat loaf and two vegetables, grilled chopped sirloin: This is hearty countertop coffee shop fare -- the kind where the hot roast beef and gravy soak into the white bread underneath, where the coleslaw is a top-notch deli variety and where delightful counter ladies mother you. Finish with bread pudding, a twist from the usual with its cobbleresque topping. Mr. M's is an executives' coffee shop for those who want to be near Mel but don't have the time.--C.S.
523 Maple Ave. W.,
L $3.25-$7.50, D $6.95-$12.50. L daily except Sun, D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
This tiny, pretty, neat Turkish restaurant turns out consistently fine Middle-Eastern food at a reasonable price. The daily dinner specials are just that: special, and all the appetizers are worth a try -- garlicky hummus; grape leaves stuffed with a minty rice mixture; light little phyllo pastries stuffed with cheese and meat; and, best of all, the stuffed baby eggplant, with olive oil and sweet, coarsely sliced onion. One candidate for the best entree is yogurt lu kebab, thin slices of steak and pieces of crisp pita bread in a yogurt-tomato sauce. Another is tash kebab, moist, well-trimmed lamb chunks in a delicate and complex tomato-based sauce with pureed eggplant and a hint of nutmeg. Shrimp kebabs excel. Moussaka is a subtle, feathery prize at Nizam's, and the small salads that come with entrees would do credit to any restaurant. The most unusual dessert is a simple baked pear. The baklava, unfortunately, was wet as a pudding on our last visit. -- M.G.B.
2123 Florida Ave. NW.
L $5.95-$9.95, D $6.95-$14.95. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. No credit cards. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
If Nora is not constantly excellent, at least it is constantly exciting. Whatever is new, just available, seasonal or intriguing in the market will show up on the menu: the first soft-shell crabs and the earliest basil of spring, fleshy wild mushrooms tossed with homemade pasta, arugula and asparagus. The meat is additive-free, the produce and fish are always fresh. This is a voluble caf,e, not a sedate and romantic hideway. Often the cold dishes are very good, though the bluefish salad with yogurt and dill has faltered. Try fish. Even when swordfish was overcooked, it was enhanced by fresh basil, garlic and top-grade olive oil. The menu stretches through veal and steak, with always something interesting (and often Oriental) done with chicken. The wine list is thoughful and, unlike many local restaurants, priced within reason. And desserts are a highlight; Nora's rehrucken, a chocolate almond cake that is dense and rich, is now a Washington classic. -- P.C.R.
O'BRIEN'S PIT BARBECUE
1314 Gude Dr., Rockville.
7305 Waverly St., Bethesda.
L, D $2.30-$6.95. Open daily. MC, V. No reservations. Free parking. Full bar.
The food at the two O'Brien's locations is identical: excellent barbecue, immense portions and commendably low prices. The two classiest barbecued meats are the ribs and the chicken, the meat permeated with a beautiful hickory flavor. Many will find the sausage too greasy, but the baked beans at O'Brien's seem to be getting better. Still good as ever is the chili crammed with big, firm beans, chunky meat and bright pieces of tomato. The best bargain is probably the new poor boy sandwich, a mountain of barbecue piled, unfortunately, on a pedestrian sub roll. --M.G.B.
OLD ANGLER'S INN
1801 MacArthur Blvd. Potomac.
L $5.75-$8.50, D $11.50- $17.50. L, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking. Full bar.
Food is simply not the point at some restaurants, and Old Angler's is one of them. It thrives on its location -- a spot just far enough to tempt one from the city. A summer evening at an outdoor table, a winter drink by the fire or dinner overlooking a snowy scene -- such are the elements of Old Angler's romance. As for the dining, opt for the fish, which is usually fresh and best simply saut,eed, perhaps with pistachios. Or share a rack of lamb or chateaubriand. Ingredients are good, but the cooking may be overdone and the sauces lack finesse. Finish with a well-ripened cheese and the last of your wine. Desserts are even more indifferent than the sauces. The tariff is high, but Old Angler's remains a lovable hideaway. --P.C.R..
1225 19th St. NW.
L $5.75-$19, D $8- $19. L daily except Sat. D daily. Closed Sun. AE, C, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
While rightfully known as a he-man steakhouse, the Palm has a few surprises, especially at lunch, in its homey soups -- a mere $1.25 -- and quality salads for the same price. And its iced coffee may be the best anywhere. The Palm also serves hefty and good beef, giant and dependable lobsters, crunchy Palm fries and the usual roast beef and chops -- all at hearty prices. Lunch is a relative bargain, with respectable chicken or shrimp salad, roast beef hash and such, most for $6 or $7. But keep away from anything fancy. Crab cakes are overbreaded, and subtleties are not the Palm's long suit.--P.C.R.
1835 K St. NW.
L $7.95-$9.95, D $11.75- $15.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required. Free parking. Full bar.
Piccolo Mondo has a reputation, a lot of it justified, as one of Washington's best Italian restaurants. It looks the part, it costs the part (dinner for two can top $100), and often it tastes the part, with perfectly cooked pastas, juicy swordfish, and pampered vegetables, such as a side dish of spinach with butter and garlic. A recent visit, though, suggests the reputation could slip away. Sometimes the seasoning, such as on seafood salad or noodles with "rich seafood sauce," was lifeless. Once, when the waiter had finished swirling entrees in copper pans over a flame, the meat had been overcooked. And at these prices, you don't expect the waiter to tell you that you can't munch appetizers as you mull over the rest of the menu. And as for "fresh" raspberries . . .tinged with mold? But a marvelous liquor-soaked chocolate mousse cake ended the meal. --Z.R.
THE PINES OF ROME
4709 Hampden La., Bethesda.
L $3.50-$8.50, D $4.50-$18. L, D daily. Closed Mon. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. No reservations. Beer and wine only.
On weekends, the magic hour at the Pines of Rome is 7 p.m. After that, you'll have to wait for a table. Why such a land-office business? Good, simple, southern Italian cooking. The Pines of Rome has not been a model of consistency, but, judging from our last few visits, the kitchen is on an upswing. Another reason is very modest prices. What to order? White beans, as an appetizer or in soup, are excellent, firm and laced with garlic. Other can't- miss appetizers are sweet red peppers and anchovies in oil, garlic and fresh Italian parsley; the lightly fried zucchini; and, best of all, eggplant parmigiana, the tomato sauce sweet and fresh. In fact, all the tomato- based sauces are good, if a bit underherbed. They do justice to the commendably chewy imported spaghetti and to the good homemade pastas (although the cannelloni was a bit oily and blandly filled last time we had it). Mussels, clams and shrimp have all been fine lately, but if you're foolhardy enough to order lobster in a place like this, you deserve what you get. Veal was of high quality on our last try, thin, succulent, unpounded -- and at $7, a good buy as well. For dessert, tortoni is commendably eggy and creamy, and cannoli is acceptable if a mite oversweet. --M.G.B.
3200 M St. NW.
L $4.95-$6.25, D $8.50- $10.50. Open daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Figure dessert into your plans here. The pastries are beautiful -- fragile tart shells, liquered creams, chocolate filigree -- of a quality that didn't exist in Washington 10 years ago. The $10 pre- and post-theater dinner is a good value, and as a general rule the best is the heartiest: creamy mushroom soup, a rare steak. You can have fish light and tomatoey or creamy and vegetable decked. And you can find it very well prepared. But skip the pretentious stuff: the seafood or vegetable p.at,es, the nouvelle- style salads, the overcooked stuffed chicken. The wine list is small but thoughtful and fairly priced, the service is breezy, and the brass-and-wood booths are a box seat to late-night Georgetown. --P.C.R.
2020 K St. NW.
L $8.50-$12.50, D $12.95- $20. L daily except Sat. D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking at dinner. Full bar.
This is another restaurant to satisfy meat-and-potatoes fans. They are willing to wait in line on a Saturday night -- when the restaurant takes no reservations -- but why is a mystery. The food is good, plain fare, such as oysters or clams; an enormous and tender (though not reliably rare or juicy) roast beef served with fresh grated horseradish; fine lump crab imperial, creamy and faintly spiked with mustard; rack of lamb that looks almost like rack of two lambs. But the flounder stuffed with crab can lead to a disappointment of overcooked fish. Potato skins are terrific, but steak fries are mundane, creamed spinach is adequately good, salad better. One could wish for less forgetful and more attentive waiters, though they are capable of superb service. --P.C.R.
RICHARD'S PIER 20
1120 20th St. NW.
L, D $6.95-$10.50. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations required for dinner. Valet parking after 6 p.m. Full bar.
This plush and handsome dining room does best with grilled fresh fish, and you can usually expect top-quality ingredients, though the fish is not always removed from the fire at its juiciest. With complicated dishes, sauces have erred into sweetness or heaviness, and fried dishes can also be heavy. Vegetables are fresh but ordinary. A mild and creamy lobster bisque, a mayonnaise-dressed salad of plump seafood, fat crab cakes made with lump crab meat, grilled whole pompano, a bottle of well-chosen chardonnay and the constant attention of a zealous staff total a grand dinner at good value. --P.C.R.
1312 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
L $6.75-$12, D $12.50-$24. Open daily, Sun brunch. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
Rive Gauche is a professional-caliber French kitchen housed in a Georgetown hotel, and thus bears the burden of breakfast, room service, banquets and a Sunday buffet brunch, along with the expected elaborate lunch and dinner menu of jewel-perfect vegetable terrines, truffled game and meats and souffles. It is spread a bit thin. That vegetable terrine may be a stunning picture but a mite heavy on the tongue; a cloud-light seafood dish may be lacking in flavor. Quail stuffed with spinach has a delicious ring, but falls flat in the execution. Count on sauces of considerable excellence, whether meat juices mellowed by cream or a deft hollandaise. And look for fish of stellar quality, though not always cooked with sufficient care. The best of the menu is likely to be a whole fish grilled over fennel, and if there is a cold and tangy jellied rabbit pate, or a fragile mousse to start, you are in for an exceptional meal. Beyond the handsome -- if not equally delectable -- pastries on the cart, there will be lovely cookies and chocolate truffles and, if you are lucky, some superb house-made caramels. The staff knows its work well, but inconsistency plagues this potentially top-notch kitchen.Go for Sunday brunch, when its capabilities stand out from the crowd. --P.C.R.
ROMEO AND JULIET
2020 K St. NW.
L $9-$11.50, D $12.50-$21. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking after 6 p.m. Full bar.
From a Northern Italian restaurant so plush and so expensive as Romeo and Juliet, you should expect star performance. Often, you get it. In fact, both kitchen and service seem to have improved lately. Still, one shudders at wines so overpriced and is taken aback at five fried shrimp with oversalted mayonnaise sauce for nearly $17, no matter how large and carefully cooked the shrimp. What are worthwhile are the light tomato sauces seasoned with fresh herbs -- say, on the linguine with clams -- and the veal dishes such as scaloppine with chicken livers, mushrooms and sweet marsala counterpointed against slices of green olive, a memorable dish. The green-and-white paglia e fieno are al dente noodles, and homemade -- unlike the linguine. But why overwhelm them with peas that permeate the delicate cheese sauce with a canned taste? In all, Romeo and Juliet is filled with possibilities, from the gratis offering of fried zucchini to a wonderful rough, country-style ricotta cheesecake. And the service is gracious. But at those prices, Romeo and Juliet is a tightrope act without a net, and occasionally and crucially it slips. --P.C.R..
1226 36th St. NW.
D $15-$23. D daily. Closed Sun. AE, C, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
The 1789 is a serene 18th- century house serving imaginative French food. The dining rooms are charming, with fireplaces and the main dishes range from rabbit to reindeer. But most interesting are the daily specials: oysters in puff pastry or in garlic-parsley butter; salmon sauced with two caviars or stuffed with spinach; pheasant or lamb, or sweetbreads in orange sauce. Sauces are delicate, vegetables beautifully cooked and sensitively seasoned. Chicken breast with pecans and morels was not a knockout, but was well prepared. Grilled lobster was slightly undercooked but was as fresh as one could hope and accompanied by a dill-caviar sauce that suited it well. One could wish for a more informative or evenly and modestly priced wine list, but the choices are intriguing. And for dessert, 1789 serves such extravaganzas as G.ateau St. Honor,e under a cloud of spun sugar. --P.C.R.
913 19th St. NW.
L $5.75-$10.95, D $8.95- $14.95. Fixed-price $12.50, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
Shezan may not be flawless, but it provides some of the smoothest and most sophisticated Indian-Pakistani dishes in Washington, and in a striking setting. Among the small flaws are soups without distinction and a disappointing absence of traditional Indian-Pakistani appetizers.
The paratha bread, baked in the tandoor oven, is among the best you'll find, and the steamed rice dishes are first rate. Don't miss the meats grilled in the tandoor oven. Curries vary from superb to dull: saag gosht is the best version of this lamb-spinach blend we've had, and millie jhoolie sabzi is a delightfully deep, lively vegetable curry. But bhuna gosht turned out to be a single-toned, dull dish of lamb and onion. Try the interesting Indian ice cream made with evaporated milk and nuts; you may well acquire a taste for it. --M.G.B.
1990 K St. NW.
1443 K St. NW. 783-4133. L $.95-$3.50, D $.95-$3.50. L,D daily. Closed Sun. No credit cards. No reservations. No alcoholic beverages.
The croissant-and-coffee crowd have it all wrong. You can go to Sholl's for breakfast and get two fried eggs, two sausage links, grits, two biscuits, coffee and juice. We're talkin' $2.21. Sholl's is an equal bargain for lunch, but breakfast seems more apropos for soaking up the cafeteria's collision of religion, patriotism and down-home food. And the food tastes fresher than at most cafeterias, although oil spills surround some fried choices. Don't miss homemade biscuits or blueberry muffins, and notice that the coffee is just as strong and good as the stuff that comes with a croissant. --C.S.
11407 Amherst Ave. Wheaton.
L, D $4-$10.50. L daily except Wed, D daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking. Beer and wine only.
That the best restaurant in any ethnic group should serve dishes that average under $6 is worth noting. That the Siam Inn also serves with warmth and courtesy in a freshly decorated dining room makes it worth putting on nearly everybody's list. Appetizers tend to be the most delicious dishes, whether a faintly curried pork sat,e accompanied by sweetened peanut sauce, or deep-fried crab balls that are as light as quenelles. Spring rolls have a soft-textured filling with transparent noodles. There are tart and spicy salads and soups, noodle dishes, spareribs cut small and seasoned with fried garlic and pepper, and wonderful chicken drumettes stuffed with crab and mushrooms. Main dishes taste a little less bright, and whole fish is likely to be overcooked, though admirably fresh. Most unusual is the sweet-spicy mee krob. Try a dish with garlic and pepper, or the anise-and-ginger rolled duck; or try oyster sauce or black sauce, on your choice of meat, seafood or fowl. And above all, try the Siam Inn in spring or early summer, when mangoes are in season, for a stunning dessert of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk, thick and sweet and buttery tasting and teamed with slices of ripe fragrant mango. --P.C.R.
2309 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
L $5.50-$6, D $6.50-$12. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Mon. AE. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Washington's first sushi restaurant has heavy competition these days, but holds its own. Its finest moment is lunch when the menu is limited to very good sushi and sashimi; interesting dumplings heavy on the garlic, ginger and hot pepper; teriyaki; a couple of soups; and tempura that may be heavy. But most delightful of all, and so new it wasn't even on the menu at my last visit, was a lacquered and compartmentalized bento box arranged with sushi rice wrapped in seaweed; a few bites of pristine raw tuna in multicolored curly leaves; a few squares of sweet-savory chicken and grilled fish; marinated vegetables cut into flowers and geometric shapes; and slivers of pickled ginger and cabbage. For $6, you can have your gifts and eat them, too. --P.C.R.
1735 Connecticut Ave. NW.
L $2.95-$6.95, D $2.95-$8.50. Open daily. Closed Sun. MC, V. No reservations. Full bar.
The attraction here is sociability. Don't expect serenity. Do expect bright, fresh and creative food that sometimes works and sometimes falls a little fla. Venture into some excellent (and, naturally, pricey) wines by the glass. Suzanne's is the kind of casual caf,e to have just a piece of cake (try the chocolate chestnut cake), a cheese platter, a bowl of soup or a whole poached baby salmon. The best bets are the cold plates, perhaps with the most succulent of smoked chicken or beef fillet with a herbed mayonnaise. Chicken salad is likely to be wonderful, as are cold pasta with pesto or snow peas with red peppers. You can buy more to take home from the carryout downstairs. --P.C.R.
615 I St. NW.
L $4.35-$5.25, D $6.25- $10.95. Open daily. AE, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
No sooner did this restaurant redecorate the dining room than its food took a nose dive. On my last visit the dumplings were soggy blobs, the duck tasted so stale and stringy that we sent it back, and rubbery globs of cornstarch stuck to the shrimp. The shrimp themselves were tender and velvety, and the vegetables were brightly crisp. So, too, the steamed fish was fresh and moist, cooked just right. But great hunks were missing from it when it arrived, so it offered surprisingly little meat for such a big head and tail; also, the waiter tried to discourage us from ordering it because "it takes 45 minutes." Szechuan still serves high-quality meat and seafoods, but the surly behavior of the dining room staff seems to have spilled over into the kitchen. It was Chinatown's best, but apparently has retired from the race. --P.C.R.
SZECHUAN AND HUNAN
1776 E. Jefferson St., Rockville.
L $2.95-$3.50, D $4.50-$8.95. L daily except Sun, D daily. MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
We reviewed this place with trepidation, hoping it was going to be as good as we remembered.And it is still a handsome Chinese restaurant of immense competence and consistency. Concentrate on Szechuan appetizers, like dan dan noodles (an entree-size portion for $2.95), cooked firm and served in a subtle vinegar-peanut-sesame oil sauce. Don't forget the steamed dumplings, satiny, tender, unwaterlogged, the filling graced with garlic and fresh ginger. As to the main dishes, try the items labeled "with chef's special sauce," or some similar phrase. Those "special sauces" are different from dish to dish. The beef's sauce has the sweetness of hoisin and the fragrance of fresh ginger. The shredded chicken's sauce is tart and garlicky. And then the sauce turns delightfully sweet- tart with the crispy fish chunks --heavenly chunks, their batter coating light and crispy under the sauce. Moo shi dishes are solid contenders here, too: Pancakes are thin, yet strong enough to stand up to the filling, which is coarse-cut and without excess liquid. --M.G.B..
1010 20th St. NW.
L $6.50-$14, D $6.50-$28. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Full bar.
A sushi bar highly respected in New York and Tokyo now has a Washington branch. And fine points set this apart from ordinary sushi bars. The fish- topped rice cakes have a precise look, and the platters of sashimi are artistic, with fish rolled up like flowers or sprinkled with a few grains of coral roe. These fish taste carefully handled, and the shrimp have a fine flavor that is absent from routine cooked shrimp. The variety of sea creatures is wider than Washington is used to seeing, and surprises show up intermittently. Omakase, defined by the menu as "our chef's daily offering from a specially selected superior grade of fish," may turn out to be a beautiful platter of raw fish looking like sea jewels, with smoked salmon slices curled into a full-blown rose; tuna -- both dark and the pale, fatty and delectable belly section-- firm and fresh; irresistible yellowtail; a ruffled clam shell filled with slightly crunchy slices of some sea mystery. Takesushi's is the best tempura in town, the shrimp crisp, juicy and flavorful under their pale gold lace of a batter. Prices are authentically Japanese, which means high to breathtaking, and while the quality is high, you can get better value elsewhere. --P.C.R.
3316 M St. NW.
L $4.25-$6, D $5.95-$12. Open daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
The queen of the tandoori dishes at Tandoor is the chicken, moist and flavorful from marination in yogurt and spices. Even better are the chicken pieces (chicken tikka), which have more surface area for absorbing the marinade. An unexpected standout from the tandoor oven is the fish: very fresh, the last time we had it, and cooked briefly enough to retain firmness and texture. On the other hand, we've found the tandoori lamb and shrimp dry and tasteless. The best lamb here is in the curries: Look for saagwala, a lamb-spinach combination. The vegetable curry is a standout, marrying ingredients and flavors without robbing them of identity. Biriani dishes are worth a try -- the lamb version is the best. You can ignore the appetizers, with the exception of the superlative kufta kebab, coarse-ground lamb infused with spices and grilled medium rare. The mulligatawny soup is wonderful -- a creamy, liquid velvet that's worth a trip in itself. And don't forget the naan and roti, excellent breads baked in the tandoor. Among the three desserts, we've found the gulab jamun disappointingly soppy. The other two, rasmalai and rice pudding, have a nice way of growing on you. --M.G.B.
1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW.
L $8.50- $9.50, D $13.50-$16.50. L daily, except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations accepted. Free parking at dinner. Full bar.
Memories of some restaurants grow fonder with time; our memories of Tartufo grow gloomier. We see swordfish fillet, thin and tough, sprinkled with fresh basil -- and drowned in clarified butter. We see fatty duck in amaretto sauce, cloying with a taste reminiscent of artificial pancake syrup -- and drowned in clarified butter. We see a house specialty, veal with truffles (Tartufo's namesake), bland scaloppine topped with wafer-thin slices of truffle (for which the house charges $30). And we see a tart of the day, topped with -- of all things, in summer -- canned peaches. Occasionally the kitchen turns out a lovely, refined dish. Several pastas are excellent, especially spinach pillows in light cream flecked with walnuts. But at a recent visit we were charged for a drink and a pasta we didn't order or receive, and were hit with an unexpected charge of $15 for asking for a few more truffles on a dish. Add to that an arrogant waiter, and no wonder the better memories fade fast. --Z.R
818 King St., Alexandria.
L 3.90-$6.75, D $8.50-$13.50. L, D daily. Closed Mon. Sun. brunch. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Taverna Cretekou remains lovable, beautiful and reliable -- a place for adequate to excellent Greek dishes. At dinner, entrees are generally upstaged by appetizers: silky-sweet stuffed eggplant, or tender baby octopus marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, or minty stuffed grape leaves, or the impressive appetizer sampler. Among the best entrees are the crisp-skinned chicken, herbed and lemoned; the big, moist lamb shank and pearly pasta called arni youvetsi; and exohikon, tender lamb chunks and lively vegetables in a crisp phyllo wrapping. The minuses are the flawlessly fresh fish-- which is sometimes overcooked -- and a surprisingly dull, dry shish kebab. Taverna Cretekou's brunch is one of the best bargains around. Look for beautiful salads of cold fish, eggplant and artichokes; plump stuffed grape leaves; a mild tarmosalata; and marinated skewered meats and roast lamb. But walk past the pastitsio and the spinach and cheese pies, which don't take well to sitting on buffet tables. Finish with galaktoboureka, its milk custard enlivened by a sauce of lightly caramelized sugar. Visit on a lazy, sunny, sit-outside morning, and linger in the arbored courtyard. .--M.G.B.
1120 20th St. NW.
L $5.25-$6.25, D $6.75-$20. L daily ex Sun, D daily. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking at dinner only. Full bar.
Ted Liu's is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Washington, with blue quilted cotton walls, forest green Formica tables with pink runners and napkins, leatherette banquettes of teal blue. The problem, though, is that you don't know what to expect. One day, Hunan beef was large chunks of steak coated with a glaze that included fresh ginger and a restrained touch of pepper, then quickly cooked so the coating was crusty, the inside faintly pink. And jumbo shrimp, grilled in the shell, were cooked just as carefully, sauced with a thick tomatoey paste, spicy and crunchy with scallions. Another time, the beef was in slices and had a mushy tenderized texture. Shrimp with cashews suffered from an overthickened sauce, but its flavor was excellent. On another visit, the doldrums had really set in: the seasonings were bright, the flavors intricate and delightful, but overthickening and greasiness prevailed. Still, the niceties of service and decorative touches to the food can compensate for flaws. --P.C.R.
1951 K St. NW.
L $10.95-$11.95, D $14.95- $32. L daily except Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Free parking. Full bar.
Elegant but not inspired is this northern Italian restaurant. The large dining room is decorated in a contemporary simplicity. Waiters in black tie serve in a manner that veers from well oiled to oily, depending on their work load and your status. The food is reliable but rarely wonderful, though prices like $21 for veal suggest something more. True, Tiberio sets high standards: it has raspberries year-round and fresh asparagus more likely than not. The fish may be nicely cooked, but topped with nothing more thrilling than tasteless frozen baby shrimp, commendable asparagus and lemon butter. The best dish here in my recent memory was a robust lentil soup. The menu concentrates on fish and veal, but the veal is likely to be overpounded and lacking succulence, though it is meat of high quality. While Tiberio has the most expensive pasta dish in town (linguine with lobster at $32) and an astonishing $15 tariff for its typical pasta dish, it still makes fine spinach-stuffed agnolotti in a dense cream sauce. You can wash them down with grandly overpriced wines and follow them with desserts that are beautiful, fairly good but similarly overpriced. Tiberio is a reasonably good restaurant with an inflated sense of its own worth. --P.C.R.
TOUT VA BIEN
1063 31st St. NW.
965- 1212. L $3.95-$7.95, D $7.95-$12.50. L daily except Sun, D daily. Sat brunch. MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Tout Va Bien serves some of the more reliable and thoughtful dishes in the city: tender steaks, rich with aging and the bold perfume of peppercorns or garlic; whole trout, simple, moist and accented by mushrooms and crab; country-hearty gigot de volaille, chicken stuffed with veal that's nutty and bold with herbs. Some fans cross town just for the liver: These tender slices, layered with avocado and draped with herb sauce, transform liver from mundane to heavenly. Occasionally the duck or chicken may come slightly overcooked. Or a terrine of vegetables may be dry and desecrated by what tastes like run- of-the-mill cocktail sauce. And while some waiters serve with great care, others are irritable. But the finale will be sweet, especially the simple, exquisite fresh fruit tarts -- each slice made to order, never a soggy crust, crowned with slices of bittersweet orange or raspberry jewels. -- Z.R.
209 1/2 Pennsylvania Ave.
L $11.95-$16.95, D $22. L daily except Sat, D daily. Pre- and post- theater fixed-price menu ($16). AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Each year this classic of New American Cuisine gets better, from the flowers on the table to the polish of the service to the food itself. For such a small menu -- changing with each season -- there are a lot of irresistible choices. In summer the soft- shell crabs are the sweetest to be had, getting along surprisingly well with garlic, ginger and herbs. Pork chops are marinated, then grilled and anointed with watercress butter. Cold platters are designed as well for taste as for appearance. Start with some new-to-Washington aperitif, continue to an herbed vegetable or pasta appetizer (don't miss the ratatouille when it is available), and if you are indecisive, choose a main dish that includes the best dish in the house, zucchini fritters. 2091/2 remains Capitol Hill's best restaurant. --P.C.R.
11154 Georgia Ave., Wheaton.
L $3.75-$5.25, D $4.25- $13.00. L, D daily. Closed Mon. Sat and Sun brunch. MC, V. Reservations accepted for dinner. Free parking after 5 p.m. and on weekends. Full bar.
A day looks pretty good when it includes dim sum lunch at Tung Bor, which each year reaches new heights. Weekends, justifiably, are intensely crowded, for those are the days when carts of dozens of kinds of dim sum are wheeled through the dining room. Weekdays you order from a menu. In any case, the fried won tons are delicate; the spring rolls combine crispness and succulence; the steamed shu mai and har gow have the thinnest of noodle wraps and subtly delicious meat and shrimp stuffings; the taro balls are lacy and crisp; and the pan-fried turnovers, with glutinous dough and wonderful chunky and fragrant bits in the filling, are sensational. Service is harried and the surroundings are low on charm, but at lunchtime in Tung Bor very little money can bring a feast of memorable tastes. Dinner at Tung Bor? Make it lunch: It would be a pity to pass up a dim sum opportunity. --P.C.R..
1606 20th St. NW.
667- 0047. L, D $10.75-$18.75.
L daily except Sat and Sun, D daily. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Vincenzo is very Italian, very simple and totally a seafood restaurant. It is a simple tile- floored trio of dining rooms, slightly austere as a seaside Italian restaurant might be. The heavy-crusted, chewy wheat bread is served without butter; the water is bottled and Italian. Start with cold antipasti: roasted peppers with anchovies, caponata, artichoke hearts and small pickled fish or saut,eed and marinated eggplant. Or have a pasta: The linguine might be tossed with impeccable clams or mussels with a touch of parsley and garlic, or with crab meat and just a touch of pungent tomato sauce. If you are lucky, linguine with wild mushrooms will be on the menu, prickly with red pepper. For main courses, choose a fish -- perhaps whole red snapper or pompano, maybe a swordfish or salmon steak, or if you like them, sweetly fresh sardines. Again if you are lucky, the menu might include razor clams or some other unlikely fresh seafood. Have it grilled, smoky and crosshatched from a very hot char-grill, and cooked flawlessly (except for sometimes a sooty residue, presumably from flareups). Vincenzo searches out outstanding fish, and knows enough not to ruin them. If you have room, survey the cart of homemade pastries, or end with a very Italian espresso: a half cup of not-very-hot but very strong dark roast. Vincenzo is expensive. But Washington has nothing else like it, and no quality to better it. --P.C.R.
WEST END CAFE
1 Washington Circle NW.
L $5.25-$12.95, D $5.60-$13.75.
L daily except Sat, Sun, D daily. Sun brunch. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar.
Remember the West End Cafe: It is a restaurant for many tastes and reasons. A family dinner celebration at a moderate price. Before or after the theater, an intimate meal. Brunch. A light dinner. Drinks and a pianist. Airy, with a curvaceous hallway, the West End Cafe is elegantly comfortable. The menu is short: fish, meat and poultry. Mistakes are likely to be small, mostly involving mismatched sauces. (Not to worry -- the restaurant serves them separately). Appetizers come in big sizes, the best among them the fried zucchini, crispy-battered on the outside, a juicy crunch on the inside. Among main courses, the calf's liver is soft and tender enough to require little cutting. Barbecued sesame duck tastes agreeable, but it would be outstanding with a crustier skin. On the sidelines are mandoline-cut cubes of french-fried potatoes that bite with garlic, crab-in- phyllo swirled into a hat-shape. Desserts are more ordinary, but by that time you'll forgive anything. --C.S. PLACE SETTINGS
Capitol Hill American Cafe La Brasserie La Colline Man in the Green Hat 209 1/2
Downtown Bacchus Bread Oven Cantina d'Italia China Inn Dominique's El Caribe Foggy Bottom Cafe Food For Thought Four Seasons Hotel: Aux Beaux Champs Gary's House of Hunan Il Giardino Jean-Louis Jean-Pierre Jockey Club Joe and Mo's Kalorama Cafe Le Bagatelle Le Gaulois Le Jardin Le Lion d'Or Maison Blanche Mama Ayesha's Calvert Cafe Mel Krupin's Mr. M's Nora Palm Piccolo Mondo Prime Rib Richard's Pier 20 Romeo and Juliet Shezan Sholl's Suzanne's Szechuan Takesushi Tartufo Ted Liu's Tiberio Vincenzo West End Cafe
Georgetown American Cafe Apana Bamiyan Chinoiserie El Caribe Enriqueta Kandahar Place Vendome Rive Gauche 1789 Sushi-ko Tandoor Tout Va Bien
Upper Northwest Fio's Floriana Germaine's Mamma Desta
Maryland Crisfield Jasper's La Miche Le Vieux Logis O'Brien's Pit Barbecue Old Angler's Inn Pines of Rome Siam Inn Szechuan and Hunan Tung Bor
Virginia China Garden East Wind Falls Landing Geranio Inn at Little Washington La Bergerie L'Auberge Chez Francois Mon Paris Nizam's Taverna Cretekou
PRIVATE PARTY ROOMS Bacchus Bamiyan (Alexandria) China Garden China Inn Dominique's East Wind El Caribe (Georgetown) Four Seasons Hotel: Aux Beaux Champs Gary's Geranio House of Hunan Il Giardino Jean-Louis Jockey Club Joe and Mo's La Bergerie La Brasserie La Miche Le Jardin Le Lion d'Or Maison Blanche Mama Ayesha's Calvert Cafe Man in the Green Hat Mel Krupin's Mon Paris Nizam's Nora Old Angler's Inn Piccolo Mondo Pines of Rome Place Vendome Richard's Pier 20 Rive Gauche Romeo and Juliet 1789 Sushi-ko Suzanne's Szechuan Szechuan and Hunan Tandoor Tartufo Ted Liu's Tung Bor West End Cafe
SUNDAY BRUNCH American Cafe (both locations)* Bread Oven* China Garden* Foggy Bottom Cafe* Four Seasons Hotel: Aux Beaux Champs* Jasper's Jockey Club* Kalorama Cafe La Brasserie* Le Jardin* Man in the Green Hat* Place Vendome Rive Gauche Taverna Cretekou Tung Bor* West End Cafe
*These establishments also serve brunch on Saturday
BREAKFAST Fio's (Sat, Sun only) Foggy Bottom Cafe Four Seasons Hotel: Aux Beaux Champs (Sat, Sun only) Jockey Club La Colline Mr. M's Rive Gauche Sholl's (both locations)
OPEN AFTER 11 p.m. American Cafe (both locations) Apana* China Inn Chinoiserie* Dominique's El Caribe* (both locations) Floriana* Food For Thought Foggy Bottom Cafe Jasper's La Brasserie Le Gaulois* Le Jardin Maison Blanche* Mamma Desta Man in the Green Hat* Mon Paris (Sat only) Nora* O'Brien's Pit Barbecue (Rockville) Pines of Rome (Sat only) Place Vendome Richard's Pier 20 Rive Gauche 1789 Suzanne's* Szechuan* Tandoor* Tiberio (Sat only) Tout Va Bien* 209 1/2 West End Cafe
PRE-AND POST- THEATER MENU Dominique's Mon Paris Place Vendome Rive Gauche Shezan Tartufo
LIVE MUSIC El Caribe (both locations) Food For Thought Four Seasons Hotel: Aux Beaux Champs Gary's Kalorama Cafe La Brasserie La Colline Mel Krupin's Mon Paris Piccolo Mondo Prime Rib Rive Gauche Tartufo Taverna Cretekou West End Cafe.