Open daily for lunch and Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., for dinner 5 to 11 p.m. No reservations. AE, CB, MC, V. Prices: At lunch and dinner, appetizers $2.25 to $4.95, entrees $3.95 to $11.25; brunch entrees average $5.
In France, a restaurant closing is news; in this country, half the new restaurants fail within a year. Why the difference?
It is said that French restaurants typically are opened by professionals, people who know what they are doing and how to go about it. In the United States, restaurants are frequently amateur operations, games of chance.
That certainly seems the case with Trumpets. Many months ago I overheard someone at a party boasting about opening a sophisticated new pub named Trumpets. He described the interior design with great flair, and I began to watch for it. Sure enough it emerged behind a particularly chic facade among the Connecticut Avenue caf,es that stretch north from Calvert Street. Great arched windows set a more substantial and elegant tone than that of the nondescript neighbors, even though Trumpets' outdoor tables are smaller than its neighbors' and therefore look less seriously culinary.
Inside, Trumpets has all the flair I'd anticipated. Not a whit small-townish, It would be perfectly suited to Manhattan's SoHo. The high ceiling is supported by columns painted dusty rose, contrasting with vanilla colored walls and reflected in a large smoked mirror over the bar. The floor and the bar itself are painted wood, in a modern version of old-fashioned stencil decorations. And the tables are set with flowered cloths of dusty rose over vanilla, topped with glass. Very American, simple, both old and new in its flavor is this cavernous space. The wals are decorated with -- of course -- trumpets, and old photos of Washington life. In the rear a piano plays.
Unlike most Washington restaurants, Trumpets serves the same menu -- at the same prices -- for both lunch and dinner. Waiters have told me month after month that the menu was going to change, but it has remained as it was. There are a few daily specials, mostly seafoods, chalked on the blackboard in the front. This is the all-purpose American pub menu, starting with nachos, fried zucchini, chili-stuffed potato skins and the like; continuing to hamburgers in various fancy dress versions, sandwiches and full-meal salads; and climaxed by a few pastas and seafoods and a couple of steaks. The deep-fryer gets a heavy workout here, from batter-fried chicken strips to zucchini to fried mozzarella to shrimp, fish and onion rings. At brunch the standards take on new twists: french toast stuffed with fruit or made of croissants, eggs atop a croissant, granola with fresh fruit and the everyday quiches and omelets.
That' pretty much where the excitement ends. There is some good stuff at Trumpets, some dreadful stuff -- and nothing extraordinary. Service can be friendly and smooth or thoughtless and inept. But the worst of it is a lack of consistency that allows you no more than an even chance to choose a worthwhile meal.
Some of the fried dishes were good, the zucchini and potatoes crisp and greaseless one day, the onion rings delectable another day, the breaded mozzarella agreeable though not served nearly hot enough on a third occasion. The herbed breading for these dishes was usually light and restrained, though once the herbs overwhelmed. Then there was the appetizer of fried chicken strips, which was heavy and soggy, further insulted by a gruesomely sweet and ketchupy barbecue sauce. The steak fries were all right on a couple of occasions, dry and starchy mouthfuls on others.
Consider the hamburger. Ordered rare, it arrived well done, but was cheerfully exchanged for a crusty, pink one. In both cases, though, the thick patty lacked juiciness because it was packed and shaped with a heavy hand. The kitchen did better from the beginning the next time I tried the hamburger.
I found some potentially delicious dishes that could easily be rendered acceptable. A chicken salad sandwich of freshly cooked meat, light on the mayonnaise, only needed whole- wheat bread (better than the squishy beige fluff the filling arrived in). A special of broiled red snapper was fresh and moist, but laden with so much paprika it formed a solid crust. Ginger chicken was the standard soy-ginger-marinated grilled chicken, juicy but needing its skin crisped. And a Cobb salad -- generous, as are most of the portions at Trumpets -- was a good m,elange of freshly cooked chicken, chopped egg, avocado, alfalfa sprouts and such, with a nice olive oil vinaigrette, but it needed better greens. Salads were sometimes gritty with herbs or constructed from flimsy ingredients. String beans may be fresh at Trumpets, and tossed with almonds, but sometimes they were cooked to near mush. The most consistently good menu item? The coffee, served in thick, white mugs.
Then there was the roast beef, pink yet bled of every juice that would keep it from tasting like sawdust. Stuffed flounder was topped with a zesty glaze of mustard-spiked mayonnaise browned under the grill, but the fish was slightly bitter and the crab stuffing identifiable as the real stuff only by the bits of shell. The potato skins were soggy and greasy, filled with chili tasteless enough to qualify for a bland diet.
In all, it seems amateurish cooking that sometimes hits and often misses. That may be acceptable with enormous portions of appetizers at $3.50 or less, or with a $4 hamburger or sandwich. But with $11 seafood entrees, you expect more finesse than soggy, winy bits of scallops and shrimp on rice. And at brunch, while $5 isn't an imposing price for an entree, you would hope for at least toast, if not rolls or muffins, and you'dike a little more ham and flavor to the eggs benedict, more egginess to the french-toasted croissant. In all, Trumpets' food shows up pretty dull when much of a spotlight is thrown on it; by the third visit, you would probably have narrowed the menu to those standard items that nearly everyone does decently -- nachos, hamburgers, onion rings. Then Trumpets becomes not so distinguishable from the parade of caf,es on down the block.