The room is elegant and subtle Art Deco, and the menu is filled with irresistible-sounding dishes: trout with crab, shrimp and mushrooms in a creole meuniere; Louisiana barbecued shrimp; shrimp etouffee; pork confit; beef filet with artichokes, goose liver, madeira and creole choron sauce are merely a start. So expectations are high at Lafitte.
And the restaurant is good -- in some instances, outstanding. But it falls short these days of the promise of those introductory moments. For one thing, the jalapeno muffins are not as light or sharp as they used to be, and the waiters are charming but forget such basics as pouring your wine and bringing your vegetables.
The cooking can be just marvelous -- a complex seafood gumbo that was light on salt and a little thin in taste but heavy on shrimp, dry-cured Louisianian tasso and scallops; an interesting duck braised and crisped and seasoned with creole mustard; and fine veal topped with snowy crab, shrimp, fresh artichoke slices and mushrooms and a teasing jalapeno butter. Desserts are a dazzling choice such as dense chocolate raspberry torte or homemade ice cream intense with praline. Balance that against oysters bienville that taste gummy and hammy and nothing like any bienville I have tasted in New Orleans, blackened redfish that was all right as pan-fried fish but not the crusty fluffy original, alligator pate that had a rather pleasant flavor but too compact a texture, and sweet potato-pecan pie that had a crust so hard I could find no way to cut into it. In sum, the flaws are vastly outweighed by the assets of Lafitte, but they are easy enough to remedy that the restaurant should go those extra lengths. 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 466-7978. L $7.95-$13.95, D $9.50-$23.50. L daily ex Sat, D daily ex Sun. AE, DC, MC, V. Res sugg. Full bar.