2433 18th St. NW.
234-1818. Open: for lunch Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 6 to 10:30 p.m., Friday 6 to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. MC, V. Reservations suggested on weekends. Separate non-smoking section. Prices: appetizers $3 to $5.75; lunch entrees $3 to $16.95, dinner entrees $7.50 to $16.95. Full dinner with wine or beer, tax and tip about $25 to $35 per person.
THE NAME IS FRENCH, AND SO ARE the neighbors -- La Fourchette and Cafe Lautrec. But Pc'S Brasserie is not what it seems. The food is Argentine and Indian, and the result is an engaging mishmash of a restaurant with some of the most delightful and dreadful dishes to ever share a menu.
Inside the restaurant, the bi-ethnic theme is announced by a sari and a gaucho outfit forming a partnership on one wall. An enormous Indian tapestry stretches across the opposite wall, and climbing high up the two stories of old brick are shelves of jars filled with the spices, rices and beans of these opposite ends of the world. Pc'S (pronounced "pieces") Brasserie is a charmer, from the sidewalk cafe to the rich blue tablecloths and striped cotton seats, from the night-sky-blue ceiling to the age-polished wood floor. An artistic eye has designed this simple and informal dining room. And the staff is dedicated to making a meal fun as well as comfortable.
Indian dishes predominate on the menu, but Argentina has apparently influenced the spicing; most of the seasoning is mild. In fact, the hottest food I found was the marinated carrot sticks that are brought when you are seated.
I'd rest easier if I could report that one nationality or the other produced the best of the cooking at Pc'S, but it's not that simple. Among the Indian dishes I have found some excellent and others dreary, as I have among the Argentine. The surest generalization I can make is that the Pc'S garlic bill must be unprecedented.
Brochettes are a specialty, and they are available as appetizers or main dishes. The Pc'S Brochette is a kind of kufta (ground lamb and beef) kebab, nicely chargrilled and seasoned mostly with garlic, though fresh ginger and coriander are in there somewhere. Brochette de cordero -- lamb cubes marinated in fennel and yogurt -- is even better, the large chunks of meat imbued with a tangy marinade and skewered with vegetables. There is a delicious all-vegetable kebab. And there is a yogurt-marinated chicken kebab, but after trying the marinated chicken breast entree I wasn't tempted to order it. We were lucky enough one evening to encounter sweetbreads as an appetizer; they were grilled to a woodsy flavor, plain and wonderful.
Vegetarians can do well here, for the best appetizer of all is bhajias, crisply fried slices of potato coated with spices and a little grated cheese, accompanied by a fiery raw tomato chutney.
The Argentine appetizers fall short, though. Provoletta is a daunting plateful of melted grilled cheese sprinkled with oregano and olive oil, but it needs a whole basket of bread to balance it. The chorizo, with its coarsely chopped meat, seems to be house-made; but while it would serve well as a French garlic sausage, it hasn't the zest of most other chorizos. It is, however, a fine vehicle for chimichurri, the pungent and peppery garlic and herbed vinegar dip. Berengenas is mashed eggplant with garlic and red pepper, and it would be another vegetarian's thrill except that it is disconcertingly crunchy from whole spices. Pc'S also serves several unusual soups and salads. And at lunch there are a few sandwiches, though the grilled vegetable sandwich was no more exciting than Velveeta with green peppers would be.
With entrees, vegetarians are again in luck. Gujarati thali is a trayful of Indian vegetarian samplings: a bowl of soupy fragrant red lentils, a mound of mildly curried peas and potatoes, a bowl of spiced yogurt, a bit of chutney and a couple of breads -- crisp pappadums and rather heavy roti.
Another Indian entree is described as a marinated chicken breast with a sauce of almonds, raisins, saffron and ginger, but tastes like nothing more than dry, overcooked yogurt-slathered chicken. Overall, red meat is the safest choice. Lamb chops are the star of the entrees, rubbed with yogurt and aromatic spices to form a sweetly spicy yellow coating that works much better than that on the chicken. The chops are cut thin yet are pink in the center. Lamb curry, a special one evening, was intense and deliciously permeated with spices. Argentina is known for its steaks, and here they are cut thick and cooked carefully. The meat is not quite steakhouse quality, but then the prices aren't as high as at the major steakhouses. So on balance the value is good, and the accompanying chimichurri compensates for any deficits in flavor. Argentina also contributes a pretty good grilled chicken with lemon and a flavorful, juicy swordfish that is enhanced by lemon, garlic and parsley. All the dishes, whether Indian or Argentine, come with a surprisingly good buttery melange of rice and fresh vegetables enlivened by fried onions and cloves.
Desserts are rustic, from the trifle that turns out to be cake with a little custard and a squiggle of cream, to a rich and gooey sundae topped with caramelized condensed milk and cream. On the Indian side are coconut pudding and a cream of wheat pudding with almonds and raisins, which I love but will admit is not for every taste. Pc'S is one of very few restaurants that serve fresh fruit, either your choice of whole fruit or cut up into fruit salad. Fruit is even whirled in a blender into juices or shakes. The yogurt drink, lassi, is bland and watery here, though.
Pc'S Brasserie is a quirky restaurant, an odd mixture of assets and flaws that are hard to sort into a pattern. But as long as the service remains as personable as it is, the prices remain moderate and the kitchen maintains consistency in its good dishes (while perhaps improving or deleting those that don't work), Adams-Morgan will benefit from one more colorful strand in its intricate web of cuisines.