{sstar}{sstar} (2 stars) Poste

In the Hotel Monaco, 555 Eighth St. NW (near F Street). 202-783-6060. http://monaco-dc.com/html/dining.htm.

Open: for breakfast Monday through Friday 7 to 10 a.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.; for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. Bar menu available daily noon to closing. All major credit cards. Smoking in bar area only. Metro: Gallery Place. Valet parking. Prices: lunch appetizers $7 to $11, entrees $10 to $20; dinner appetizers $7 to $18, entrees $18 to $30. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip $65 to $90 per person.

Have you caught the latest trendlette? Steak tartare has become the creme brulee of appetizers. Chopped raw beef is everywhere. From tiny French cafes to contemporary steakhouses and beyond, that savory classic is popping up on local menus more often than "please refrain from using your cell phone."

Notice something else? Chefs are coming and going. Spring and summer in particular witnessed a revolving door of kitchen talent in more than a few restaurants.

Small surprise, then, to find both steak tartare and a new chef at Poste. His appetizer starts with designer meat -- domestic Kobe beef, to be precise, chopped into velvety cubes -- and deft seasoning. This ruddy mix gets sandwiched between slices of brioche (so light they almost float), giving the dish the appearance of a hamburger. The joke is divine, and so is the flavor.

Glad to have you with us, Robert Weland. The New Jersey native is the third chef in less than two years to head up the kitchen at Poste, in the Hotel Monaco. The original hire, Jon Mathieson, left abruptly a month after the launch to open a place of his own out of town. His replacement, Jay Comfort, lasted 11 months; his food was pleasant if not inspiring.

Perhaps the third guy will be the charm. Weland was lured from Manhattan and brings with him good reviews for his work at Guastavino's, the East Side restaurant designed by Sir Terence Conran under the Queensboro Bridge.

That steak tartare has plenty of good company on Poste's latest menu, including another twist on raw meat, this one sea-based: dewy slices of hamachi -- "baby yellowtail" is how the server describes it -- set off with sweet crisps of fried ginger and pink grapefruit segments. The yin-yang of the clean-tasting fish and soft, juicy citrus, punctuated by ginger, is an utterly refreshing one. Fish, in fact, is one of the kitchen's strengths. Dinner can commence simply with fresh oysters on the half shell, and move on to something more complex, like striped bass ringed in a buttery puree of Yukon Gold potatoes and crowned with (surprise!) an egg poached in red wine. When pierced, the egg sends a warm rivulet of yolk over the crackling-skinned fish and into the silken potatoes. If this all sounds as if it would taste overly rich, a sprinkle of briny capers on the potatoes keeps everything in perspective.

Weland is confident enough, and capable enough, to pull off that and other tricks, such as partnering a first course of soft-shell crab with tuna tartare, as well as thin sheets of watermelon and shaved ice made from tomato water. Summer in every bite.

Some recipes are less equal than others. Bruschetta is served he-man style, as three fat pieces of grilled bread, each topped with something different, plus a hillock of arugula. The best adornment of the three is the simplest: chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes. An olive spread is just okay, while eggplant puree has the ultrasoft texture and bland spicing of baby food. In another weak moment, a salad of mussels and seaweed is overwhelmed by the flavor of sesame oil. Crisp roast chicken has to share its plate with morel mushrooms that are big but not very flavorful and a pea risotto that wouldn't threaten a competitive Italian cook.

Still, there's more to applaud than to pick apart. Weland's winy braised rabbit is sensational, with soft and succulent shreds of meat over feathery ribbons of pasta, and caramelized fennel that imparts a fine, sweet edge to the entree. Vegetarians are welcomed with two big ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta and nettle (an edible weed) and displayed atop a bright broth of sweet corn. (Much better than the raviolo, oddly dense with lobster, that accompanies an entree of Alaskan black cod.) Weland seeks out good ingredients -- wild salmon instead of farm-raised, for instance -- and knows not to overcomplicate them.

Where to sit? The best seats are in the main dining room. Open and airy, with high ceilings and streams of light, this space is accessorized with comfortable booths in gold fabric; it also captures a you-are-there view of the exhibition kitchen. The side room is nice enough, but feels removed from the action. Regardless of where you land, service is smooth, at least most of the time. The restaurant's dual entrances -- people come in via the bar on one end or the lobby on the other -- can result in long waits and confusion. One overly enthusiastic waiter insisted on asking all four people at my table how we liked everything, person after person after person after person. By the time he got around the table, hot food was cooling and cold food was warming. More frequently, though, the staff is in the background, professional and polite.

When it comes to dessert at Poste, simple wins me over every time. Lime tart delivers a refreshing tang, and a hot summer day was made sweeter with a poached nectarine set off with sparkling granita made with sweet wine. More intense is a chocolate dome whose fluffy center resembles a Three Musketeers candy bar, only more elegant. Of course there's creme brulee.

I'd trade them all, though, for one of the headiest side dishes now playing in the neighborhood: hot, lightly truffle-perfumed french fries presented in a newspaper cone. Now that's decadence. Let's hope the snack sticks around at Poste -- along with the chef who now fries them.

Ask Tom

It's all about communication, communication, communication. "Last evening a couple of friends took me to dinner at the Carlyle restaurant in Shirlington to celebrate my birthday," began an e-mail from Rose Lopez of Arlington. "Towards the end of the meal one of my companions (unbeknownst to me) left the table in search of our server to inquire what could be done to surprise me for my birthday. The server told him that they have a lovely plate they present." The friend said yes. What the waiter didn't mention was that unless they ordered a dessert, too, the lovely plate would be just that: a plate. "Imagine all of our surprise when the server brought out a decorated plate with the words 'Happy Birthday' written in chocolate syrup, a couple of dollops of whipped cream and a candle," wrote Lopez. "My friends were somewhat embarrassed, and I felt the need to speak to the manager on their behalf." The manager stood by the Carlyle's policy -- celebrants receive just a pretty plate, unless they ask for more -- but later gave Lopez a certificate for two free desserts on her next visit. When I called to look into the matter, general manager Tony Zuco figured that "signals got crossed between the server and guest." Lopez summed up the problem with good humor: "It definitely was a fat-free dessert!"

Got a dining question? Send your thoughts, wishes and, yes, even gripes to asktom@washpost.com or to Ask Tom, The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include daytime telephone number.