Cafe Rondo, 1900 Q Street NW. Open from noon to 2 a.m. (3 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights), closed Sundays. Street parking. Accessible by wheelchair. No credit cards. Reservations unnecessary.
We've come upon a rare dining combination: Continential flair, intimate surroundings, first-class cuisine and a remarkable tolerance of ebullient children.It is small, unpretentious and goes by the name of Cafe Rondo, on Q Street just off Connecticut Avenue NW.
Indeed, the place looks almost too charming to accept semi-scruffy juveniles, but apparently underaged diners are commonplace here. When you look in from the sidewalk (where they're working on a patio area for outside tables) you can pretty much see it all: A sort of two-room brasserie with 10 red tableclothes on one side and a matching set of blue ones in the next room.
We were seated at what has to be the table of all tables for any child - right next to a revolving, multi-tiered dessert display of beautiful pastries, cakes and other decidedly non-saccharin delicacies.
From this jolly vantage point, our two children and a young friend proceeded to count 75 marquee light bulbs around the room, plus I forget how many burned out ones. Those, along with mirros and an archway fille with red drapes, are the highlights of the simple but effective decor.
This is listed as a Scandinavian establishment, even though the back room banter seemed to be German and Spanish. Still, a key feature of the menu is a list of hot and cold open-face sandwiches - Smorgas - from $2.25 to $3.50. But we'll get to that in due course, for my first course, of course, was soup, at 95 cents. Now, tomato and rice may not sound exciting, but this homemade concoction was mercifully short on rice and delightfully long on herbs and flavor. It was too good, in fact: The tastes that I offered the children sparked non-negotiable demands for sharing.
Fortunately, they soon were distracted by the fresh French bread that arrived. Then came our selections: My wife was pleased with her order of avocado salad stuffed with crab meat ($3.95), which came with an interesting looking eye made of tomato slice, egg slice and black olive bit.
Our eight-year-old daughter and her contemporary each chose a hot roast beef sandwich on French bread, which comes with green salad, mushrooms, tomato and sour cream, at $3.25. From each girl, the unsolicited approval was enthusiastically and quite audibly delivered.
Other sandwich offerings include eggs and anchovies, $2.75; liver pate, $2.85; rouquefort cheese on pumpernickel with egg yolk and raw onions, $3.25; baby shrimp, $3.50; and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs on top, $3.50.
My selection was veal francaise at $6.50, which was thinly sliced, in butter and lemon, with rice pilaf. While it was fine, I found myself secretly wishing I'd ordered what my son, 10, was having: A large, fluffy and really perfect ham and cheese omelette, at $3. Indeed, there are all sorts of omelettes offered for under Mushroom, sour cream and chives, chicken livers and even a flaming Grand Marnier-and-strawberries rendition.
Now about those pastries in the round: Even if you aren't much of a dessert fan, this is a treat. We'd been eyeing the selections all evening.
With the assistance of our cheerful waitress to put the brakes on the whirling trays, our clothes (at $1.25), included fancy layer cakes, a mocha torte and, if you'll pardon the idea, a great chocolate-covered banana (Well, I liked it).
The bill for the five of us, including cokes for the kids, a domestic beer for my wife and a Beck's German beef for me, was $32.56 plus tip. For quality of food and cordialness toward children, the charming little Cafe Rondo is well worth a family visit.