Hours: 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m., Monday through Friday; noon until 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Price Range: Moderate. A la carte dinners run $4.50 to $8.75. Add $1.50 to each dinner for a complete meal, including appetizer, dessert, coffee. $1Portions are not large.
Atmosphere: Informal but refined. Suitable for family dinners or for special nights out.
Special Facilities: Booster chairs and high chairs; plenty of parking on side. Nice children's menu. A flight of a dozen steep stairs leads to the dining room.
Credit Cards: Master Charge, Visa, American Express.
Reservations: Necessary at peak times on weekends, where the wait can be an hour or more without reservations.
Each year as March comes around, we look for the first miniature crocus to appear in the ground, and for the first shad to appear at the Roundtable.
Both are delightful harbinders of spring.
This year, because of unseasonably warm weather, the shad started to "run" early. They are ocean fish native to the Atlantic. Each spring at spawning time, they begin to migrate up the coast, zig-zagging from the ocean to the fresh water of coastal rivers and back. They pass through the mid-Atlantic region in dense schools just as our daffodils reach full bloom here.
Shad is a succulent delicacy available only through the end of spring. Baked and stuffed, it's an annual specialty of the Roundtable.
If you are unfamiliar with shad, it's a firm-fleshed fish, pinkish in color with a mild, sweet flavor that has a richness similar to salmon's. It is extremely bony, and thus is difficult to prepare at home.
De-boning shad is a time-consuming and expensive process. At retail fish stores, boned shad sells for up to $4.99 a pound. That is another reason why the Roundtable's shad is such a treat: like other dishes on the menu, the price is right.
For $6.75 you get not just the shad, but a full-course dinner. This includes an appetizing cup of tomato-based clam chowder to start with. A chunk of shad arrives baked in butter, stuffed with a garlicky bread-crumb dressing that is a flavorful counterpoint to the sweet fish flavor.
The portion is certainly not a large one, but the flavor is so rich and the overall price of dinner (which includes two vegetables, dessert and coffee) is so reasonable that the result is an unbeatable and satisfying buy.
The other delicacy of the shad season served at the Roundtable is a rarer one: the roe, or eggs of the fish. Shad roe is highly prized, expensive and sometimes used for making caviar.
Aficionados adore the narrow, elongated roe, which comes in pairs and has a delicate flavor easily lost if the roe is overcooked even by a few minutes. When available at the Roundtable (call first to check), the roe is lightly broiled for only a few moments, topped with crisp bacon slices, and enhanced by a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Generally, the Roundtable's roe is priced at about a dollar more than the fish, although prices vary depending upon availability.
The Roundtable is a small, neighborhood restaurant that offers a variety of other dishes. Although informal, its refinements include linen napkins and quality stainless and dishes.
Its origins as a beef house are reflected in the British Knights-of-the-Roundtable decor. But the menu reflects the Greek origin of the owner as well as Washington area specialties such as crab cakes and oysters.
It's best to stick to the solid Greek specialties on the menu or to ask what's fresh that day. The moussaka (ground meat and eggplant casserole topped with a mild, cheesy custard) is good. So is the stifado (Greek beef stew) and the pastitsio (another Greek standard, ground beef and custard casserole).
Usually there is a good (though, again, not large) fresh flounder to be had, either broiled or served Greek style (plaki), baked in a tomato sauce. You might be equally satisfied with some of the homier dishes, such as pot roast in gravy or liver smothered in onions.
The shrimp with crabmeat is disappointing. The shrimp are frozen, not fresh, and you get only three for the high price of $9.75.
There's a small wine list, reasonable in price. An excellent accompaniment to a shad dinner is the Greek Domestica white, dry and full-bodied, $3 a half-bottle.
The children's menu offers either a bowl of spaghetti in meat sauce with salad or fried fish or hamburger with salad and french fries, each $2.25.
Desserts are homey and sweet but not large in size. There are custardy rice pudding, Jell-O, sundaes, hot apple pie (better than average). Or you can order honey-based Greek baklava pastry or galatobouriko custard.
Service is not the strong card at the Roundtable. Although pleasant, it is erratic. Your order will be taken right away, but you may wait unconscionably long to be served. Then the waitress may start clearing the table before everyone in your party has finished eating, a mistake that can well spoil the mood at the table.
But then again, there's an outdoor sidewalk cafe that will open "as soon as it's warm a week" said our waitress. To eat a shad dinner, drink a glass of Domestica and people-watch for entertainment is a delightful way to greet spring.
And it should leave you with enough money to buy gasoline to get home.