Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.; Sunday, brunch or a la carte, 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., regular menu until 11 p.m.
Prices: From $3.75 for a sandwich to $9.95 for a sirloin steak.
Atmosphere: The decor is American nostalgia; the menu is trendy but reasonable; the service is studiously cheerful.
Reservations: Will make reservations but preference is given "walk-ins."
Credit cards: VISA, Master Charge, Diners Club, American Express, Washington Shopping Plate (for Woodward and Lothrop).
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelcharis; children's portions; booster and high chairs; across the street from the Friendship Heights bus station.
Houlihan's is a popular new retaurant enviably located in Chevy Chase at the intersection of Western and Wisconsin avenues, shopping paradise for the better-helled and what's left of the leisure class.
Despite its potential for attracting customers who aren't nettled by quantum leaps in the consumer price index, Houlihan's maintains a reasonably priced menu that attempts to appeal to everyone.
And therein lies a problem. Those who manage Houlihan's, which has more than 20 branches around the country, clearly have researched the trends in the nation's eating habits. The menu runs the gamut -- seafood, crepes, fried shrimp, burgers (in pita bread, of course), omelets, escargot and even baked potatoes stuffed with -- are you ready? -- taco filling and guacamole.
In trying to be all things to all palates, however, Houlihan's fare suffers from overambition. Many dishes simply do not live up to expectations.
On the other hand, this tendency to try harder is probably why Houlihan's keeps packing them in despite the flaws in cooking. The place has a ski-lodge conviviality about it. It is decorated to the rafters with Americana -- Tiffany lamps, huge ceiling fans, and old farm kitchen furniture.
Waiters and waitresses introduce themselves by name and are under clear orders to be attentive, cheerful, and accommodating.
On a recent visit to Houlihan's, our family killed a few minutes in the bar until our table was ready. The inordinately hungry can start feeding there on "bar bites" such as baked brie with french bread or fried zucchini sticks.
We held off until we were settled into our booth (under the gaze of Clark Gable and Ava Gardner) and until the introductions to our waitress and apprentice waiter were concluded.
The meal that followed was one of hits and misses. The escargot, $3.25, were too salty and there was only a skimpy whiff of garlic in the butter. The bread, however, was excellent.
The onion soup was of a rich, winey stock but the gruyere cheese was of poor quality.
Fresh haddock, $7.50, and stuffed filet of sole, $8.50, were the evening specials, but my husband inexplicably ordered fried shrimp. The shrimp were small and unremarkable, hardly worth the $6.95 price tag. The accompanying french fries were fine, and the salad earned many points for including Boston lettuce instead of iceberg.
Hamburgers come with things such as cheese sauce or guacamole, but our 13-year-old, who's always on a diet, wanted hers straight up. The patty was large, made of lean beef and char-broiled -- just what a burger should be. Houlihan's prettied up the platter with a garnish of enormous fresh strawberries.
A reuben sandwich sounded good to me. So did the crepes with beef tenderloin. I ended up with hot chicken salad, a gluey, creamed affair spooned over a sodden English muffin and topped with a bland melted cheese. The mixture was tasteless, or so I thought until I bit into something very pungent. I'd found the garlic that should have been in the escargot butter sauce.
Houlihan's can contribute to culinary happiness when it sticks to the simple things in life, like our 10-year-old's London broil. The pink, thin strips of flank steak were served au jus, with crusty hash brown potatoes and a salad on the side. Dandy, and all for $5.95.
Inflation has hit the dessert menu. The baked brie, pushed as a bar snack, as an appetizer and again as a dessert, $4.50.A dish of Haagen-Daz ice cream is $1.75 and unexceptional hot fudge sundaes are $1.95. If you're going up to those leagues, spend $2.10 for good apple strudel, baked on the premises. And we had no complaints about the banana and strawberry crepes, $1.85.
Throughout dessert, our waiter-in-training flooded us with coffee while our waitress inquired about our general health and happiness. This solicitous treatment guaranteed them a nice tip on a tab that totaled $40.22, including wine and soft drinks.