Hours: Weekdays except Tuesday, noon to 3 p.m. for lunch, 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner; Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Tuesday, dinner only, 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Atmosphere: Neighborhood comfort.
Price range: Entrees $3.75 to $6.95. A combination special for two is $14, and fixed-price dinners range from $7.50 to $14.
Credit cards: None, but will accept personal checks.
Special features: Parking lot in rear; all dishes available for carryout; entrance accessible to handicapped; booster seats. By JUDY LIBERSON Special to The Washington Post
La Cigale is an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant bathed in candle glow and dressed with linen. As the only customers for dinner one recent evening, we wondered what others knew that we had missed. We hoped to find simply that the world was ignorant. But at the end of the evening we felt that, although the restaurant is trying, it has a way to go.
All items on the menu sounded appetizing, and were deliciously priced. When was the last time you were able to find an entree with rice and tea for under $5? We sampled broadly, ordering the house specialties, a fixed-price dinner for two and an additional beef entree.
My daughter and I shared the dinner for two ($14), which included two soups, four spring rolls, two entrees, rice, tea and fortune cookies.
The white asparagus and sweet corn soups, both with crab meat and heavy sprinklings of pepper, had the same base and were mired in an egg-drop thickener.
The spring rolls, however, had delicate, crunchy wrappers and were filled with just the right mixture of onions and garlic. They were airy and greaseless, a good reflection on the restaurant's way with appetizers.
Two of the entrees were done equally well. A large portion of lemon chicken, served on a skewer with a sprinkling of chopped nuts, was lightly grilled and moist.
For our second entree we had the choice of beef or shrimp with soy sauce and hot pepper. We weren't sorry we chose the shrimp: the seasoning was mild, as requested, the portion large, the shrimp of adequate size and the sweet sauce a nice blend of flavors.
From an exciting list that included everything from ground shrimp wrapped over sugar cane to beef fondue, my husband chose the waiter's recommendation (also the house specialty): barbecue beef ($6.95). A tableside grill appeared, and the waiter demonstrated the chopstick procedure of putting beef strips over the waffled grill, adding some marinated scallop-edged vegetables and rolling everything inside rice paper.
The dish, similar to the moo shi offerings at Chinese restaurants, differed in one significant way. After the short demonstration, the waiter left, making us the cooks on our evening out. The large beef slices made the experience rather cumbersome and unenjoyable.
The dish was accompanied by a wonderful mix of spices and seasoning, however: sesame and pepper with mint sprigs. The restaurant might have more success offering this item as an appetizer for large groups who could place the grill in the center and take turns sampling.
Our son's selections fell into a totally different category. His won ton soup was an oily, bland broth. His entree, beef with green pepper and onion ($4.50), was served under a thick brown sauce that resembled a heavy gravy.
The table became overcrowded, as our waiter seemed completely unschooled in clearing and rearranging platters. Also, our son's dinner arrived a full 10 minutes before the rest of the entrees.
La Cigale has some good ideas. We decided against sampling such desserts as flan or lychee fruit, however, and left feeling that, even though the restaurant is trying, it will take a greater effort to fill up those empty tables.
Despite lackluster service when we were the only customers, there were some pleasing efforts from the kitchen. Dinner for four with tax and tip was a reasonable $34.40.