Hours: Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; closed Sundays.
Atmosphere: Natural chic.
Prices: Salads $5.50, soups from $2.25; dinners $6.95 to $8.95.
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express ($15 minimum).
Special facilities: Ramp for wheelchairs; carryout service (75 cents extra evenings).
Reservations: Recommended for groups of five or more.
Wild Oats is a pretty, California-style natural-foods restaurant, a tastefully decorated niche of a place where the food looks as good as it tastes. At Wild Oats, vegetables look good even to a child.
With a seating capacity of 37, this tiny restaurant is crowded at lunch time, between noon and 2 p.m., but we've had no trouble getting a table the two evenings we've dined there.
Our initial uncertainty about bringing children to what looks like a dater's haven were unjustified: kids are made to feel welcome, are fascinated by the prints on the wall (real conversation starters) and--most important--gobble up the food.
Even children can't help but be impressed by the management's attention to detail, from the silk rosebuds on every table to condiments that include sea salt, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, herb seasoning salt and a shaker of sesame seeds (packed with nutrition and excellent in soup).
Evening specials, posted on a blackboard, run to ethnic dishes such as Greek pilaf ($8.95, with salad) and stuffed grape leaves ($5.95, with salad). The one special we tried, vegetarian goulash, was a pleasant combination of pasta and tomatoes with a lot of steamed vegetables on the side. A tasty meal, but we felt it was a bit overpriced at $7.50.
It's probably wise to combine soup and a sandwich, salad and a sandwich, or soup and a salad. Barley mushroom soup ($2.50, served only occasionally) is especially good. The vegetable soup ($2.25, served daily) was so satisfying, despite vegetable chunks a bit large for small mouths, that one daughter asked if we could have vegetable soup more often at home. (Is there anything more satisfying to a parent than watching a child polish off a bowl of vegetable anything?)
The Wild Oats salad is an especially gorgeous creation, a mixture of fresh vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, red bell pepper, carrots) with alfalfa sprouts, raw sunflower seeds, raisins and walnuts. For dressing, there are sesame tahini (perhaps too strong for some children), yogurt and dill or an herbal oil-and-vinegar type.
Portions are large enough to share, and we all sampled one particularly delicious, if oddball, sandwich, the P Street Special ($4.25): Swiss cheese, cream cheese and avocado on a bagel with alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes and lettuce. Like the vegetable soup, it was a bit cumbersome for small mouths, but worth stretching the jaws for.
Other offerings are a cheese board (with raw fruits and vegetables), and a number of grain, pasta and tofu dishes. Beverages include natural sodas (root beer is especially good), juices and regular and "health" types of tea and coffee. There also are wine (the house wine is a pleasant Folinari) and beer, including an extremely interesting international collection: Swiss Lowenbrau (the real thing), the Dutch Grolsch (an unpasteurized beer you don't often find), Tsing Tau, Kirin, Dos Equis and half a dozen others.
The desserts we tried were utterly expendable: rice pudding made from barely sweetened brown rice, and a cranberry concoction that looked good and tasted like mincemeat. In a restaurant with so much to offer, lousy desserts are forgiveable, but I'd skip them.
Specials are served starting at 6 p.m., but the best dishes may be regular menu fare. With a certain amount of sharing (particularly on the very large salads), a family of four can eat fairly well for $25 or $30, but the tab will be higher if you order much wine or beer.
Altogether, Wild Oats is a welcome addition to the Dupont Circle area.