Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Atmosphere: Warm and cozy.
Price range: Entrees, $3.25 to $6.75; sandwiches and salads, $1.30 to $3.95.
Credit cards: None.
Special facilities: Bake shop; wheelchair access.
Once we'd settled into a cozy booth at the rear of Cafe Splendide, taken in the homey floral print wallpaper, the false windows with their old-fashioned white panes and cute red-checked curtains, the hand-carved wooden canopies over the booths, the light wood straight-back chairs and the flowers on the table, my son leaned back and said, "You expect to look out the windows and see the Alps."
Cafe Splendide is splendid, indeed, in capturing the charm of an Austrian country cafe. So is the menu. You don't have to come to the cafe for a full meal. You can warm away winter's chill with a bowl of soup, top off an evening with cafe au lait and palatschinken (apricot-stuffed crepes), grab a quick sandwich or dally over bratwurst, knockwurst or Wiener schnitzel.
When you come with small children who have small appetites, you can order them bowls of minestrone or goulash soup served with freshly baked french bread and butter--they are small and inexpensive (less than $2.50) meals in themselves.
It would be nice to come upon Cafe Splendide after a vigorous hike up a mountain or a gentle walk through a flower-filled meadow. But, alas, the cafe is in Dupont Circle, and though that area is not one renowned for family eateries, our family felt right at home. Our waitress was pleasantly accommodating about fitting the menu to our son's special dietary quirks. She took our children's orders and treated them with the same courteous manner she had for other customers.
But our children didn't particularly notice. They were mesmerized by a large bakery showcase filled with row upon row of bright red strawberry tarts, pale yellow apple tarts, creamy napoleons, rounded rumtopfs and glimmering chocolate-iced sachertortes. This mouth-watering sight was further enhanced by a sign that read: "All pastries are baked on the premises."
I mention this display of pastries now because it clearly affected the way we ordered. Everyone wanted to leave room for a dessert of his very own.
Two of us decided the best route to this end was soup and a salad. We tried the goulash ($2.30) and a special of the day, cabbage soup with three kinds of wurst ($1.75). Both suffered from the same strengths and weaknesses. The portions were small but hot, and there was just enough meat to make the soup substantial. The flavors were interesting and pleasant, but watered down. Both soups needed a little more punch.
The side salads, a tomato and watercress salad ($1.30) and a small salade Splendide (watercress, apples, tomatoes, cauliflower, endive and walnuts, $2) had a lot more bite. All ingredients were fresh and crisp, and the dressing was delightfully spicy and creamy.
Our son, a vegetarian, found that all soups were made with a chicken stock. He tried the salade Italian style ($3.25) that combined egg, peppers, mushrooms, salami, olives, onions, tomatoes and pickles. The waitress arranged to have the chef hold the salami. She also brought him a side order of french bread with Swiss cheese melted over it ($1.95).
In the interest of scientific research, our daughter volunteered to order a hot entree, the Hungarian beef stew ($5.25). Her selfless devotion to the cause paid off. The stew was rich and thick with gravy that clung to the meat rather than running all over the plate. It was served with noodles and perfectly poached whole string beans that were soft enough to eat while retaining their bright green color.
For dessert, we chose apple tart ($1.50), strawberry tart ($2), sachertorte ($1.50) and black forest cake ($1.80). I was a minority of one in thinking they weren't as good as they looked. The fruit tart crusts could have been richer and crisper and the cake batters were a little dry for my taste.
The tab for our dinner for four, including a carafe of wine and tax, came to $30.68. For another $3.60 we took home four croissants for breakfast. They were excellent.