Hours: Open for dinner 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard and Visa.
Prices: $5.45 to $8.25.
Unless you know your geography, you might not realize Kaieteur is a Caribbean restaurant. Presently open only Thursday through Saturday for dinner, the restaurant is home to an upstairs disco with flashing lights, a dark bar and very American music. The downstairs is comfortable and light with chandeliers and wood-paneled walls. The only island hint is the waterfall drawing on the menu, presumably Guyana's Kaieteur Falls, from which the restaurant gets its name.
No matter. At Kaieteur, every course is an experiment, a lesson in the lively blend of French, Indian, African and Spanish cuisines. Within this hybrid are further variations--from island to island and cook to cook. One aspect remains constant, though, and timid eaters will quickly catch on. Caribbean cooks play with fire: The sauces are hot, the curries are bold.
Don't be tempted by the Kaieteur punch; there are no macerating tropical fruits or coconut milk in this drink. Instead, it is a sickly sweet pink punch with little fruit flavor and almost no rum taste. For $2.75--half the price of several of the main dishes--the drink is overpriced.
One of the best appetizers is the potato balls. Even though the potato filler lacks firmness, the flavor makes up for it. They're golf-ball sized and crusty fried with flecks of cumin inside. It comes with a spicy green sauce that is used as an accompaniment with other dishes. At Kaieteur the sauce is pureed cucumbers, relish, green peppers and chilies and it makes a hot match with the potato balls. A good way to begin.
Black pudding, or blood sausage, is not great. There's also souse--pigs feet and knuckles--and beef patties for appetizers. The barbecued chicken wings are bland although they're made with a decent sauce. More interesting is the ground provision soup, a beefy broth stocked with beef heart and vegetables and a fatty bone for flavor.
Roti--the Indian word for bread--are flattened pancakes rolled and stuffed with curried meat, fish or vegetables that serve as a Caribbean finger food or fast food. Kaieteur's version is a flaky pancake prone to falling apart.
Chicken thighs with meat that must be cut from the bone or chunks of goat in a pool of spicy gravy are served alongside and must be ladled onto the flimsy pancake. This is a messy endeavor, and although the pancake is not up to its job, the twosome is a good match and the hot curry hides the just-average fillings.
Among other main courses is pepper pot, a Guyanese stew traditionally made with meat cubes and a thick, dark syrup from the boiled-down juice of the cassava melon. At Kaieteur, large cubes of beef are coated in this sweet, caramely sauce. Not bad.
Beware the fried chicken. It glistens with grease. Most main courses come with nondescript side dishes; a mound of white rice or a measly iceberg lettuce salad. If the "cook-up rice of the day" is light brown rice mixed with black-eyed peas, order it, for it is the sleeper side dish on the menu.
Desserts are so-so; a pine tart may come with a stale tasting pastry and a filling that resembles dried apricot. The nicely seasoned baked custard is a safer choice.
The environment may not feel or smell Caribbean and some of the dishes suffer from local ingredients that are not up to island freshness, but for now, Kaieteur is a hometown vacation. Clarification
The first number in the address of the Spaghetti Garden, which was reviewed last week, was inadvertently omitted. The correct address is: 2317 18th St. NW.