Hours: Open seven days: lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner 6 to 11 p.m. Prices: Dinner: $5.95 (salad bar) to $11.95. Cards: American Express, Diner's Club, MasterCard, Visa.
I first heard the word "Knickerbocker" as part of a rhyming game:
What do you call a Dutchman's whiskey cabinet? A Knickerbocker liquor locker.
I remembered this the other day because it fits the grill: As a Capitol Hill restaurant, the Knickerbocker Grill is a great bar.
The bar itself is one of the most attractive things about the place, a small curved cabinet with scribner's stools facing a carved oak mantel.
It has a homey, hearth-like feel that is a welcome change from the slick decorator professionalism of the more upwardly conscious Hill saloons.
The dining room behind, and the balcony area over the bar, are traditional town house style with exposed brick walls and marquee-sized photos of Bogey and Gable marching up the stairs. (Bonzo watchers should check out the old Chesterfield poster just past the staircase.)
There also is a small area at the back with a single family-sized table.
From its New York chophouse origins, the menu has knocked around the world like a tramp steamer, and it is precariously docked in Greece for the moment with a few continental souvenirs.
But home is where the smarts is. It is, after all, a grill, and some of the dishes go a little too far afield.
Partly, it's a problem of a smallish restaurant spreading itself too thin. Besides a standard list of six or eight dinners, plus burgers and nibblies, the kitchen offers as many as eight specials, plus the salad bar and a hot buffet (carve-it-yourself steamship round, $9.95).
Appetizers include a Mediterranean mixed platter of grape leaves, olives, feta cheese and taramosalata; potato skins, plain or stuffed, and clam chowder.
The fried zucchini is good, a generous portion of thick-sliced chips served with a Chinese mustard dip; and marinated octopus is surprisingly tender and tangy. (A portion of taramosalata, a pale-pink whip of carp roe, lemon and oil, comes unsolicited to the table with a wedge-cut disc of hot pita -- a friendly beginning.)
One night's specials included tortellini with clam sauce, veal sweetbreads, broiled swordfish, crab cakes, short ribs in ale (fairly good, though rather plain) and lamb shank provencale (rubbery and flavorless even under the tomato sauce).
Lamb chops, on the other hand, were nicely trimmed and grilled, rare as ordered; they could have used a little seasoning, and something more adventuresome than plain mint jelly, but it's nice to know the grill is still smoking.
The chops, along with dependable strip steaks and filets mignon, come off the standard menu. (The pork teriyaki comes out of nowhere, but there it is.)
Dinners include a salad, made "Greek" with crumbled feta and an olive, and the choice of rice, pasta or potato.
Curiously, considering the zucchini, the plates come without a vegetable or even a garnish.
On Friday nights, the Knickerbocker sets out an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that just about covers the subject -- clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, scallops, lobster thermidor, spiced shrimp and crab meat salad -- plus the roast beef, salad and starch for $14.95. For $18.95, you can add on the king crab legs, but you don't want to overdo it.