Now that nearly everyone is accustomed to the lower-salt, less-sugar style of cooking, the old "natural foods" kitchens seem almost quaint. With the widespread move to lighter meals -- salad bars, sushi bars, nouveaus and nouvelles -- the menu at the Kalorama Cafe, with its pastas, rich honey-sweetened desserts and battered tempuras, may seem surprisingly heavy to someone expecting sprouts.
But the Kalorama Cafe isn't proselytizing about health foods, and it isn't preaching diet. Its virtues are understated -- filling foods at good prices. And if the whole wheat spaghetti and beans and brown rice seem a little naive, they taste good.
One of the cafe's fun lunches (unfortunately, not on the dinner menu) is pita pizza -- whole wheat again. Tempura here is deep-fried, and it can be heavy. It's certainly hefty: the shrimp and vegetable version includes several shrimp and sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms and onions. (This on top of the house salad, a full bowl of sprouts, red cabbage, carrot strips, etc.).
The sauteed vegetable plate also is nearly a platter: nicely crisp and flavored with tamari and a little soy. If you want serious crisp, order the raw veggies with dip.
There are "natural" versions of several lunch standards: falafel in the whole wheat pita; fish and chips (haddock); crab cakes, and nachos. Shrimp lovers should try the sauteed shrimp with garlic, but beware: The kitchen has a tendency to overdo the garlic.
Which brings up the guacamole, which is powerfully garlicky (it regularly appears on the tostada, and sometimes as a special appetizer).
An overdose of garlic also turned an otherwise attractive pasta -- whole wheat rotelli with asparagus in a cream and parmesan sauce -- into the vampire's curse.
A tomato-sauced spinach linguini was better, and the cafe's red sauces (there's a clam linguini, too) taste of real tomatoes.
This time of year, though, the creamless pasta with broccoli and ginger may be the most appealing. (Don't worry about ordering al dente; the homemade pasta is pretty solid.)
There also are ethnic specials at night (moussaka on Tuesday, Mexican dishes on Thursday), culminating with bouillabaisse and paella on Friday.
Kalorama Cafe serves an assortment of herbal teas (including the classic Red Zinger); all-natural, no-chemical wines by the bottle; spring water and Perrier, and a nonalcoholic low-calorie beer. There also are "real" beers, including the local pride, Chesbay.
The management may not approve of white sugar, but it believes in a sweets. Desserts here are solid: strawberry shortcake, banana fritters with whipped cream, honey cheesecake (with or without berries) and specials such as Belgian waffles with blueberries.
It may be "natural food," but it's no lean cuisine. This is having your cake and eating it, too.