Eating at Furin's, a pasta shop cum cafe/carryout/caterer, is like eating in the kitchen of a friend -- a friend who also happens to be a pretty good cook.
Of course, with friends we make allowances: the setting needn't be particularly fancy (we'll ignore the cigarette holes in the tablecloth) and the food needn't always be flawless. But the reliablity of this food shop is such that we can look forward to more than a nodding acquaintance with its menu.
Furin's is a thoughtful sort of place. The few tables are set with sprays of fresh flowers, as though the owner were awaiting company. Some upbeat jazz might be playing softly in the background. And a select sampling of foodstuffs lines shelves in the rear of the shop, which also serves as a neighborhood dispensary for sweets, condiments and liquid refreshment.
Moreover, Furin's has recently initiated a free delivery service -- "gourmet express" -- for patrons in the Georgetown/Foggy Bottom vicinity. A menu consisting of up to 10 dinner selections (including vegetables and a salad) is currently available for delivery, from 4 to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
As a carryout, this is a nibbler's paradise as well, featuring single portions of fare that might include lasagna, chicken cordon bleu, empanadas (starchy and undercooked when we sampled them) or some truly delicious stuffed baked potatoes, which are whipped potatoes mixed with sour cream, topped with a melt of cheddar and a dusting of nutmeg. Or if you prefer, the staff will warm dinner for you and serve you there.
Except for breakfast, there is no regular menu at Furin's. Instead, customers inspect the daily offerings in a long glass case. This visual menu begins with salads and main dishes and ends with an attractive dessert display. If you're undecided, the amiable folks behind the counter will steer you in the right direction with suggestions on what's particularly good that day.
One of Georgetown's best bargains is a salad plate at Furin's -- a combination of any three ($3.95) or four ($4.75) of the day's selections. Those featuring chicken are likely to be good choices -- the chicken tarragon salad, for example, offers plenty of moist meat; and a salad of chicken, bean sprouts, julienne of carrot and crunchy peanuts was especially light and pleasant in its sesame vinaigrette. And the potato salad rivals Mom's -- creamy and chunky, made with lots of mayonnaise and plenty of pickle for crunchiness. For an even lighter taste, if it's available opt for the squash salad -- firm strips of squash, carrots and sweet onion in a creamy egg/mustard sauce.
Some of the most presentable salads, however, offer the least taste: a brightly colored pasta primavera with three colors of noodles, loads of firmly cooked vegetables and a slight wash of oil was lots of crunch and little flavor. And the multihued tortellini stuffed with veal was not only bland but a bit too oily as well. (A self-service salad bar sits across from the display case at lunch, but it boasts nothing more exciting than a few greens, carrots, tomato and the like.)
Furin's also offers a daily soup (a shrimp bisque ordered one evening was good and creamy tasting, albeit a bit thin) and a small selection of meats and cheeses for sandwiches. Thinly sliced, rare roast beef, crisp lettuce and a slathering of good quality mayonnaise made for a wonderful sandwich recently; indeed, it was everything a good sandwich should be: simple, of high quality and filling.
Cookies, cakes and sweets are on display, but they don't always warrant the attention their looks suggest. A fruit tart was a cornucopia of ripe fruit surrounding a decent custard, but the pastry itself was refrigerator cold and a bit stale. And a three-layer cake was richly flavored but hardly fresh. Cheesecake has been a decent, if conservative, choice.
It's neither as glitzy or as pricey as some of its nearest competitors, but for those very reasons the presence of Furin's is welcomed.