Bourbon Street is a likable hotel restaurant that's best described as "pleasingly mediocre."
The dining room, with its shuttered windows, street lamps and balcony, is stagily contrived to create a New Orleans ambiance, but it's cozy and quiet, too, with a nice flickery, candlelit feeling. The service is unusually attentive and solicitous, and the prices are pleasingly modest.
The problem lies in the food, which is dull. It's not really bad, for the most part, just totally forgettable.
It certainly would be adequate to satisfy an out-of-town hotel guest who isn't sure where to eat, but there's just not enough here to snare anyone who knows where the good restaurants are in Bethesda.
(We were far more favorably impressed with the Peppermill, the hotel's other restaurant, when we reviewed it about a year ago. It has some excellent dinner selections and a first-class Sunday brunch.)
A nice touch at Bourbon Street is a separate little "Waist Watchers" menu of low-fat dishes. Among these, the cauliflower soup is a pleasant puree, nicely unthickened and, understandably, made with milk rather than cream. But it's as bland as baby food, as though "low fat" were synonymous with "low flavor."
There's also a good cold strawberry soup, not too sweet and made with what tastes like frozen strawberries and an orange-juice base. Chicken breasts are broiled with rosemary and served with rice and nicely steamed vegetables -- a pleasing dish, if a bit dry.
Among the appetizers on the regular menu, the spiced shrimp were fresh-tasting but hardly spicy, and they were practically swimming in half-melted ice cubes on the serving dish.
Chicken fingers had a delicate batter and were lightly fried, but the meat was even drier than in the broiled chicken dish. Barbecued ribs, too, were somewhat dry, although glazed with a good sweet-tart sauce.
Entree prices include the good, but not spectacular, salad bar. The greens are mainly head lettuce, but the trimmings include artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, various fresh nuts and seeds, good marinated vegetables and several kinds of fresh fruit. The help-yourself bread has its ups and downs -- one night fresh, crusty french bread of good quality, another night tired little rolls that weren't worth eating.
Among the regular entrees, there's a lasagna that's amply portioned and generously endowed with rough-ground beef, but we found the pasta mushy and the tomato sauce unpleasantly acidic. The seafood platter has a nicely broiled filet of sole; crab cakes that are well-seasoned, lightly handled and lightly fried, but apparently made of claw rather than lump meat; and dry, heavily battered fried shrimp.
A prime rib special was a good-sized, nicely pink slab of beef that was dryish and without flavor. Veal pizzaiola had a pleasant, fresh-tasting sauce of green peppers, tomato and onion over textureless meat.
Pastries are from the Watergate bakery, which means they're reliably good.