Some restaurants are good to know about not because the food is particularly memorable, but because their location, crowd or atmosphere is appealing. Anton's Loyal Opposition is such a restaurant.
Situated steps away from the Capitol South metro station, Anton's dominates its block. Walls of glass wrap around most of this enormous eatery, offering patrons not only the feeling of dining outdoors, but a sideshow of passers-by as well.
The vast interior is carefully fashioned into several dining areas. The L-shaped stretch near the windows, which includes a bar and piano music in the evening, resembles a chic cafe. Beyond that are several levels of more formal seating featuring brass, etched glass, plush carpet, subtle tones and soft lighting, and with both tables and comfortable booths for intimate dining.
The list of two dozen appetizers encompasses nearly every recent food trend. The menu even notes that a "choice of any three appetizers constitutes grazing," a reference to the recent phenomenon of eating a number of dishes in small portions.
Representing the Cajun craze are Cajun crayfish cakes, which are heavy on the breading but adequately piquant and smooth textured, and crayfish chowder. Though boldly seasoned with assertive fish undertones, the soup lacked much in the way of filling. Touches of new American cooking are seen in such selections as smoked trout with apple horseradish sauce and oriental pizza -- which, apart from its flabby, wet crust, proved an interesting melange of water chestnuts, shrimp, bits of pork, cheese and a gentle sprinkling of fresh ginger.
There are oysters on the half shell and oysters sauced in champagne, seafood fettucini and salad majorca. The latter, which teamed bits of squid and octopus with finely diced yellow, red and green peppers, was presented as a symphony of color and texture. Its tart and zesty dressing, splashed liberally over the salad, was a fine match. For traditionalists, there are a fruit and cheese plate, potato skins, several pasta preparations and a mild and undistinguished pate.
A well-versed and affable group of waiters and waitresses is there to guide you through the menu, remembering not only to plug the restaurant's homemade breads, dressings and desserts, but to offer honest assessments of the dishes.
Dinner starts with a bread basket, and at Anton's that means an assortment of moist and flavorful zucchini-banana bread and dark parmesan toast, crackerlike and tasty, along with ordinary white and whole-wheat rolls. Pretty dollops of butter, flavored with orange and strawberry or simply whipped, tasted of refrigeration on recent visits.
If you haven't made a meal from the appetizers, there are fish, seafood, lamb, pork, poultry and pasta dishes for a main course.
The best of those sampled was a pricey ($17.95 at dinner) filet mignon, a generous, thick portion of meat, succulent and flavorful, and a decent filet of broiled, oregano-spiked whitefish, which was moist and lemony. Pasta can be quite decent, too, though I'd steer from the linguine with clam sauce, featuring two fine mussels but too many chewy clams.
A cross section of the main dishes revealed a lot of fair food. For starters, there was a dull main salad of grilled capon, which lacked much flavor. Veal marsala arrived as a juicy but bland piece of meat. Duck was presented with little flair and tasted dry, its cherry-brandy sauce lacking balance. And a dish of crayfish and crab imperial would have been better without the buttery excess.
Accompaniments sometimes outshine the entrees: garlic-tinged zucchini slices, fresh-tasting peas, a pilaf of rice, crunchy sweet and sour cabbage salad, or the chef's potato, a lightly herbed puree of potato, breaded and fried, were all fine touches. Only the sweet potato croquette, dusted with confectioners' sugar, was a disappointment, leaden and excessively sweet. (As for which dressing to choose with your dinner salad, don't miss the pleasantly biting pepper and cream preparation.)
Like the menu, the wine list is extensive, featuring a good selection of both American and imported varities, plus a number of wines by the glass.
Desserts are a bit amateurish and lean to excess (a thick and eggy custard comes to mind), though there is reason for hope, as Anton's rotates its selection of pies and tortes on a regular basis.
There's no limit to variety at Anton's, but a bit more consistency would be preferred among all those choices. By emphasizing the appetizers and selecting carefully from among the entrees, though, you can build a fine meal amidst a fine staff and even finer surroundings.