1724 California St. NW 328-3838 Hours: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday and Monday, noon to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 5 a.m. Friday, 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday. Prices: Dinner appetizers 75 cents to $2.25, entrees $5.75 to $9.50. Cards: American Express, Choice, MasterCard, Visa.
Unlike the reviewers of films and plays, who generally critique their subjects on the basis of a single show, a restaurant reviewer generally pays a place two or more visits before drawing conclusions.
And it's with good reason we sample several meals, several times. The cook preparing lunch, for example, might not be the same one in charge of dinner. Inevitably, there are daily specials to explore on the menu -- and standing dishes to reorder to check for consistency. Moreover, in terms of reviewing the pace of the service and the overall feel of a place, a traditionally slow weeknight like Monday can be a vastly different experience than, say, Friday or Saturday.
Consider two recent excursions to Adams-Morgan's Kilimanjaro, which bills itself as "the international club where international minds meet."
Far from being a think tank, this spacious dance hall touts all the calm of a tropical hurricane on the weekend. The music -- an eclectic mix of reggae and calypso, with frequent appearances by live bands -- is just this side of a sonic boom: loud. So's the decor, a blaze of zebra skins, African art, and tropical beach murals that look like outsized picture postcards.
The clientele is, as Kilimanjaro's advertising suggests, a worldly melting pot of the well-heeled and the no-heeled -- standing, sitting, or dancing shoulder-to-shoulder. And it's definitely a rendezvous site: The cologne and perfume are as thickly applied as the curry is in some of the dishes.
In short, Kilimanjaro is bold, brassy, wild and fun.
Unless you stop in on a Monday night, that is. On a recent outing, the sea of tables was occupied by a mere handful of drinkers, and no one seemed to be eating.
Which was just as well, as it turned out. The bar was out of ginger beer, and the kitchen was out of most of the side dishes and at least two of the chicken dishes we planned to order.
Then, just as we were about to place our order, the power went out, the music came to a deafening halt, and the silver disco ball above the dance floor disappeared into the blackness.
Of course, a power failure can't be blamed on the establishment. And in fact, our waitress averted what could have been a disaster, by lighting table candles, apologizing profusely, and keeping careful watch over our drinks while arranging for our orders. Indeed, by the time the lights came on, our appetizers were on the table.
My conclusion? Blackout or no, Kilimanjaro looks, sounds and feels better when it plays to a full house.
Oh, yes -- the menu. Aside from the music, appetizers are probably the best part of a meal at Kilimanjaro. Among my favorites are the creamy fried plantains, and the flaky, triangular-shaped samosas stuffed with mildly spiced ground beef and chopped onion. The stuffed green bell pepper, topped with a square of barely melted processed cheese, looked a bit disconcerting, but it tasted much better than it looked, plumped as it was with an intriguing blend of chopped greens, onion and beans. And the fish cakes are nicely breaded, piquantly seasoned, and, like a lot of Caribbean-style food, a bit on the starchy side -- nothing a trip to the dance floor wouldn't help digest, though.
Don't be deterred by any unfamiliar names on the menu -- fufu is just another name for mashed plantains and salt, and nyama ya kuchoma translates into grilled steak with onion and mushrooms. And dare to be adventurous: The curry-spiked goat stew, one of the kitchen's better efforts, is brimming with tender cubes of meat, and is far less bony than is usually the case. Seasonings in the jollof rice -- a plate heaped with red rice, topped with hunks of chicken and cubes of beef, then smothered in a savory tomato sauce -- were right on the mark, pleasantly herbaceous and hot.
Bypass the lackluster combination of chewy sauteed beef with vegetables, as well as the fried fish, which was overwhelmed by bones, and worse, looked like something that had washed ashore. When I sampled it, the grassy cassava leaf (served with fish and beef) tasted acrid and bitter, although I loved the peppery side dish of cooked cabbage and carrot that came along with that main dish.
Finally, for lubrication, the specialty drinks include a modestly satisfying pink fruit punch and East African Tusker beer, which doesn't compare with the world's great beers but serves as an authentic accompaniment to the African-Caribbean dishes.
Clearly, entertainment is the focus of this nightclub. And if you view Kilimanjaro as an exotic watering hole that serves food rather than as a restaurant that serves up music, so much the better.
Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.