National Clarion Hotel 300 Army Navy Dr., Arlington 892-4100, ext. 1802 or 1855 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 6 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Lunch appetizers and soups $2.25 to $5.95, sandwiches and entrees $5.75 to $8.50; dinner soups and appetizers $3.50 to $7.80, entrees $15 to $29. Cards: All major credit cards accepted. Nonsmoking area available.
Lunch with a view can give a midday boost to your spirits.
On the 14th floor, high atop the National Clarion Hotel in Arlington, Washington's landmarks appear unobstructed.
Resist your natural inclination to pick the table closest to the windows where the lower half of your visual domain is highway, train yard, Pentagon parking and power plant. Instead, ask for a table in the slightly elevated section along the mirrored back wall, where you can enjoy the best of the view plus the tailored Art Deco surroundings of charcoal gray walls trimmed in black, starched white table linens, and a plush gray carpet flecked with teal, fuchsia and royal blue that is picked up in the seat cushions.
The handsome decor -- there was a complete refurbishing last summer -- is part of a general upgrading of the operation at the former Pentagon City Quality Inn. One improvement that still needs to be made, however, is a prominent sign in the lobby pointing diners to the Penthouse elevators.
While the Penthouse dinner menu continues to sport top-of-the-line prices, the lunch menu has recently undergone a correction downward both in price and number of selections. The new, shortened menu features sandwiches, salads and a few entrees, mostly in the $6 to $8 range, augmented by a couple of daily specials that may run higher. The food, however, like the Penthouse elevators, has its ups and downs.
Two soups were on the plus list -- a special creamy potato soup delicately flavored with shallots and bacon, and a tasty rendition of onion soup.
The lox and cream cheese on a croissant also was quite good, nicely complemented by cucumber, tomato, capers and a red onion slices, although the croissant could have been fresher. The complimentary breads, on the other hand, were a fresh, pleasing assortment of pumpernickel raisin, sourdough rye and crackerlike lavash.
On two recent visits, the catch of the day was carefully prepared and fresh, but the salmon fillet and the whole split trout were better without their blah sauces. More instrusive and objectionable was the heavy, pastelike cream sauce with herbs on the special shrimp fettuccine Alfredo, although the shrimp were fresh and perfectly done.
A menu regular, honey cumin roasted chicken, sounded enticing and looked delicious with its shiny golden glaze, but it tasted dried out, with little evidence of cumin. As with another dish on a previous visit, the accompanying saffron rice had a strong, unpleasant flavor.
A Caesar salad, although packed with healthy, dark green romaine, had a dressing that just missed.
The bakery-made selections on the pastry tray get mixed reviews. One chocolate-covered dainty with a rich filling of chocolate buttercream and almond soaked cake was delicious. Others, like the croissant, were probably better a day or two earlier.
The short wine list has some reasonably priced California varieties and a few imports, including some pricey French reds.
The formally clad service staff is helpful and efficient, but then only a few of the 105 seats were occupied on recent visits.
Lunch at the Penthouse is potentially a real bargain -- a moderately priced menu in an expense account setting. At this point, however, while the view can be terrific, the food is often out of focus.