The Pavilion at the Old Post Office, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW 289-1100 Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Prices: Lunch appetizers $1.95 to $5.95, salads and sandwiches $3.25 to $9.75, entrees $6.95 to $12.95; dinner salads and appetizers $1.95 to $5.95, entrees $10.50 to $21.50. Cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
Since it was first reviewed five years ago, Fitch, Fox & Brown has grown by leaps and bounds. Originally, dining was concentrated on the balcony overlooking The Pavilion's main floor.
Nowadays, the space devoted to seating includes five dining rooms on three levels, each room with a personality of its own. The roomy ground floor space, which features a handsome marble-and-brass trimmed bar, is a clubby and casual watering hole, accented in soothing greens, while two flights up, the more formal dining room overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue sports a colonial look.
The menu, too, has been expanded. The lunch menu now focuses on nearly two dozen appetizers and salads; at dinner, there are nearly as many main dishes -- running the gamut from lamb chops to seafood platters -- from which to choose.
Everything about this place seems big, from the broad, comfortable chairs to the main floor's soaring shuttered windows to the crowds at lunchtime. But so does the kitchen's reach -- which exceeds its grasp.
Not that the menu is without its good points. For starters, consider the daily pasta specials -- one day a plate of what appeared to be commercial canned spaghetti, but was actually a savory blend of pasta, capers and a pleasant wash of tomato sauce, another time a simple blend of cream sauce, olives and rigatoni. An appetizer of four big pork ribs looked a bit silly, perched atop a bed of shredded lettuce. But like the pastas, the meaty ribs -- bolstered by a fruity pineapple marinade and a glaze of honey mustard -- proved more delicious than their looks suggested.
Every American restaurant seems to be serving mashed potatoes these days, and Fitch, Fox & Brown is no exception. Theirs are served with a plate of meat loaf and topped with a pleasant, sherry-laced brown mushroom gravy. Satisfying comfort food.
I found little comfort in another common restaurant find, fajitas, stuffed here with bites of chicken and green peppers. Overall, this tortilla-enveloped dish was a disaster, slathered with a commercial-tasting cheese spread and hot enough to clear the sinuses. Another misguided effort is the honey pecan chicken, a pale, sauteed breast heaped with a cloying blend of nuts and honey -- its appearance and taste suggestive of dessert rather than a main course. Better were its accompaniments of new potatoes and sliced zucchini, which was saved from blandness by strips of smoky red peppers.
Much of the food at Fitch, Fox & Brown walks the line between serviceable and downright awful. The thinnish, albeit tender, filet mignon, perched atop English muffin halves, would have been better had it been cooked past the bloody stage (we requested it medium). And while the menu is sprinkled with fish and seafood selections, apart from a lettuce salad sprinkled generously with shrimp, scallops, crab claws and smoked salmon, I found little of interest. Despite the boost from a garnish of sun-dried tomatoes, the grilled tuna was remarkably lackluster.
No meal was spared: At brunch we were presented with dreary poached eggs floating atop a near-soup of an excessively rich, spinach-infused cream sauce, which we washed down with weak, tepid coffee -- all of which was enough to send us back under the covers.
The hosts and busboys know their jobs well. Greetings have been quick and friendly. The wait staff, on the other hand, could use a bit more polishing; at lunch in particular, the delays for drinks, order-taking and bills have been many, and lengthy.
At Fitch, Fox & Brown, the assets appeal more to the eyes than the tongue. The downstairs bar is a good choice for an after-work cocktail or a quick meal before showtime (the restaurant, which is within walking distance of the National and Warner theaters, offers a three-course theater menu daily from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for $13.95). And the views of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol from the alcoves in the upstairs dining room are fine ones. Good looks and pleasant vistas aside, what this restaurant really needs is a steadier hand in the kitchen.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.