Blue Angel Cafe
2333 18th St. NW
Hours: 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Sunday through Friday; 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers $3.95 to $6.25, entrees $8.95 to $14.95.
Cards: All major credit cards accepted. No separate nonsmoking area in dining room.
The 1930 film classic "The Blue Angel" is, of course, the story of the disastrous encounter of a priggish professor and a seductive nightclub singer played by Marlene Dietrich.
But the decadence of the club where Dietrich sang is nowhere evident at the new Blue Angel Cafe on 18th Street NW in the heart of Adams-Morgan.
Here is a restaurant and nightclub with considerable charm where a couple looking for a night on the town can catch a jazz performance and a decent meal for two in intimate surroundings for about $60.
A friend recommended it as a nice place to meet for a drink; she was impressed by the selection of wines by the glass (which range from $2.50 for the house red or white to $5.75 for Martini & Rossi Brut) and had good things to say about a couple of appetizers at the bar.
We tried it out, and were surprised to discover a lot to like in the entrees too. And the atmosphere, romantic but unpretentious, made the meal seem special.
The Blue Angel describes its food as "grilled continental cuisine," which raises the inevitable question: Which continent? We found the food to be very American, featuring an array of dishes common to many a Washington restaurant but unlikely to be found in most European ones.
This is not an innovative kitchen but a competent one. The menu features such standbys as Caesar salad, prime rib, calf's liver and grilled swordfish steak. Standouts include a fiery seafood jambalaya and garlicky grilled lamb chops.
Service is casual and friendly. And though prices are not low, there is no cover charge for the jazz, which is served up Wednesday through Sunday starting at 9:30 p.m.
There is also a pleasant bubbly on the menu that, while no vintage French champagne, can class up an evening for the unprincely sum of $17 a bottle.
Situated in a former furniture store, Blue Angel is fairly large, with a bar in the front, tables surrounding a bandstand in the middle, and a raised dining area with five tables or so toward the rear.
The dining room is cleanly furnished with little on the walls beyond a few posters. The lighting is soft, with Deco-esque wall sconces and recessed ceiling lights, and there are small candles, tablecloths and fresh flowers on each table.
Among the appetizers, we liked the smoked salmon ($5.95), an ample serving garnished with capers, chopped onion, lemon and toast points, and the pretty plate of lightly breaded and deep-fried squid ($4.95), served piping hot.
The hearts of palm salad ($3.50) consisted of square-cut palm hearts elegantly laid out on a lettuce leaf and doused with a rich, mustardy vinaigrette.
The seafood jambalaya ($3.95) was a surprisingly satisfying rendition of this Louisiana classic, a thin peppery soup with no rice but plenty of sweet red and green pepper, some scallops and a smattering of sausage.
The lamb chops ($12.95) were tender, well trimmed and broiled as we requested them: medium rare, crunchy on the outside and just pink in the center. There were four, cut about a half-inch thick, left on the bone and intensely flavorful.
The New York steak ($14.95) also was well trimmed and full of flavor though a tad chewy. It came charbroiled as ordered, accompanied -- as were all entrees -- by a baked potato and plenty of sour cream, plus some sauteed green and yellow squash. The calf's liver ($8.95) was slightly overdone but nicely prepared with sauteed apples and onion.
All the meats we tried came with the same dipping sauce, which seemed to be a combination of soy sauce and Worcestershire and not terribly appealing. The lamb chops and steak, in particular, needed nothing except a glass of the decent house red wine.
Asked to recommend a seafood dish, the waiter suggested the swordfish ($12.95). The serving was on the small side but had been skinned and carefully trimmed. Another time, we tried the grilled jumbo shrimp ($12.95), which came six to an order. They were a little salty for our taste but delicious nonetheless and were accompanied by a ramekin of herbed butter pungent with raw garlic.
One evening's pasta special was a seafood linguine ($12.95), with plenty of al dente pasta surrounded by about a dozen mussels and four large, succulent shrimp. The sauce had flecks of spinach in it but no other discernible herbs.
The dessert list included several chocolate selections, cheesecake and a sweet potato pecan pie. We tried the pie ($3.95), which came with a warm, flaky crust and a large dollop of homemade whipped cream on top.
The wine list is well chosen, consisting mostly of good-quality California reds and whites. The list has a nice range, starting at $10 a bottle and going up to $105 for the obligatory Dom Perignon champagne.