Trumpets

1633 Q St. NW

232-4141

Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, for champagne brunch.

Prices: Appetizers $4.50 to $7.50, entrees $8.50 to $24.95. Champagne brunch is $16.95 for all you can eat.

Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Nonsmoking area available in dining room.

It's rare for a jazz club to try to make its mark with its menu, but Trumpets is not your run-of-the-mill nightclub.

A suave underground gathering place with low lights, an elegant clientele and terrific live jazz, Trumpets also has an ambitious kitchen, which turns out such tony fare as Veal Xavier and Salmon En Croute.

With entree prices that run as high as $25, however, Trumpets, a few blocks from Thomas Circle NW, is not only a bit overpriced, but also is pitting the kitchen against the main attraction -- the music -- which strikes us as a mistake.

We visited one night when an impeccable jazz quartet was playing, and the $10 per person cover charge seemed reasonable for the first-rate entertainment. But a $10 cover plus a $40 meal means a $100 evening for two -- and room for disappointment.

Among the entrees we tried, the catch of the day was the greatest success. A succulent blackened filet of seared redfish, it was spicy and flavorful. In contrast, the $16.95 salmon in puff pastry proved to be an overly ambitious attempt at presentation that didn't quite succeed because the pastry got soggy and the flavor of tarragon was overpowering.

The place exudes style, however. The tables are a high-gloss jet black, and the plates are white and enormous. Ice buckets and beautiful stemware abound. Framed black and white photographs of jazz greats adorn the rose-colored walls, and a gracious, if somewhat unpolished, staff adds to the ambiance.

If you were to walk by in a hurry, you might not even notice Trumpets, situated below street level at the busy corner of 17th and Q streets NW. With all the night life in this popular neck of town, there's also lots of competition for a passerby's eye.

Once we found our way down the stairs to the entrance, we were warmly ushered inside by a hostess who took our coats and made us feel welcome, even though we were underdressed for such a stylish place.

A rectangular bandstand is the focus of the room, which is long and dark, with a row of banquettes along the back and a bar to the left of the bandstand. A large room to the right is shielded from the main dining room, providing a measure of quiet and distance from the night's entertainment as well as an extra bit of privacy.

Our table was so elegantly set it practically glowed. We were greeted almost immediately by a basket of delicious cornmeal muffins and impulsively ordered a glass of sparkling Piper Sonoma Brut ($4.50).

For starters, we liked the angel hair pasta with tiny, sauteed wild mushrooms sauced with butter, garlic and chopped scallions ($4.50). The house salad ($4.50) combined lots of ingredients, including escarole, radicchio, cucumber, celery, croutons and tomatoes, but it didn't quite come together, partly because of a bland dressing. The seafood bisque ($3.75) was creamy but also a bit bland.

The Seafood Alfredo ($14.95) was advertised as sea scallops, shrimp and lobster meat tossed with pasta, vegetables and a classic creamy parmesan Alfredo sauce. The plump, succulent scallops were the standout in this dish (we couldn't detect lobster), and the spinach noodles provided a nice shot of color. But the sherry-flavored sauce lacked character and the vegetables -- bits of cauliflower -- hit a wrong note.

The Maryland crabcakes ($15.50) needed more crab and less breading and seasoning. They came with buttery fresh vegetables and new potatoes that had been peeled and steamed.

The prize for sensational presentation went to the "Salmon and Morels En Croute." An oversize fillet of rose-pink salmon had been baked in puff pastry and bathed in creamy cardinal sauce. The dish came with a serving of broccoli and cauliflower and easily might have served two.

Unfortunately, the fillet was slightly overdone and the crust, which had absorbed some of the juices, seemed so superfluous it got in the way. Meanwhile, the morels had vanished altogether.

In contrast, the blackened redfish, priced at $12.95, was a great choice. A generous, almost steaky fillet was cooked just right (but watch out for bones). Its Louisiana-style spice coating included a healthy dose of red pepper, and the fish was served in a pool of nicely seasoned, pureed black beans. The side dish of "garlic rice" was pretty plain and seemed beside the point.

Desserts include sweet potato pie, chocolate mousse, sorbet and cheesecake ($3.75-$4.50). The warm, cinammon-spiked sweet potato pie came in a crisp crust. We also sampled the eggnog cheesecake, which despite its unconventional flavoring had an authentic New York-cheesecake consistency.

Wine prices were about $13 to $21 a bottle, $3.25 to $4.25 a glass.

Still, live jazz is the main course at Trumpets, and the way it is set up the music does not overwhelm the place. There are plenty of tables where food and conversation can continue nicely and without distracting the other patrons.