If you sampled only the chicken potpie at Cafe Deluxe in the West End, chances are you’d be up for another whirl with the fifth area branch of the American bistro. Fifteen dollars buys you a Superdome of puff pastry stretched across a steamy interior of grilled chicken bites, celery, carrots, onions and asparagus, everything bound in a cream sauce laced with sherry. A sprig of rosemary embedded in the golden crust adds a jaunty touch to the strapping main course.
The restaurant is the first in the group to surface in a hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, and thus the only cafe responsible for room service and banquets. While the menu is similar to those of the Cafe Deluxes found in Bethesda, Cleveland Park, Gaithersburg and Tysons Corner, it isn’t a mirror image. The West End branch features a few dishes its siblings don’t (New York strip steak, seared ahi tuna with mango salsa) and dropped a couple of Deluxe staples, among them seafood linguine and the tilapia club sandwich.
A gallery’s worth of French liquor posters shows a lack of design imagination on the walls. But I appreciate the streams of light that pour through the restaurant’s broad windows on two sides and a dining room outfitted with booths that afford their inhabitants both comfort and a sense that their conversation won’t be overheard by strangers. (Tall backs and frosted-glass dividers between the cushioned seats help.) The hotel lobby flows into a marble-topped bar that you wouldn’t mind drinking at if your room upstairs wasn’t ready.
The servers won’t have to explain the restaurant’s concept or suggest you get several plates to share your meal with others at the table. Cafe Deluxe is all about the familiar: deviled eggs, Caesar salad, short ribs, roast chicken and meatloaf that’s most interesting for its accompaniment of buttery, skin-on mashed potatoes.
And that’s part of the problem: Diners have to hunt to find something to praise. The best part about the ahi tuna tacos is the black beans and corn inside the chewy wrappers. (The dominoes of fish prove dry.) Once you taste the mushy crab cakes, your fork will focus solely on the flat puck’s coleslaw partner on the plate. What doesn’t taste like leftovers smacks of having come from a freezer case. Or worse: The blond crust on the flatbreads resembles baked Play-Doh.
Beyond the potpie and maybe a pot of steamed mussels, the cooking here will make you wish you were taking lunch or dinner across the street, at the vastly superior Westend Bistro.
As at the other restaurants in the local collection, this one offers something for everyone, as long as everyone isn’t fussy. Deluxe? Hardly.
2201 M St. NW. 202-524-7815. cafedeluxe.com. Dinner entrees, $12.95 to $24.95.