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Diners can (mostly) bank on the all-day menu at Cafe Riggs

The dining room at the new Cafe Riggs — inside the former Riggs National Bank in Penn Quarter — is a sight to behold. (Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post)
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Cafe Riggs grabs diners by the eyeballs.

Arrivals crane their necks to admire the newcomer’s sky-high coffered ceiling. Torrents of light stream through Palladian windows. Booths that look like giant bunches of ladyfingers line the front wall, while Corinthian columns and theatrical red curtains add to the pomp of the place. Named for the Riggs National Bank that once graced the space, the dining room in the Riggs hotel in Penn Quarter is as stimulating as a triple espresso.

Everyone who’s been in since it opened this month has been talking up the decor. Patrick Curran hopes customers genuflect over the food, too. As executive chef, he’s in charge of not just the grand brasserie but also room service, banquets and the hotel’s highly anticipated subterranean bar, Silver Lyan.

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Curran is covering all his bases with an all-day menu. The Francophile can find steak frites and an omelet morning, noon and night. More than a dozen dishes are vegan. There’s a burger for the Caps fan who just wants a bite before the game and a grilled cheese gilded with osetra caviar for anyone with the means to celebrate. The highbrow sandwich costs just under $100— and yes, 10 people have already ordered it, says the chef, who comes to the project from Casolare in Glover Park and also helped open Momofuku in CityCenter.

“I didn’t want vegetables to be an afterthought,” says the chef, 32. Curran makes good on his words with a gorgeous salad of roasted broccoli florets and cured red cabbage shaped into a loose dome and sprinkled with toasted quinoa. Each bite of broccoli swells with the flavor of garlic and toasted sesame seeds. Among the many “plant dishes” on the list is a pleasing garland of sliced charred squash, plump cranberries, wilted kale and mustard seeds slicked with pumpkin seed oil. Thanksgiving lives on.

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Lesser dishes pop up now and then. Beef tartare stints on the spread’s typical bold accents. I like the subtle starter best for the accompanying hot, cigar-shaped breadsticks that also launch every meal. Chilled crab scattered with celery leaves, lemon and little rounds of purple radish atop a supposedly crab-infused custard makes a beautiful appetizer. But the flavor is all on the surface. The white base tastes mostly, and blankly, of cream.

Come for the Arctic char. It’s a fine piece of fish on an underliner of slivered snow peas, cooked to remain crisp and teasing with jalapeño and saffron-y couscous pearls. Stay for the warm pain perdu topped with bruleed bananas and lapped with maple-butterscotch sauce.

Two or more of you should consider the whole roast chicken, served family style with little potatoes and a pot of mustard. The center of the platter benefits from an herb marinade and slow cooking. With his simple glory, Curran channels a French grand-mère.

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The welcome — first from the hosts, then the waiters — makes you feel like a cherished regular. What you ultimately crave, however, is someone who doesn’t spill $5 worth of cocktail on the table (and leave the splash) and another someone who remembers the umbrella you surrendered along with your coat at check-out. But kudos to the staff for seating an early arrival ahead of the rest of the party instead of directing him to the bar.

It’s early in the life of Cafe Riggs. Even now, though, it’s an all-day treat for the senses.

900 F St. NW. 202-788-2800. Entrees, $19 to $88 (for bone-in rib-eye for two).

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