A bright spot at the newly opened Fainting Goat restaurant on U Street NW: the shrimp roll, served with thick-cut fries. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Before he helped open the Fainting Goat in the U Street corridor, James Barton was chef de cuisine at the Oval Room near the White House. Why would he ditch one of the city’s top American restaurants for a start-up?

“Fine dining is not what people want to eat,” says the chef, 29. “The formality is going away.” What Barton wants to do at the Fainting Goat is pull diners in a couple of nights a week for a simple menu sprinkled with surprises.

Popcorn in the “garden” salad surprises me. It’s not the first ingredient I’d think to add to greens and radishes, and honestly, the stand-in for croutons is not very appealing. But there’s enough on Barton’s concise list, its dishes arranged under clever headings (Nibble/Graze/Chomp/Feed), to draw me back a few nights after an initial dinner.

Take the meat pie, a riff on pâté en croûte that finds pork, chicken and foie gras inside a thin pastry shell. Its filling, seasoned with Chinese five-spice powder and brandy, is good enough to eat on its own. Of the sandwiches, I’m partial to the blimp-shaped shrimp roll. Roast chicken is presented with a loose stuffing of torn bread and vinegary raisins. Winy braised goat with carrots and turnips is another main course to remember.

Desserts are more deconstructed than is my preference. You might want to indulge in another cocktail instead. The bars (there are two) whip up solid drinks.

The former Urban Essentials design store space makes a handsome backdrop to the food. Maple floors, exposed-brick walls and small chandeliers reflect accessible style across several levels of dining room and bar.

Initially, co-owner Greg Algie (Fado Irish Pub, Cantina Marina) thought his new restaurant should link to the business that preceded it via a furniture-related name. But the idea was shot down by friends after he shared a story from his past. Turns out Algie was so shy around women, his friends used to tell him he looked like a fainting goat around them. “That’s the name!” his listeners told him.

1330 U St. NW. 202-735-0344. www.faintinggoatdc.com. Sandwiches and entrees, $12 to $23.