WASHINGTON has many faces, all seductive and nearly all reflected, one way or another, in the city’s restaurants. There is imperial Washington, city of monuments and imposing buildings, where the distinctive throb of political power is so different from New York’s money and fashion power. And there’s the neighborly Southern town, a place of green parks, tree-lined streets and Georgian row houses. And then there is international Washington, where the dress code covers everything from saris to sarongs, Mao suits to tribal robes. Restaurant menus stretch around the world from the Middle East to Malaysia and back by way of West Africa, Central America and points in between. Kinkead’s American Brasserie
Kinkead’s, at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, sums up many Washingtonian themes. This handsome late-20th-century version of a traditional brasserie, with polished blond wood and brass, gray-green brocade banquettes and etched-glass panels separating the capacious booths, is a friendly, accessible place. Waiters are assured and knowledgeable without being the least bit obsequious. Upstairs is a 150-seat dining room, downstairs a 40-seat cafe that also incorporates a bar. Both are very agreeable, and many selections and prices are the same, though the food is a little more elaborate upstairs.
If you like fried clams, you’ll love the Ipswich, deep-fried in a crisp, tempura-style batter and garnished surprisingly with deep-fried slices of lemon; served as an appetizer upstairs, it is a clam roll in the cafe ($9 for each). Light and delicious, without a trace of grease, these come with a piquant, traditional tartare sauce. Another unusual appetizer is the shrimp and crab pupusa, the Central American thick corn tortilla, crisply toasted and served with an abundance of seafood, avocado and jicama slices and a throat-tickling pickled cabbage relish ($6.50).
Seafood is the focus here, and any fish on the menu may be ordered simply broiled or grilled and served with steamed vegetables — not surprising, since Robert Kinkead, the chef and owner, is a native New Englander. He does an amusing turn on old-fashioned Norman pork or veal a la Vallee d’Auge, substituting sweet, tender scallops for the usual chops, serving them with sauteed apple wedges and chanterelle mushrooms, then deglazing the pan with Calvados and just a touch of cream ($9 as an appetizer).
Meat gets attention at Kinkead’s, too. Among main courses, pork with black beans ($16) was a takeoff on Brazilian feijoada, rich and succulent with soft slices of sweet yam and yucca. Lamb with white beans and rosemary aioli ($18) solves the rare- or well-done problem with a braised shank of fork-tender, well-done meat and slices of grilled leg that are crisp on the outside and juicily rosy in the middle.
The most outstanding dish on the menu was a crisp whole snapper, dipped in seasoned corn flour and deep-fried in the Chinese manner, with a deliciously crunchy exterior and soft inner flesh. And it was one of the handsomest dishes I’ve encountered — the fish sitting up on its plate, beautifully curled around a little salad of pale cucumber with a dark garnish of spicy Chinese black beans and a prickly soy-wasabi (Japanese horseradish) dipping sauce ($17).
For dessert, three little pots of creamy-silk creme brulee are flavored with caramel, Grand Marnier and chocolate ($6).
The very well-chosen wine list is mostly American. Prices are fair — a 1992 Saintsbury pinot noir from California was an excellent choice at $32. Provence
I had always liked Yannick Cam’s food when he had Le Pavillon on Connecticut Avenue, but the menu failed to reflect the chef’s passion and gusto. With his brand new Provence, which opened at 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue in September, Mr. Cam has shaken off nouvelle cuisine and headed south toward the warm flavors and more casual presentations of the Mediterranean. It is an herby, garlicky, olive-oil-based cuisine, unmistakably French but from a France that draws its inspiration from Spain and Italy as much as — perhaps more than — the canons of haute cuisine.
The menu in the 140-seat restaurant is full of unusual offerings like nettle soup ($6.50) and roast loin of rabbit with sweet potato gnocchi ($18.50). And the food is, on the whole, quite wonderful, gutsy and full of flavor but with that sense of a refined French hand at work in the kitchen, whether on an old-fashioned brandade de morue, a savory mash of salt cod and olive oil ($5.95), or on tiny squid, called totenes, stuffed with a Provencal herb mixture that includes pine nuts and an enchanting touch of lavender ($7).
Not everything works this well: Artichauts a la barigoule ($8) were not like those I remembered from France and were overcooked to boot. But I was delighted with a tasty bourride ($16), a Provencal fish stew, full of deep, rich flavors and served with croutons and masses of aioli, a traditional garnish. Rack of lamb, stuffed with an olive and caper tapenade, was sliced into thick chops and served with a creamy puree of potatoes ($23). The chef’s special, Atlantic lobster, came steamed and served in chunks of sweet meat, with poached turnips and carrots ($24.50).
I wish I could say I loved the restaurant too. It’s very pretty, with a sunny decor of sunflowers, artichokes, braids of garlic and lots of terra cotta and wrought iron, but it’s awfully hard to love a place where you have to wait nearly an hour for a confirmed reservation, shoved together with others in a similar plight in a narrow reception area, with waiters burdened with trays pushing through the crowd. Complaining to the haughty maitre d’hotel brought complimentary glasses of wine, and the grill chef passed us a plate of salad to munch on, but it was 55 minutes past our reservation time before we were seated, and then the waiter neglected to take our wine order.
Mr. Cam, I hope, will soon exert as much effort in the dining room as he obviously expends in the kitchen; then he will have a very fine restaurant indeed.
The wine list is, not surprisingly, mostly French and very fairly priced. We had a 1992 Acacia pinot noir from California with our meal, which cost $19. The Bombay Club
For a combination of ethnic food and powerful-people watching, you can’t go wrong at the Bombay Club where President Clinton has dined. The Bombay Club offers some of the best and freshest Indian food I’ve had, here or elsewhere, prepared with skill and attention to detail. And the clublike atmosphere in this elegant 96-seat restaurant feels like something out of the “Masterpiece Theater” production of “The Jewel in the Crown.” All darkly polished wood and brass, with widely spaced tables and walls hung with mementoes of the Raj, the hushed ambiance is underlined by the notes of a quiet piano in the background.
Those who avoid Indian food because of its reputed hot spices will find the Bombay Club a happy surprise, for the chef’s hand is delicate, and seasonings are carefully combined so that you actually taste the ginger, coriander, turmeric and other flavorings. Tandoori selections, flash-roasted in the heat of the terra-cotta tandoor oven, are especially fine; the oven’s intense heat sears salmon ($17.95) outside and gives the inner flesh a silky texture like that of smoked salmon.
There are a number of traditional vegetarian specialties on the menu, many of which are combined in Bombay Thali ($15.50), a round platter of five vegetarian selections, served with lemon rice, a raita, or yogurt relish, and naan, puffy rounds of freshly baked bread.
The menu ranges all over India, including Bengal, Hyderabad and Goa, on India’s east coast. I especially liked Goa fish curry, generous chunks of fish in a lightly piquant sauce of tamarind and coconut ($15.95). The most interesting appetizer was sev puri, a Bombay specialty made with crunchy gram (chickpea) flour noodles combined with cubes of potato and sweet mango, sauced with dark, rich tamarind and garnished with fresh mint ($5), an enticing combination.
The Bombay Club has a small wine list, but I prefer beer or water with Indian food, or opt for sweet, salty or mango lassi, a refreshing yogurt drink. BeDuCi
BeDuCi, at 2014 P Street, is a happy choice for those seeking Mediterranean food. (BeDuCi means “below Dupont Circle,” which is how Washingtonians describe this location.) Under the direction of a French Basque who grew up in Tunisia and an American, with a Moroccan chef in the kitchen, BeDuCi covers the Mediterranean in its small, intensely congenial 50-seat space.
Start with a bruschetta of crispy toasted country-style bread, spread with gorgonzola cheese and sweet red peppers or crushed tomatoes ($4.50), and go on to a creamy puree of mashed potatoes topped with flavorful merguez, North African lamb sausages ($5.95), or Mediterranean soup, a combination of Greek lentils, Spanish guindillas (red peppers) and more merguez sausage ($5.50). Add meaty California rabbit braised with cabbage, with a raisiny carrot sauce ($15.95), or grilled rockfish with a sharp mustard sauce and black olives and capers ($16.95). Finish with a creamy creme brulee and a glass of Brachetto d’Acqui, a light sparkling Italian red offered gratis by the congenial Jean-Claude Garrat, who, with Michele Miller, is co-owner of the restaurant, just because it is the end of the evening.
It’s that kind of restaurant — full of people having great fun with food, whether they’re the owners, the chef or the diners. The wine list reflects Mr. Garrat’s wide-ranging interests, with a selection from around the Mediterranean as well as some fine California vintages — like a 1992 Gloria Ferrer pinot noir, well priced at $30. Georgia Brown’s
Georgia Brown’s is where Washington slides gently into the South — whether Old or New depends on what you’re looking for. Deliberately planned as a place where whites and blacks might gather comfortably and naturally in more than token fashion, it’s a high-style concept built around Low Country cuisine. Amazingly, for such a self-conscious effort, it works, and not least because much of the food is very, very good. Not all of it, however — the night I ate there, the gumbo tasted of tinny tomatoes and the fried green tomatoes were mushy. But cornmeal-battered and fried okra was perfect, unctuous but not slimy, ($4.25 as an appetizer).
Fat lump crabcakes, two to a serving, were as flavorful as they were attractive, the plump cakes sitting on a puddle of pale creamy crab sauce and drizzled with a bright stripe of yam puree ($18.95). Carolina black grouper, a succulent and meaty fish, came with a savory-sweet chutney made of peaches and red onions ($15.95).
Georgia Brown’s has everything you’d expect from a Low Country restaurant — shrimp and grits, hoppin’ John, smothered pork chops with collards and black-eyed peas, fried chicken and so forth, but often given a special twist. Jazz provides the background music and the 172-seat dining room glows with peachy Georgia colors.
The wine list is comprehensively Californian with some good buys — a Joseph Phelps 1990 Vin du Mistral was $33. Cities
Washington is a place where families often travel together, but it’s not always easy to find a restaurant where both adults and adolescent children feel comfortable. Cities, however, in the Adams-Morgan district, fills the bill. While adults will be happy with the menu, teen-agers will delight in the funky ambiance that’s just this side of grunge — as if Urban Outfitters had done the steely, off-kilter decor for the 120-seat restaurant.
Cities celebrates urban cuisines from around the world, with a new city chosen every 10 to 12 months. Until the second week in January, the focus is Hong Kong and the menu reflects that, though not entirely. We had a lovely pizza, with sliced pears, melting gorgonzola and fragrant basil ($9.95) that was about as far from Asia as you could get, and Chinese fried and steamed dumplings ($6.50), a sandpot (a Chinese earthenware cooking dish) of littlenecks with black beans and skinny noodles in a spicy broth ($6.95) and an acorn squash hollowed out to hold braised Sichuan-style rabbit with cabbage ($15.50).
The hit of the evening was tea-smoked duck served three ways: minced and combined with finely chopped vegetables in plump deep-fried spring rolls; chunked with crisp vegetables and mushu pancakes, and sliced rare-roasted duck breast, fanned out on the plate ($15.95).
With one or two exceptions, wine prices are all below $30 and the selection is well balanced. Or you can always have a Coke. DINING IN THE CAPITAL
BeDuCi, 2014 P Street, N.W., (202) 467-4466. Open for lunch, Monday to Friday, 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.; dinner every night from 5:30 to 10, except Sunday, from 5 to 9.
The Bombay Club, 815 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., (202) 659-3727. Open for lunch, Monday to Friday, and Sunday for brunch, 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.; dinner, Monday to Thursday, 6 to 10:30 P.M., Friday and Saturday to 11 P.M., Sunday, 5:30 to 9 P.M.
Cities, 2424 18th Street, N.W., (202) 328-7194. Open for dinner only, Monday to Thursday, 6 to 11 P.M.; Friday and Saturday to 11:30 P.M.; Sunday to 9 P.M.; Sunday brunch, 11 A.M. to 3 P.M.
Georgia Brown’s, 950 15th Street, N.W. (on McPherson Square), (202) 393-4499. Open Monday to Thursday, 11:30 A.M. to 11 P.M.; Friday, 11:30 A.M. to midnight; Saturday 5:30 P.M. to midnight; Sunday, 11:30 A.M. to 4 P.M. and 5:30 to 11 P.M.
Kinkead’s American Brasserie, 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., (202) 296-7700. Dining room open for lunch, Monday to Saturday, 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.; Sunday brunch, 11:30 A.M. to 3 P.M.; dinner every day, 5:30 to 10:30 P.M. Downstairs cafe open every day from 11:30 A.M. to 11:30 P.M.
Provence, 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., (202) 296-1166. Open for lunch, Monday to Friday, 11:45 A.M. to 2 P.M.; dinner Monday to Wednesday, 6 to 10 P.M., Thursday to Saturday, 5:30 to 11:30 P.M. The restaurant is closed Sunday.
Photos: Terrell Danby at work at Georgia Brown. Kinkead’s deep-fried snapper. Polished wood and brass at Bombay Club. (Photographs by Marty Katz for The New York Times)(pg. 6); At Cities, the menu focuses on a different cuisine every few months. (Marty Katz for The New York Times)(pg. 20)