- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A sunken cocktail lounge and den resemble a Flash Gordon space module with soft sofas and mattresses that curve up into the ceiling; bottles are displayed in front of amber glass blocks in a bar seating 65; stairs lead up to a suspension bridge to reach the elegant dining room where French-style cuisine with Indian accents is served; in a private dining room with fireplace, vibrant burnt-orange/deep-paprika walls soar to the ceiling like a tent; and a round chef’s table with a circular wall is on a platform that turns with table and guests to face the kitchen.

Whew. Who would believe all that could work? At IndeBleu on G Street across from the MCI Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, not only does it all work, but it’s a terrific restaurant, too, as well as a place to lounge and sit on a comfortable bar stool.

IndeBleu opened five days before Christmas; its kitchen is under the aegis of executive chef Vikram Garg, 34, who honed his skills at New Delhi’s Oberoi School of Hotel Management and in hotels and restaurants across India. He has put together a fascinating menu of creative, often witty, dishes, frequently combining sweet and salty ingredients. No dish is purely French or exclusively Indian, and almost everything we tasted was delicious.

The diner is barely seated in one of the comfortable booths or at a table before a basket of small warm naan appears. The delicious Indian bread, straight from the oven, is sprinkled with a combination of dried herbs and brushed with butter.

The kitchen has two tandoori ovens, and the bread is baked by Indian hands that brave the oven’s heat to slap the rounds of dough against the sides of the oven, just as it’s done in India. It’s difficult to restrain from gobbling down the little breads one after another. (The kitchen keeps them coming.)

The menu is divided into four sections of approximately seven dishes each: first, second, main courses and desserts, although first and second courses are both starters. The separate lounge menu offers 10 small dishes. Everything is a la carte and served with an aesthetic eye, be it the size or shape of the plate or the decoration of the food.

The meal begins with a demitasse of superb asparagus soup topped with a froth of creme fraiche, a gift from the chef. It ends with another gift from the kitchen, a tray of petits fours — tiny tarts, chocolates and cookies.

From the list of firsts, the “Lilliputian tower of lobster and lump crab with marinated mango, pine nuts and curry oil” sounded intriguing. In fact, the dish is a subtle melange of crab and lobster in a small round mound, somewhat smaller than “Lilliputian.” The mango adds a touch of sweetness, and the pine nuts add texture. The crab is mild, and the bits of lobster stand out.

A first course of tandoori shrimp is served at room temperature. The large shrimp are well-prepared, set off by a salad of shaved fennel with goat cheese as an added flavor. Nice.

Gnocchi, shaped like empanadas or large ravioli, are slightly doughy. The ground veal filling is excellent, and the sauce in which they are bathed is fragrant with chanterelles and chopped walnuts.

Lobster-and-beef carpaccio is thinner than paper-thin. The beef, with just the suggestion of lobster in the center of the rounds, is delicious. A small heap of artichoke salad is a crunchy contrast to the carpaccio.

Sweet-salty is the underlying combination of the rabbit confit samosa. It’s the least interesting of the starters. The samosa is a trifle heavy, and the filling is bland, though the combination with apple chutney is pleasant enough.

Three perfect scallops, on the other hand, constitute a sophisticated and elegant starter. The scallops are served in a sweet orange sauce with a thin, crisp slice of pancetta. It’s a successful dish.

The seven-spiced beef tenderloin is outstanding, wonderfully tender and served with a simple mix of braised vegetables, a sweet sauce of port-glazed onions and a tiny pan of fabulous au gratin potatoes. It’s a happy combination of rich flavors and simplicity of vegetables.

The lacquered duck breast is good, and the accompanying crunchy risotto with the faintest hint of morels goes well with the meat. The dish comes with peppered pomegranate seeds, a fine enhancement to the duck.

Tenderloin of veal is pan-seared; it could have been a little more tender. The roasted sea bass, with several sweet mussels aboard a tangle of vegetables, was slightly overly fishy.

The dessert menu is tempting and witty: “menage a trois apples,” “choco sutra an orgy of chocolate over brandied cherries in pomegranate glaze,” saffron-cardemom ice cream “spaghetti.” Desserts, like the other courses, are tantalizing discoveries in an original culinary world.

IndeBleu is the creation of Adamstein & Demetriou, which transformed four adjoining town houses into a sleekly modern space. Alas, the throbbing disco music from the bar is a jarring tarnish on an elegant evening.

The service is impeccable. Management has brought in 10 delightful young English men and women to wait on tables as part of a restaurant-management training program. They are charming, knowledgeable and courteous.

The wine list is a nice mix of wines from around the world. Among the wines by the glass (or bottle) are a house red (Cotes du Luberon) and white (sancerre) from vineyards that seem to have sent their entire stock to IndeBleu. They’re good and reasonably priced.

There’s nothing in town quite like IndeBleu.

RESTAURANT: IndeBleu. 707 G St. NW; 202/333-2538

HOURS: Dinner only (for the time being), 5:30 to 10:30 or 11 p.m. daily

PRICES: First and second courses $8 to $18 ($130 for caviar tasting with rice-flour blinis); mains, $22 to $39; desserts, $9; lounge menu, $6 to $16

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Some street parking (when the MCI Center is dark) and $12 valet parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Gallery Place

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