- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fish fins and porterhouse steaks. That’s what the new Finn & Porter is all about.

The 10th Street NW restaurant, two blocks from the Washington Convention Center in the bustling new downtown, has been open for about five weeks. It is attached to the equally new Embassy Suites Hotel and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The open kitchen is under the helm of executive chef Andreas Georgakopoulos.

The dining room is striking: ceilings that soar 60 feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows on the 10th Street side. The dining room has well-spaced wooden tables and comfortable booths, though it seems to lack warmth and has poor lighting in the evening.

A sushi bar next to the drinks bar at the entrance of the restaurant is cleverly concealed from the dining area by a wood-paneled half-wall.

The menu is extensive and tempting. Not everything is as good as it should be; surf tends to be very good and turf can disappoint.

A starter of a single large crab cake is splendid, as good as it could possibly be. The crab is lump and the cake is virtually filler-free, sauteed to a crisp exterior and deliciously fresh interior. The crab cake is served with a side of celeriac slaw in a light mayonnaise dressing, reminiscent of that French crudites staple, celery remoulade. Terrific.

An appetizer of four pan-fried pork dumplings is nothing short of sensational. The dumplings are soft, yet slightly crisp skins filled with a little savory pork meatball and served atop a julienne of cucumbers in a spicy-sweet sauce that is a perfect foil to the dumplings.

A BLT salad was a disappointment primarily because of the “B” part. The salad consists of a wedge of crunchy iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese dressing sprinkled with bits of cold cooked bacon and two slices of nicely ripe tomato on the side. It’s an appropriate salad for a steakhouse, but unless bacon is freshly cooked and crumbled, it has a somewhat greasy, strong flavor reminiscent of Bacon Bits, overpowering the other ingredients.

Several other starters include beef carpaccio; fried calamari; linguini with clams and mussels; as well as seasonal clams and oysters on the half-shell. Salads include a classic Caesar; mozzarella and arugula; and mixed greens. Soups offered at dinner are French onion with three kinds of cheese, and New Orleans jambalaya. For lunch, the kitchen also prepares a Maryland she-crab soup and a roasted chicken Cobb salad.

At lunch and dinner, the chef will prepare the daily fresh catch according to the diner’s wishes: grilled, broiled, blackened or steamed, in a soy, sherry and ginger sauce. The catch varies but usually includes salmon, tuna, Maine diver scallops, Gulf shrimp and trout.

At a recent dinner, the scallops were prepared with a dusting of wasabi on a simple red pepper coulis, nicely complemented by three slices of grilled zucchini and a small mound of jasmine rice. The wasabi gives a slightly spicy quality to the five large scallops, perfectly cooked to retain flavor and moisture.

Meat dishes fare not as well. The Kentucky-onion prime rib-eye steak arrived well done instead of medium as ordered, and was tough. The roasted potatoes served with the steak were tired and tasted of the warming oven. Kentucky onions turned out to be excellent onion slices marinated in bourbon and sauteed.

Steaks are offered in infinite variety: a 10-ounce filet mignon; 12 ounces of New York cut; a bone-in rib-eye weighing 18 ounces; and a porterhouse of 24 ounces. In addition, the menu offers half of a roasted chicken, grilled pork chops and grilled Australian rack of lamb.

Specials on the day of our visit were an 18-ounce veal porterhouse steak and a grilled rib-eye filet topped with crab and a bearnaise sauce. San Francisco cioppino fish stew was a fish special, but unlike the San Francisco original, Finn & Porter’s version does not include spaghetti.

Restaurant specials include fish and chips made with tilapia; risotto with wild mushrooms and spinach; lobster ravioli; and planked salmon, as well as steamed lobster and a classic surf and turf dish of a rib-eye steak and lobster tail.

Most of the dinner dishes are available at lunch at slightly reduced prices.

The menu includes a half-dozen sandwiches. The classic cheeseburger is first quality with excellent ground Angus beef, tangy cheese, a good bun and cooked just as ordered.

Seared tuna on sourdough bread is delicious. The tuna is cooked to order and is served on a bed of arugula and ripe tomato slices with a slightly garlicky caper sauce. The bread would have been better toasted, but it’s a fine sandwich.

Other sandwiches include grilled chicken and prosciutto, rosemary chicken salad, and a New York deli combination. The french fries served with the sandwiches are hot,fresh, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Desserts are average, including a house-made tiramisu (a bit dry), various sorbets and ice creams, strawberry shortcake, a chocolate tower with vanilla ice cream, and apple pie. The pie, described on the menu as having “caramelized apples” and a “sugar crust,” offered neither.

Coffee also is not a strong point. It needs work, tasting of the previous century, before Starbucks, Peet’s and Seattle’s Best set off the coffee revolution in America. There’s no excuse for bad coffee now.

From 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, happy-hour dishes for $1 each are served in the bar area, with draft beer at $2 and wines for $4. The happy-hour menu includes bruschetta, hummus dip, fish and chips, and sushi.

The staff seems particularly knowledgeable and attentive. The restaurant offers an extensive list of international wine vintages, many of them from California, including an excellent selection of half bottles.

Finn & Porter is offering Restaurant Week specials this week for $20.06 for lunch and $30.06 for dinner.

There’s room for improvement here, but a lot of potential.

Finn & Porter is part of the Hilton Restaurant Group and operates another restaurant in Alexandria.

RESTAURANT: Finn & Porter, 900 10th St. NW; 202/719-1600

HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Light fare is available in the lounge until midnight

PRICES: Starters, $6 to $13; main courses, $9 to $28 (lunch); $17 to $35 (dinner); desserts, $6

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Some street parking; $5 evening valet parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible.

METRO: Metro Center (11th Street exit) on Red, Orange and Blue lines

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