- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Firefly, a popular happy-hour hangout for the twentysomething crowd at Dupont Circle, has become more than just a flicker on the dining scene.

With the arrival last year of executive chef Danny Bortnick and his delicious take on contemporary American comfort food, the cooking is starting to match its lauded cocktail scene.

Take the mini pot roast with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and roasted shallot jus. The roast is nicely braised and very tender; it rests on supersmooth, surprisingly flavorful mashed potatoes, and the accompanying shallots and jus give the right amount of acidity and sweetness.

The presentation, too, is appealing: The miniature roast and sides are served in a small, heavy cast-iron pan.

Another visual highlight is the decor. It feels like a mesh of Southwestern and fairy-tale with aspen tree trunks lining one wall and large stone insets dominating another. In the center of the dining room is a large knobby tree from whose branches hang softly lit glass lanterns.

It wouldn’t feel completely out of place if the waiters wore elf uniforms in this setting, but fortunately, they don’t. White shirts and black pants are the uniform - simple and professional, which also can be said of their skill and manner.

Our waiter was witty (without being annoying) informative and speedy. His description of the soup of the day, fennel bisque, and its pureeing, blending and simmering indicated that he had watched the chef do his thing.

Turns out the bisque was a great choice, full of smooth-textured and pepper-flavored goodness. Another nice appetizer was the not-at-all-greasy chicken-fried oysters with po’ boy sauce.

Both portions were relatively small, which is true for all Firefly offerings and can seem contrary to the American-comfort-food concept. However, this is not a low-calorie menu, so small portions are not a bad idea.

Speaking of small but sweet, the four sea scallops with fingerling potatoes (covered with chunky ham bits) and glaceed Brussels sprouts is another nice, albeit not very filling, choice. The glace was a bit too sweet, but it complements the sprouts’ cabbagy flavor.

The use of glace, jus and the drips of oil in the fennel bisque seems an apt illustration of how Mr. Bortnick views flavor combinations: Don’t overpower or even mesh; just complement. It’s a simple concept, and it works.

What doesn’t work are the dinner rolls. They are a small thing to bash but left us incredulous. Why serve spongy, generic, cheap-diner-type rolls at a place that otherwise equates high-quality and contemporary - albeit very straightforward - with American comfort food?

Don’t let the rolls stop you. This is a fine place to dine with solid if not terribly creative food, speedy waiters and a friendly, warm atmosphere and decor.

We hope Firefly does better than its natural counterparts (apparently urbanization is killing the critters) and that its winning take on American comfort food gets the attention and crowd it deserves. The bill, by the way, arrives in a small Mason jar.

RESTAURANT: Firefly, 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202/861-1310; www.firefly-dc.com

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