- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Forget the Jockey Club. Forget the warm wood paneling, the banquettes and discreetly colorful green (then red) and white tablecloths. Forget the great crabcakes and Nancy Reagan's special chicken salad. It really had nothing to do with jockeys other than the weighing seat at the door and the horsey prints on the walls, but it did give patrons, regulars and drop-ins, the feeling of belonging to a club.
The Jockey Club, with an ever declining level of cooking, slowly disappeared. It has been replaced by Cabo, which invites diners to "experience a celebration of California French culinary arts." Owner-executive chef Martin Coleman hails from California (originally from Arizona). Although his restaurant is named for a resort in Baja California, Mexico, there is nothing Mexican about Cabo.
Oldtimers won't recognize the bright new restaurant in the Westin Fairfax Hotel on Massachusetts Avenue at 21st Street NW. The walls have been painted white and the pillars holding up the ceiling seem somehow larger than when they were encased in dark wood and, unfortunately, break up the room awkwardly. Attractive colorful prints decorate the stark white walls and large potted green plants add what could be called a "California touch." The look and feel of Cabo is suburban, not Washington, and perhaps this is what the Westin thinks will make its out-of-town guests comfortable.
The "California French experience" is neither French nor Californian but a curious hybrid of styles. There is a lot of potential here, but the restaurant has not yet found its way.
At present the menu, which changes occasionally, is quite limited half a dozen starters, half a dozen main courses and half a dozen desserts. No chicken or beef (which is very "un-Washington"). Management tells us that after the beginning of the year, the menu will be enlarged and several prix fixe menus will be added.
A salad of delicate greens with grilled pears and goat cheese although a creamy Brie was substituted at a recent dinner is delicious. Lightly sauced, it's a refreshing starter; the grilled pears add just the right touch of sweetness.
Roasted wild mushrooms and truffles, on the other hand, had too much sweetness and too little taste of truffle. The mushrooms appeared to have been sauteed rather than roasted. The dish is rich and good and could be even better without the excess sweetness.
Too much sugar also marks a main course of roasted duck breast with mango (which turned out to be apple rather than mango). The small slices of duck were slightly too thick, too tough with too much fat, but the flavor was fine and the apples served as a pleasant balance to the meat.
Lobster bisque is rich, fragrant and satisfying as a first course. The soup comes with a nice chunk of lobster floating in the center.
Tuna tartare is not a tartare but a serving of diced raw tuna in a pastry cornet better suited to dessert than to a fish starter. The Ahi tuna is fresh and of good quality, but the dish needs some spark to enhance the fish.
An entree of red snapper with a mustard sauce is banal, although the sauce has a pleasant tang. The snapper comes with the same side vegetables as the duck: baby beets, parsnips and carrots. In addition, the fish is accompanied by a serving of excellent, silky-smooth and buttery mashed potatoes adorned, curiously, with shredded cooked cabbage.
Other main courses include poached scallops, roast squab with kumquats, a veal chop with chanterelle mushrooms and seared tuna.
The menu boasts, a bit pretentiously, of "the original caesar prepared, as it was where it began, at Alex-Caesar Cardinis' restaurant." But it is not prepared, "as it was originally," tableside. The Cardinis considered such last minute mixing to be necessary to assure the proper emulsion of ingredients. Brothers Caesar and Alex Cardini were Italian immigrants to Tijuana, Mexico. Their restaurant was popular, pre Las Vegas, with Hollywood types out for a good time during Prohibition.
The famous salad that bears Caesar's name was invented by Alex Cardini, an Italian hero of World War I. Originally named Aviators' Salad in honor of his squadron comrades, Alex later renamed the salad for brother Caesar.
At present, the lunch menu is identical to the dinner menu with the addition of Cobb salad and avocados stuffed with a variety of salads as well as a baguette with a choice of fillings.
The expensive wine list is short on California wines. Service is attentive (sometimes overly so) but slow. Cabo needs work if Mr. Coleman wants to collect the old clientele. But the restaurant has only been open a short time and there are plans to expand the menu, so there's hope for 2002.

RESTAURANT: Cabo, Westin Fairfax Hotel, 2100 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202/448-2226
HOURS: Lunch noon to 2:30 p.m. daily; dinner 6 to 10 p.m. daily
PRICES: Starters $5.50 to $8.75 (lunch), $8.50 to $9.50 (dinner); entrees $8.75 to $16.50 (lunch), $24 to $27 (dinner); desserts $7 to $8
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
PARKING: Complimentary valet parking
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible


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