Thursday, November 29, 2001

Chef Geoff’s restaurant on New Mexico Avenue, almost next to Sutton Place Gourmet, is a pleasant neighborhood restaurant with good food, a relaxed atmosphere and a friendly (but not familiar) staff. It’s just the sort of place you’re looking for on a Sunday evening when no one feels like cooking but you don’t want to get all dressed up for a fancy meal.
It’s nice on other evenings, too, or at lunch, especially during the warm months when the large terrace in front of the restaurant is tempting and delightfully shady, far enough from the street for patrons not to be bothered by noise or the fumes of traffic. At night, the trees are festooned with tiny white lights. It’s very inviting and certainly on the romantic side.
Chef Geoffrey Tracy’s menu, with a few exceptions, won’t disappoint. There are several Asian-inspired dishes that are particularly good. Start dinner with an order of spicy pork spring rolls with Asian slaw. Three wonderfully crispy little spring rolls filled with a mixture of pork and spices have just enough kick to turn on the taste buds. The carrot/cabbage slaw has a slight Asian flavor and balances the rolls nicely. It’s a great starter; if you ask for one order to share, you may wish you had a whole order to yourself.
Tuna sashimi is not a real sashimi of sliced raw fish. It’s more akin to tartar than sashimi. The tuna is raw, but diced and coated with a dressing of mayonnaise and wasabi mustard. Strange as it sounds, it works. There’s just enough wasabi to give the tuna a little bite. It’s a rich, filling appetizer, quite unusual.
A Peking (what happened to Beijing) veggie stone pie with ginger and hoisin is less successful. The “stone pies” are pizza-like rounds of flat bread with various toppings: garlic shrimp, tomatoes and green onion; steak and gorgonzola with onion jam; Italian sausage and roasted pepper; and a simple tomato and mozzarella.
In the “veggie” pie, the mushrooms, onions and peppers are well sauteed and tasty, but nary a note of ginger and the hoisin is barely discernible. It’s nevertheless a good combination. The pie, however, isn’t a good substitute for authentic pizza. The satisfying chewy nature of yeasty pizza crust, no matter how thin, can’t be replaced by flatbread which quickly hardens at the edges. As an open faced sandwich, these stone pies aren’t bad, as long as one is not expecting the real thing.
On the other hand, the menu includes half a dozen real sandwiches, served on different breads, such as Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese melt on rye; roasted turkey and bacon with an herb mayonnaise on toasted sourdough; and a “Memphis pulled barbecue chicken” sandwich. (They don’t “pull” chicken in Memphis, however, where “barbecue” is pork by definition.) The bistro burger with bacon and two cheeses is made of good beef, a little overdone, with excellent french fries.
If a several-course meal is on the agenda, a nice way to start is with the apple, blue cheese and toasted walnut salad. Made with mache and Belgian endive leaves. Mr. Tracy used to make the salad with goat cheese, rather than blue. The goat cheese was more delicate; the blue is more robust and tends to overpower the pretty green mache leaves. But either way, it’s refreshing and a good light starter.
Another good starter to share is the hummus sampler, a combination of black beans, lentil and chickpea dips. It’s finger food rather than a traditional starter, but nice with drinks.
Soups are robust roasted butternut squash; potato and leek with bacon; black bean; and chicken soup.
At lunchtime, Mr. Tracy prepares a number of entree salads. We tried the duck and apple salad, which truly was a meal in itself. A generous portion of tender shredded roast duck, actually a duck confit, mixed with apples on a bed of greens, sauced with a walnut vinaigrette and accompanied by two small goat cheese toasts made a substantial and delicious lunch. I preferred the crusty, sourdough bread from the bread basket to the goat cheese crostini as an accompaniment to the salad.
Entrees are divided between fish and meat. Atlantic salmon is crusted with cumin, which adds a complex, mildly spicy and unusual flavor to the fish. The salmon is cooked to order and served with an excellent warm black bean salsa, a good contrast in textures. Portions are large; be sure to take leftovers home as the salmon makes a delicious cold salad.
Chicken breast is pan-roasted and served with couscous, raisin and apples; duck breast, seared pink, comes with roasted potatoes and a warm spinach, bacon and onion salad; New York cut steak is grilled with garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and portobello mushrooms.
A pasta dish is on the menu at lunch and dinner, and the restaurant serves a daily “sunset special” from 4 to 6:30 p.m. for $19.95, which includes salad or soup, a main course of salmon, chicken or pork and dessert.
Chef Geoff’s has a large, comfortable bar, conducive to an informal bite or meal. The television, usually turned to a sporting event, is on in a corner of the bar most of the time, but it is not sufficiently intrusive to be annoying.
The wine list is nicely varied with a large selection of whites and reds, primarily from California, at $6.50 per glass.
Desserts include “cookies and milk,” perhaps a witty tribute to the proximity to American University which supplies Chef Geoff’s with many of the waiters and also a considerable portion of patrons. The mix of young people and retirees (and business people at lunch) from around the neighborhood is one of Chef Geoff’s attractions. It’s a genuine neighborhood bistro for all.
RESTAURANT: Chef Geoff’s, 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW; 202/237-7800
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. daily; Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
PRICES: Starters $6 to $9; salads, stone pies and sandwiches $6 to $14; entrees $10 to $20; desserts $6 to $8; prices basically identical at lunch and dinner
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
PARKING: Complimentary dinner parking; partial complimentary parking at lunch; ample street parking available
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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