- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Chef Alison Swope took a month-long vacation to Oaxaca where she fell in love with Mexican cooking. So-long the Mark; ola Andale. Actually, co-owner Mark Kaufman hasn't gone, just his name; he's still very much in the picture.)
Andale, on the corner of Seventh and D streets NW near the Shakespeare Theatre, offers "contemporary flavors of Mexico." Andale is not an ordinary run-of-the mill Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex restaurant. What Ms. Swope has done is combine many traditional Mexican dishes with original touches, for example, using duck instead of turkey for the mole, or ahi tuna and Chilean sea bass in combination with Mexican herbs and peppers.
Ancient cooking techniques are followed; dried and fresh chilies are used in many dishes, as are Mexican spices, corn tortillas and lively fresh salsas. Andale makes this corner of downtown Washington a virtual Latino feast with Jaleo up the block and Cafe Atlantico around the corner. Adams Morgan, look out.
Two life-size scrap metal sculptures of musicians greet guests near the front door, much to the delight of passing children who find the caballeros irresistible. Mexican music plays in the background (sometimes overly enthusiastically). The decor hasn't changed much from the days of the Mark. It's a relaxed, casual restaurant with some wonderful food, a delight for any afficionado of Mexican cooking and a treat for those unfamiliar with genuine Mexican cuisine.
All the first courses we tried are sensational and easily shared. Crispy little empanadas are filled with shrimp and bits of tomato and serrano chilies. A fresh, zesty tomato salsa and guacamole are served on the side. The guacamole has too much onion, but otherwise is a cool and perfect accompaniment to the pastries.
Queso fundido con chorizo is a wonderful concoction of melted white cheese from Chihuahua over sauteed onions and strips of roasted mild poblano peppers and a thin layer of crumbled semi-spicy sausage. Flour tortillas are served to scoop up the goopy, creamy cheese and vegetables.
The chicken tamal is a delicious moist combination of corn, pulled tender chicken, garlic and tomatillos, served with a roasted tomato sauce. Ms. Swope's ceviche uses pieces of red snapper that are "cooked" in fresh lime juice and mixed with bits of fresh vegetables. Main courses are prepared with fresh, high-quality ingredients. A thick tuna steak,
marinated in spices and sour orange juice and just seared, was wonderfully tender and richly flavored, set off simply by slices of tomato and avocado and some excellent pickled onions.
Andale's version of a chile relleno (a starter at dinner and main course at lunch) is a roasted poblano chile stuffed with Oaxacan string cheese, dipped in batter and deep fried until crispy. The dish is served with a mild, warm tomato sauce. It's just right for anyone who does not like spicy, hot food.
Carnitas resemble a stew rather than chunks of pork. The slow cooking retains the flavor of the meat, garnished with good pink beans, tomato salsa and guacamole. The warm meat and beans are balanced by the cool salsa and avocado. It's a filling and satisfying dish.
The menu contains many of the traditional Mexican dishes - a rich dark mole sauce on roasted duck; enchiladas of shredded pork, capers, tomatoes, raisins and potatoes; seafood soup of shrimp, snapper, oysters and mussels, and roast chicken with potatoes, to list a few.xxAt lunch and dinner, there are half a dozen salads, varying from a simple mixed salad or a jicama salad with onions and orange sections, to a salad of pan-seared marinated beef with tomatoes, grilled onions and guacamole.xxThe lunch menu is a limited version of dinner, with the additon of sandwiches, called tortas. The four sandwiches - vegetarian, spiced roast pork, chicken breast and a hamburger with grilled ham and cheddar cheese - include refried beans (except for the hamburger), tomato, avocado, onion and pickled jalapenos. All the sandwiches are served on housemade Mexican rolls, taleras, which are disappointingly tasteless and subject to sogginess. The re-fried beans in the sandwiches are regrettably only sparsely scraped on the bread.
For dessert we couldn't resist the orange chocolate bread pudding, a divine, rich slice of cake-like pudding in a delicious custard sauce. The orange liqueur adds a subtle flavor to the chocolate. Try it; you'll love it.
Chef Swope has chosen an interesting, varied and moderately priced wine list from all over the world, including a Mexican red. On Monday nights, bottles of wine are half-price "with the purchase of an entree." The bar carries 35 brands of tequila and specializes in six versions of the margarita.
Andale means "let's go." A good name for Alison Swope's new showcase.

RESTAURANT: Andale, 401 Seventh St. NW; 202/783-3133
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday; dinner Monday 5 to 9 p.m.
Monday, until 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday
PRICES: Appetizers $4.75 to $7 (lunch), $4.75 to $9 (dinner); salads $5 to $13; sandwiches $7 to $8; main courses $9 to $13 (lunch), $11 to $22 (dinner)
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
PARKING: Difficult metered street parking; $5 valet parking at dinner
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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