- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

Cheers all around for the unexpectedly handsome design of a potentially awkward restaurant space in a Marriott hotel in the heart of downtown Washington.
The menu card doesn't even mention that the restaurant, called simply 1331 after its Pennsylvania Avenue NW address, is part of a huge glitzy hostelry, the J.W. Marriott Hotel just south of the National Press Building. That may be a shrewd way of encouraging a clientele that includes more than just hotel guests.
Outsiders come by 1331 throughout the day, attracted by the restaurant's casual elegance of a kind seldom found in institutional settings. Doubtless, it helps that 1331 stays open for food and drink late into the night. Kudos to management, who gave the green light to the firm of Adamstein & Demetriou, which is responsible for many superior designs of local eating establishments.
The space is an open L-shape, most of it given over to a long bar stretching beside an arrangement that resembles the open compartments on a train: pairs of seats facing one another in front of a television set. The shorter side of the L contains a compact set of four open booths near a fireplace, and comfortable wood and leather chairs. The lounge chairs are placed around several low, round wooden tables. The booths hold four comfortably, but six can fit.
Lending an air of comfort and intimacy is a selection of magazines and newspapers on shelves next to the fireplace where, theoretically anyway, lonely souls can order a libation and bide their time waiting for a tardy friend or simply enjoy a club-like atmosphere far from the crowd and those television sets near the bar. The bar area is a hangout for smokers. Wisps of the weed have a tendency to float over into the booths and an auxiliary small-table seating section.
Lighting elements, especially the recessed lighting behind the gold granite bar, provide drama in each section. Contrasting colors help, too: red feltlike panels and dark wood trim on the walls, a subtle red-and-green-patterned carpet, soft orange leather chairs.
A private dining room behind the library is available for special occasions. Tiny copper salt-and-pepper-shaker sets are another colorful touch. They match tall, heavy, embossed copper menu covers, a regally decorative note. Linens are white (tablecloths are largely dispensed with), as are the large serving plates in rectangular and oval shapes.
The elegance of the design shouldn't discourage families from bringing children. The beauty of the plan is how well it merges formal and informal elements. A pair of youngsters sat before a chess set one early dinner hour. If teen-agers can't wait for food to arrive, they can retreat to the television wall and leave their parents in peace, or relative peace, given background music that throbs incessantly.
One design flaw and a cautionary note is the beautifully appointed but small restroom.
The menu stays the same for lunch and dinner. Listings include a light-fare menu, with all items accompanied by excellent shoestring fries. The offerings are a jumbo lump crab cake sandwich, large burger, classic club sandwich, assorted buffalo wings and Reuben sandwich.
Entrees show the usual global spin: gingered stir-fried vegetables, along with a Tuscany chicken pasta and Santa Fe salad, among more common fare such as sirloin steak, rack of lamb and filet mignon. Jumbo lump crab cakes, at $24, didn't quite measure up to others we have tasted around town, and the $14 Maryland crab cake and lobster tempura appetizer, while delicious, seemed overpriced for its size. The accompanying mustard ginger sauce was a bit too sweet.
One major disappointment among entrees was the seafood paella Valencia style a sad imitation of the real thing. It tasted mushy and lacked flavor beyond that supplied by the shrimp, mussels, calamari and sea bass. A bit of saffron, expensive as that delicate red thread can be, would provide some character. The $20 portion easily serves two people, however.
The Mediterranean mussels are a generous-sized appetizer that, at $10 for a single portion, could do for two. They were freshly steamed and doused with bits of leek, ginger, white wine and garlic but seemed bland. More garlic would help, as would more herbed crostini to sop up the sauce.
The black-attired waiters wear brass pins giving their first names and countries of origin. They were attentive in taking drink orders upon arrival, but service had a tendency to lag, or maybe we simply had bad luck during lunch one recent day. At dinner, our party waited 20 minutes for dessert.
At lunch, the maitre d' was as polite as he could be in seeing to our seating arrangement, but we were never offered glasses of water. When one of our party asked for a second glass of wine, it was necessary, after a long wait, for us to go to the bar and get the wine.
Wines, available only by the glass, are priced a bit higher than average, but the glasses are also larger than usual. In the style of the day, 1331's chef often overdoes his descriptive language. Is it really necessary to know that a "caramelized onion gratinee" soup is "simmered in a light veal stock, covered with asiago, fontina, emmenthaler & parmesan cheese"?
There is a soup of the day, as well as a grilled fish at the market price.
An ideal meal could be made up of either a single order or several appetizers for the hungry. Each of the appetizers is handsomely presented, and the variety of choices is greater than that of the entrees. A roasted onion focaccia with olive tapenade at $7 sufficed for dinner for one of our party. A half-dozen chilled hibachi lemon-chili marinated shrimp, at $12, arrived with a nicely dressed bundle of greens, a combination suitably sized for either lunch or dinner.
Desserts are a fairly standard selection, with an emphasis on flourishes, as is the custom these days. Best for a group is the $15 trio of desserts that includes individual portions of creme brulee, sorbets (an excellent mango and raspberry) and pastries. The sorbets were served in an almond-flavored basket. Equally enticing was the chocolate passion a chocolate layer cake filled with passion fruit.

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