- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Leftbank, a new restaurant in Adams Morgan, open 18 to 20 hours a day, is a prime people-watching spot — particularly if you’re mid-20s to mid-30s.

As the night gets older, the techno music grows louder and the lights turn dimmer (the gradual changes happen every 30 minutes on the dot with a computer controlling the music and lights).

Black is the color of attire for guests and waitresses alike. Speaking of waitresses — they’re attentive, beautiful and incredibly thin. We were wondering if there might be a 110-pound weight limit.

The interior is equally chic. The space — formerly Cities — is capacious and painted white. Along one side is a stylish version of diner booths — orange, half-moon-shaped, high-back leather (or fake leather) couches and large tables that can easily seat six people.

In the middle of the floor is a long bar-like table where the young (you have to stand) and beautiful can order appetizers and drinks and meet and greet other youthful beauties.

But the most unusual feature is the private room, which really isn’t private at all. It’s a giant fish tank in the back of the restaurant. People rent this room with glass walls so they can have private conversations — we guess — while still able to watch those outside.

Another hip feature that’s planned is wireless Internet connections. Until then, the media of choice is magazines lined up on a table at the entrance.

The name Leftbank may lead guests to think French, but there is very little connecting the food — except the tastefully small portions — or anything else about Leftbank to France. The name actually refers to the left bank of the Potomac.

One manager called the menu eclectic. If anything, it leans toward Asian, offering an excellent sushi bar, food served on sleek, square plates and a fairly minimalist approach to interior design.

For starters, the arugula salad with roasted tomatoes and herbed goat cheese is a great choice. The ingredients are indeed fresh and the goat cheese very tasty. The carpaccio of wild salmon served with a chive and tarragon salad and sprinkled with a caviar vinaigrette and salmon was also delightful.

The charcuterie board, which included spicy salami and tasty cured roast beef, capers and olives was of the highest quality. And the tuna and salmon nigiri were a notch above excellent.

These superb dishes set high standards for what was to come. On this night, too high.

The roasted lobster Parmesan, smashed potatoes and sweet garlic and chive butter was a melt-in-the-mouth treat, but where was the lobster?

The buffalo burger was nicely seasoned, but underdone in the middle and charred on the outside. The french fries were tasty, but on the soggy side.

The spicy tuna burger with grilled scallions, wasabi aioli and a coriander bun offered a nice combination of flavors, but was dry and overdone.

The best main course of the evening was the warm French bean salad with shiitake mushrooms and tofu, doused in a sesame and ginger vinaigrette. The beans were crisp, the tofu and shiitake firm and fresh and the dressing delicious.

Overall, the quality of the main course ingredients was excellent. But the quality of preparation was uneven.

The desserts, all made in-house, featured a delicious strawberry rhubarb tart with white chocolate cream; a creamy caramel-swirl cheesecake with a tasty rum sauce, and a delightful strawberry shortcake with Grand Marnier sauce that was awfully short on shortcake. But the Leftbank sundae with crunchy, caramelized nuts was uninspired.

There is also a breakfast menu on weekdays with everything from baked goods to omelets. This is when the space is bright, the volume is turned down and you might hear French jazz instead of techno.

Where the food leaves a bit here and there to be desired, the bar hits the spot. The cosmopolitan was excellent, as was the gimlet. The wine list is also very good, offering wine by the glass for as low as $6.

Leftbank is a great nightspot that also transforms into a chic breakfast and lunch space. It’s a place to see and be seen. It offers trendy, interesting interiors and food that ranges from fair to excellent at a reasonable price. The bar is outstanding.

RESTAURANT: Leftbank, 2424 18th St., NW; 202/464-2100.

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. (the kitchen closes at midnight) Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays, 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Sundays. Brunch is served 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

PRICES: Starters, $6 to $11; main courses, $7 to $15; desserts, $5 to $9; sushi, $4 to $26; breakfast, $2 to $10; brunch, $5 to $15.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking

METRO: Woodley Park

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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