- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Every second taxi driver in Vienna may be named Leopold, one of the owners of Leopold’s Kafe and Konditorei in Georgetown’s Cady’s Alley told me, but the attractive new Leopold is an uncommon cafe. And it’s named for the architect who designed the space, Leopold Boeckl.

Cady’s Alley is Georgetown’s newest development of decorator shops in what was once a warehouse area. It runs parallel to and below M Street, from 33rd to 34th streets. One entrance is on the south side of M Street in the middle of the block, or from 33rd Street, turning right into the alley.

Large, airy, glass enclosed, Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei — a konditorei is a combination pastry shop and cafe — is far from Vienna’s cozy coffeehouses. Nor does it actually try to be a coffeehouse, although it’s a pleasant place in which to linger over a cup of good coffee specials and a pastry (delicious but costly). Rather, Leopold’s is a full-scale restaurant serving breakfast all day, lunch and dinner. The pretty patio with its gurgling fountain and orangy red and yellow striped umbrellas just outside the cafe is particularly pleasant.

Inside, everything is high-tech from the silvery tables (too many of them, too close together) and translucent-backed chairs to the velvet orange and chartreuse daisy-shaped bar stools. The white napkins are cloth, the butter sweet and the rolls fresh. During the summer, most of the waiters are college students who are knowledgeable, helpful, attentive and good- natured.

There’s a slight air of disorganization to the cafe when a guest first enters, but things settle down quickly. The menu, which incorporates a few changes every now and then, remains the same all day and offers everything from snacks, hearty main courses and salads to excellent pastries and cakes. This is not the place for sophisticated haute cuisine; the cooking is simple fare, the sort prepared in every small restaurant in Austria. But the quality is good, the dishes prepared with care, and the ingredients excellent. The pastries can rival Vienna’s best.

There’s no American wine on the wine list which features primarily Austrian and northern Italian wines from the area that once was part of Austria. Wines by the glass run from $7 to $9 and bottles from $28 to $68. When the glass of Italian red we ordered turned out to be undrinkable — probably opened the day before — our waitress did not hesitate to exchange our glasses for a pleasant South Tyrolean merlot.

Leopold’s salads make excellent starters for a summer meal, or can serve as a light lunch. Cucumber salad is a pretty mound of pale green, thinly sliced cucumber decorated with slices of radish and dressed in a yogurt dill sauce. It’s delicious and refreshing.

A special salad one day was an unusual combination of chunks of red and yellow tomatoes served on a juicy, sweet round of seedless, bright red watermelon. The unlikely combination is inspired; the vinaigrette adds an interesting touch to the fruit. The little green olives sprinkled on the salad are good but don’t really fit the tomato-melon melange.

Other lighter salads include Austrian potato salad with caraway seeds or field greens with shaved apple. The more substantial salads offer smoked trout served on bibb lettuce, grilled chicken with field greens; a frisee salad with a soft-boiled egg and bacon is a breakfast and lunch combination.

A first-rate starter is the English pea soup. The bright green, with a lacy white yogurt design, is pretty to look at, and the chilled soup is smooth on the tongue. It is served with a little mound of slightly crunchy roasted tomatoes in the middle. A lovely dish, bringing to mind New York’s Viennese Sabarsky Restaurant in the Neue Galerie museum.

Some interesting dishes among the savory light fare are well suited for summertime. A small tart of short pastry, rather than traditional flaky pastry, is topped with a ragout of wild mushrooms and caramelized onions and makes a fine lunch. Other choices are a smoked salmon minipizza, a cured meat and ham plate, a carpaccio of smoked salmon with anchovy aioli, or a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

The menu lists nine main courses, including mussels, shrimp, salmon and a Mediterranean sea bass (branzino) filet. A veal cutlet (schnitzel) and bratwurst served with celery sauerkraut are naturals for an Austrian cafe-restaurant. Roast chicken, served atop chopped, cooked escarole in an excellent mustard sauce, is juicy and tender.

Tafelspitz, a very Austrian dish, was a recent special of the day. Although the dish traditionally consists of thin slices of boiled beef rump served with a little broth and garnished with chives, Leopold’s version consists of large chunks of boiled beef, carrots, tiny onions and bits of potato in a broth.

The French would serve the beef with aioli; the Austrians serve it with mustard and a delicious chopped radish condiment. Leopold’s rendering of this classic dish is excellent. The beef was fork-tender and still juicy and flavorful. It’s a great winter dish but good in the summer, too.

The highlight of any meal at Leopold’s has to be what comes from the glass pastry counter next to the bar. Flaky croissants, a marble cake and sweet rolls at breakfast or the creamy pastries and fruit tarts any time, are wonderful.

Austrian pastries differ from the French version — lots of schlag (whipped cream) instead of pastry cream and shorter tart shells. A chocolate eclair is filled with chocolate-flavored whipped cream; “rigo ranci” is a small tower of three layers of chocolate mousse: white, light and dark, topped with curls of shaved chocolate. It’s fabulous and very rich. And compliments go to Leopold’s pastry chef for making the traditional Sacher torte better than what Vienna’s Hotel Sacher serves nowadays.

For something light, try one of the little madeleines. At lunch one day, I had a deliciously fresh, lemon scented one; by dinnertime, the little cakes were beginning to turn a little stale. But even then, they were still good. Perhaps the madeleines shouldn’t spend the day in an open dish on the counter.

RESTAURANT: Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei, 3318 M St. NW; 202/965-6005

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Salads-appetizers-small plates, $7 to $12; main courses, $13 to $23; desserts and pastries, $5 to $9

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Valet parking, $10, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; metered street parking; a parking lot at 33rd and M streets

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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