- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Chef-owner Tom Power of Corduroy continues to turn out simple, elegant American dishes at his restaurant on the corner of 12th and K streets Northwest. Corduroy, on the second floor of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel, is not obvious from the street, but don’t be deterred.

When Corduroy opened nearly six years ago, the neighborhood was dreary and desolate, but in those years, new buildings, hotels, restaurants and offices have sprouted, and the neighborhood, part of the expanded Penn Quarter, is booming. All the better for Mr. Power and his fine cooking.

He opened Corduroy with a combination of classic dishes, prepared with care and first-rate ingredients. Many of his satisfied diners return for dishes that have been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening. The freshness of ingredients marks the cooking, which is elegant without being fussy. Portions are the size not to overwhelm but to satisfy.

The restaurant remains understated: brown tones, a mirrored wall, little candles on the tables in the evening, white tablecloths (which could use a little starch and an iron) and napkins. Food and conversation are the draw, not decor or (praise be) loud music.

The bar, with its upholstered circular banquette and little round tables, is attractive, as is the bar menu of oysters, salads, sandwiches and a pasta dish, served seven days a week from noon to midnight. Dishes from the dining room menu can be ordered in the bar, but bar-menu items cannot be ordered in the dining room.

Lunch and dinner menus, with some exceptions, don’t overlap. Each offers nine or 10 first courses and the same number of main courses. Mr. Power has retained the formula of serving primarily salads as appetizers and a good combination of fish and meat as entrees.

Salads and desserts tend to be the same at both meals: micro greens with lemon dressing, a Boston mimosa salad, a mix of baby greens with a shallot vinaigrette, and a Caesar salad. The Caesar consists of a small mound of hearts of romaine with an anchovy dressing topped with thin slices of cheese. Unfortunately, the lettuce served one evening was a little wilted on the edges, and the dressing was overly fishy.

Beets, baby carrots and goat cheese are a nice combination for an evening starter salad. The lobster salad, quite delicious, also usually is on the dinner menu. Oysters on the half-shell are available at lunch and dinner.

Philippine-style spring rolls make a fine first course. Two long, thin, crisp rolls are filled with a mix of ground meat and vegetables and served with a sweet and hot dipping sauce. They have been on the menu since the restaurant’s beginning, and one bite tells why.

Soups are stellar; two are offered at lunch and two different ones at dinner. A celery-root soup with a carpaccio of lobster was a delight: a rich, bisquelike vegetable soup permeated with the fragrance of thinly sliced rounds of lobster. It was a fine beginning to a winter meal.

Main courses include perfectly prepared fish and some excellent meat dishes. A crispy black grouper was splendid, the fish flaky and moist with a delicious crunchy, crisp skin. It was served on a bed of French green beans and napped with a lovely light buttery sauce.

Less successful was a special of roasted quail. Two halves (of different birds) were served with a ragout of brown lentils in a ring of excellent mashed potatoes. The lentils were superb, mixed with a tiny dice of onions and bacon, and the smaller of the birds was tender to the fork, with a crisp skin and good flavor. The larger of the two, however, was so tough that even a steak knife couldn’t cut it.

Braised beef short ribs, on the other hand, served with Tarbais beans, were rich and full of fine flavor. These climbing beans are cultivated in the Hautes Pyrenees department of France and are so named because the Bishop of Tarbes brought them from Spain in the 18th century after the Spanish, in turn, had brought them from the New World in the 16th century. We were glad he did.

Equally delicious is the roast lamb sirloin, served in the evening with a side of garlic-creamed spinach and at lunch with a gratin of thin-sliced turnips and goat cheese, a fine way to use turnips. The lamb is sliced like a duck breast and is both tender and flavorful.

The pan-roasted sardines and Mediterranean dorade were not available on a recent evening, nor was the Maine shrimp tartare. The waiter explained that many dishes change daily, depending on the availability of fresh fish; dishes listed on the menu are not always available.

Other main courses at dinner include peppered tuna, seared sea scallops, a whole roasted baby chicken, pork belly with savoy cabbage and a mix of seasonal vegetables. Savoy cabbage also is served with a roasted chicken breast at lunch as well as duck confit with Tarbais beans; a grilled flatiron steak with skinny fries, and an omelet with shrimp or lobster.

Penne pasta, a main course on the lunch menu, also can be ordered as a first-course half-portion. It’s an excellent combination of spicy sausage with thin slices of garlic, some crushed red pepper and Parmesan cheese with a bit of olive oil.

Pistachio bread pudding is a creamy and delicious dessert. An Alsatian apple tart, on the other hand, was not so good — the pastry was somewhat soggy, and the apples were without flavor or juice. The tart is paired with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and a puddle of creme anglaise.

Corduroy has an excellent, well-balanced wine list, with a good selection of half bottles and wines by the glass. Service is attentive, but an hour’s wait between courses on a recent evening was a bit of a surprise.

Nevertheless, it’s a pleasure to return to Corduroy and find the same fresh ingredients in the fine cooking of Tom Power. Some things don’t change, and good that they don’t.

RESTAURANT: Corduroy, 1201 K St. NW; 202/589-0699

HOURS: Lunch noon to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday; bar open noon to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight daily.

PRICES: First courses, $5 to $10 (lunch), $7 to $12 (dinner); second courses, $10 to $16 (lunch), $18 to $26 (dinner); desserts, $7 to $8.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: Two hours complimentary parking in hotel garage with validation; metered street parking.

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Metro Center (12th and G streets exit), or McPherson Square (Franklin Square exit)

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