- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ardeo is a serious downtown restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine uptown, influenced by European, Mediterranean and Asian cooking. Under the steady hand of executive chef Christopher Bradley, the kitchen and menu offer a delight of fresh ingredients and tempting dishes. Some are more tempting on paper than on the table, but on the whole, the cooking is fine.

Ardeo, on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park, is one of several related restaurants, including the Oval Room, 701 Pennsylvania, the Bombay Club, Rasika and Bardeo (where Mr. Bradley presides as well), next door to Ardeo. Bardeo is more casual and serves small plates to basically a bar clientele.

Ardeo’s star first sparkles with an appetizer of seared scallops. The lovely fresh scallops are served on a bed of creamy polenta with a combination of cooked spinach and bits of pancetta. Surrounding the polenta is a sauce of brown butter and balsamic vinaigrette. The slightly sweet, slightly acidic sauce is a perfect complement to the sea scallops. The elements that make up the dish are blended into delicious perfection.

Another fine merger of tastes and textures is in the pistachio-crusted goat cheese, with small cubes of roasted and raw red beets on a mound of arugula. The crunch of the nuts, the tang of the beets and the soft creaminess of the cheese work happily together.

Grilled shrimp and asparagus salad consists mostly of a mound of greens providing a resting place for two large, very good, grilled shrimp. Beneath the greens hide five or six tiny asparagus.

The dish is decorated with bits of red peppers and dressed with an aioli vinaigrette. There could be more of the dressing, which lacks the strong, garlicky touch of a genuine aioli.

Stinginess with dressing is the mark of several other salads. There is nothing “classic” about a Caesar salad, a plate of romaine lettuce chopped so small you could eat it with a spoon, and some of it turning brown at the edges. The romaine, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, is missing croutons, and the dressing is AWOL. A slice of toasted baguette covered with roasted red peppers tastes fresh from the jar. Somewhere among the stars, Caesar Cardini is blushing with mortification.

Jumbo crab salad, one of the most expensive appetizers on the menu, disappoints as well. The watery crab suggests nothing “jumbo,” but is flaked and lonely for the embrace of a little dressing. The menu calls for Bloody Mary granita and micro celery as part of the salad. The granita is micro indeed, and there is no tomato flavor on the tiny bits of celery.

Pastas and main courses, on the other hand, sing. The fresh linguini — the Italian delicatessen Vace is right next door — is outstanding, with chopped clams, garlic, white wine and herbs. There are no whole clams in the dish and not many of the chopped ones, either, but enough to give the dish a delicious subtlety. A little heat is added with flakes of red pepper and lots of herbs. Delicious.

Pappardelle are tossed in a sauce of spicy sausage and a tomato, olive, mint and Parmesan ragout. Though the sauce could use a bit more heat, it’s an excellent dish. The pastas can be shared easily as a first course or as a main course after an ample appetizer.

Main courses are consistently fine. Seared duck breast, served on Japanese green-tea soba noodles with a side of baby bok choy, is wonderfully tender and cooked exactly as ordered. It’s one of the best versions of duck around.

The roast chicken is equally delicious. As with the duck, the chicken is almost fork-tender without being overroasted. A farro risotto is served with the chicken. Farro, the Italian name for spelt, is one of the original seven grains mentioned in the Bible and is 9,000 years old. Similar to barley with a slightly crunchy, nutty flavor, it nicely complements the chicken, as does the garlic-scented chard.

Mr. Bradley’s menu is rich in fish dishes with imaginative sides: grilled swordfish is accompanied by cannelloni beans and braised radicchio; mahi-mahi is teamed with mint and apricot couscous and a pea shoot salad; halibut is enhanced with a cauliflower mousseline; and pan-roasted salmon is served with mustard greens and smoked bacon. The menu usually lists two fish dishes du jour.

The grilled hamburger is thick, made of good beef, cooked to order and served with cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce and pickles with a heap of delicious french fries. The shoestring potatoes are hot and crisp and can be ordered as a side, along with sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes.

Pastry chef Susan Kolman turns out several good desserts, including a fine rhubarb tart, and chilled strawberry soup with lavender flan.

Ardeo’s wine list is not inexpensive, but there’s a good international selection by the bottle and by the glass. Service is relaxed but attentive. The long, narrow restaurant is inviting, and the walls are decorated with abstract photographs. Upstairs, the walls are bright, and three abstract paintings add color. Two steps up from the second floor lead to the roof deck, where romantic dining is only slightly disturbed by the hum of surrounding air-conditioning units. Ardeo is a neighborhood delight serving good food in a happy atmosphere.

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