- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nage is French for “swim,” and in Washington, Nage is the sister restaurant of the original in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Nage is coming ashore on the bank of the Potomac with some hesitation, and some sure-footed cooking.

The restaurant is in the Courtyard Marriott on Scott Circle Northwest, but is not operated by Marriott. Nage could use redecorating, as fiery red walls, hotel-style carpeting, hanging lamps and bare tables are not particularly inviting.

By day a large front window keeps the entrance bright, but the back of the place is dark; by night it’s dark everywhere, lending an atmosphere more akin to a bar than a restaurant charging $20 to $30 for main courses. Tablecloths, cloth napkins at lunch, more flattering lighting and toned-down paint would make a start.

Cooking at Nage is probably uneven because the same chef is not in charge of the kitchen at all times. Kevin Reading is executive chef-owner, but he isn’t always there as he continues to be active in the Rehoboth restaurant. Dinner on one night left something to be desired, and on another visit the food was excellent.

A walnut soup du jour was a delicious delight. Light and creamy, tasting of walnuts but without being overwhelmed by the nuts, the soup was drizzled with a pomegranate reduction and topped with toasted walnuts. A lovely beginning to a meal, served either as a cup or a bowl.

A salad incorporating duck confit, plump blueberries and chopped walnuts worked well, the fruit and nuts complementing the shredded duck. The mixed greens, dressed in a tangy vinaigrette, contributed to a well-conceived appetizer.

The fall salad, a mix of frisee and arugula, is also pleasantly light and refreshing, despite the garnish of deep-fried mozzarella balls tasting of fish, probably because fish had once been fried in the oil. The dried cherries and almonds, which add a touch of sweetness and crunch, are welcome additions to the salad.

But a signature starter of baked oysters receives poor marks. Chopped oysters, hard as little pieces of stale dried fruit, are topped with a spoonful of overcooked spinach, the whole covered with a tasteless, slightly cheesy white sauce. This dish should never have made it out of the kitchen.

Similarly, a bistro steak did not succeed. Although cooked to order, the hanger steak was tough, difficult to cut even with a steak knife, and overpriced at $28.

Grilled tuna, also cooked to order, came to the table cold. Unfortunately, the fish, attractively cut on the bias, was streaked with sinews. The bean and oxtail stew served with the tuna is a jarring combination with fish. And while the menu called for black truffle butter to accompany the tuna, what arrived on the plate was tomato butter. Too many unrelated flavors.

On the other hand, Nage’s crab cake is a fine version of the classic, perhaps reflecting its older sister restaurant on the sea. Served as a first course at dinner or entree at lunch, the crab cake is large, virtually without filler, and made with good, fresh crab. Topped with a spoonful of tart tomato jam that complements the sweetness of the crab, the dish is garnished with three asparagus spears and a pleasant succotash of peas and corn.

Another fine dish, also served at both lunch and dinner, is sea scallops atop a creamy pumpkin risotto with rock shrimp. The scallops could have been warmer, but they were cooked perfectly, as was the risotto. Each kernel of rice remained distinct while the risotto as a whole had a fine, creamy consistency, perfumed with a beurre blanc, bits of mushroom and morsels of sweet rock shrimp.

Braised veal cheeks, seared foie gras and frog legs meuniere are other dinner starters. Main courses include braised lamb shank, braised pork belly, house cured salmon and a rib eye steak.

The kitchen prepares several luncheon sandwiches, including a $10 soup and sandwich special: ham and Brie Monte Cristo; a burger with mushroom duxelle; a knuckle sandwich of diced lobster (but not the tail, only the claw and knuckle meat); a salmon BLT (the salmon is smoked, not fresh); and a lamb and egg sandwich with eggplant caponata and feta cheese.

Desserts include a macadamia nut oatmeal pie, apple pie, a chocolate truffle cake and sorbets. We tried a special of the day, a banana chocolate bread pudding, which turned out to be a solid mass of bread with a faint banana flavor and chocolate veins in the bread. A little custard or creme anglaise would have gone a long way to improving this dessert.

The wine list, curiously, does not identify the country or region of origin of the wines, only the name of the vineyard. Since many of the wines — and all of the wines by the glass — are from relatively unknown but prettily named vineyards from around the world, it’s difficult to order wine without recourse to the waiter’s explanations.

The serving staff is well informed — sometimes almost surly and at other times charming and accommodating.

Nage is still negotiating deep water, but there’s potential here. Order with care and you can have a good, albeit not inexpensive, meal.

RESTAURANT: Nage, 1600 Rhode Island Ave. NW, 202/448-8005

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Starters $7 to $12 (lunch), $7 to $18 (dinner); main courses $8 to $16 (lunch, including sandwiches), $16 to $28 (dinner); desserts $7.50

CREDIT CARDS: Major cards

PARKING: Metered street parking; Courtyard Marriott hotel valet parking $7

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Dupont Circle (Red Line)

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