- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PS 7’s is not a public school, but the chef of this new restaurant could teach anyone a thing or two about cooking.

PS are the initials of Peter Smith, the chef-owner, and 7’s is from the address, 777 I St. NW. The rooms are elegant and stylishly cool, just above Chinatown and just below the Convention Center in a new high-rise. The cooking already has risen to heights.

A welcoming bar area on the right offers space aplenty at the bar or at one of the tables to sip a libation or order from a limited bar menu.

Floor-to-ceiling windows, straight and curved walls in shades of brown, charcoal and midnight blue give the dining rooms an aura of space, and carpets minimize noise. Cool jazz plays in the background, where restaurant music belongs. It’s a sophisticated atmosphere.

The food is as sophisticated and elegant as the decor, from the little rolls and sweet whipped butter that arrive at the beginning to the tiny lemon tarts served on the four-in-one plate at lunch at the end.

Mr. Smith, a graduate of l’Academie de Cuisine, is known to Washingtonians for his work at Vidalia, where he was executive chef for several years. Before opening PS 7’s, he spent time in Tibet and Nepal, where he prepared dinners with local produce for hikers and climbers at the Mount Everest base camp.

The menu at PS 7’s is contemporary American, a blend of French-based concepts with influences from everywhere, interpreted by the chef. Nothing is overseasoned; combinations of spices and ingredients work, and presentations are beautiful. The chef has a welcome light hand with salt, unusual for Washington kitchens.

On a cool, rainy night, butternut squash soup was just right to whet the appetite. Actually a bisque, this dish was fragrant with cinnamon and garnished with a spoonful of brandied foie-gras cream. Mushroom soup is lighter and more delicate, with just a touch of cream, and equally satisfying.

Summery tuna tartare is slightly spicy. The finely chopped fish is marinated in lime juice and sweet soy sauce and combined with sesame seeds. It’s served with a tiny scoop of lemon-grass sorbet, a fine combination.

A scallop salad makes an outstanding appetizer. One large sauteed scallop sits atop a round of quinoa mixed with chopped apples and toasted hazelnuts, finished with a light vinaigrette and a smattering of arugula. The combination is inspired — the elements of the salad all have varying degrees of crunchiness, and the cool grain and warm scallop merge well.

An unusual turf-and-surf combination is a main course of sweetbreads with lobster risotto. The three slices of veal sweetbreads are lightly floured and sauteed. They’re served on the risotto with its bits of lobster. Fresh sauteed spinach is served on the side. The combination of the delicate flavors of the meat and shellfish works well. It’s interesting and delectable, and it’s a pleasure to see sweetbreads on a menu again.

Crab cakes are flawless, with the generous portion of fresh lump crabmeat lightly bound. The cakes are served with a tangy lemon aioli sauce and garnished with a crisp squash-and-apple slaw.

The noisette, or heart, of a pan-roasted ribeye steak is tender and flavorful, served with slices of fingerling potatoes, beef marrow and fresh spinach. It’s a simple dish, enhanced by excellent preparation and a good roasted-garlic butter sauce.

The star of the meat courses is the loin of lamb. It’s tender to the fork, delicate and delicious. At lunch, the lamb arrives on thin slices of toast. On the side is a salad of arugula, artichoke quarters and what is described as Maytag Blue Cheese but tasted more like goat cheese, a bit salty. In the evening, the lamb is served with braised fennel.

PS 7’s offers many options. Among the appetizers are cider-braised Kurobuta pork belly; a sea-scallop boudin; roasted duck breast; and a salad of pears, Maytag Blue Cheese, dried cherries, walnuts and pickled pearl onions. Other main courses include beef short ribs, pan-roasted rockfish, a trio of veal preparations and rainbow trout.

Pasty chef Naomi Gallego’s creations are imaginative. A lemon roulade is served with mandarin sorbet and a raspberry coulis; chocolate peanut butter mousse cake is garnished with bananas. Apple-cranberry crisp is enhanced with vanilla ice cream, and the tiny lemon tarts on the 4-in-1 lunch menu are especially good.

The 4-in-1, priced at $22, is a clever combination of a glass of soup, a small green salad, a main course and a dessert. At a recent lunch, the main course was two miniature crab cakes. Mr. Smith serves a five-course tasting menu in the evening, priced at $77, or $107 with wine pairings.

Through the end of January, PS 7’s will offer the Restaurant Week menu: lunch for $20.07 and dinner for 30.07.

The menu for the extension of the promotion is limited but still studded with bargains. At lunch, it includes comfort foods such as pot roast; the hot brown (turkey sliced over rustic bread with Mornay sauce and topped with tomato and bacon); pumpkin ravioli; and fried chicken salad, as well as the butternut squash soup, scallop salad and roasted pumpkin ravioli.

The dinner menu includes the pork belly and scallop boudin and main courses of braised short ribs, veal loin, trout and rockfish.

PS 7’s wine list is reasonable and well thought out for its relative brevity. About a dozen each red and white wines are available, including glasses of 3- or 6-ounce sizes. Diners may bring their own bottles for a $20 corkage fee, with a maximum of two bottles.

The kitchen managed to cope with the surge in diners during Restaurant Week, but sometimes only barely. The wait between courses was occasionally a bit long (and our waiter seemed reluctant to push the kitchen), but each dish came to the table hot, beautifully presented and cooked perfectly. No mean feat.

RESTAURANT: PS 7’s, 777 I St. NW; 202/742-8550

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:45 to 9:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 10:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Starters $7, $9 and $10 (lunch), $10, $12.50 and $15 (dinner); main courses $12.50 and $14.75 (lunch), $18 and $23 (dinner); desserts $7 and $12

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Metered street parking; $10 dinner valet parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Gallery Place (Red, Yellow and Green lines)

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