- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

What you notice first at Rock Creek at Mazza, the new restaurant atop Mazza Gallerie, are floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Wisconsin Avenue at the District line. The glass forms an arc around the dining room, surrounding an oak tree standing two stories high in the middle of the room. It’s not real, but it’s a cleverly deceptive fake. The leafy branches spread out high above the white-clad tables, giving the impression of a shady outdoor dining area. Nothing could be more inviting.

Rock Creek at Mazza is the second Rock Creek restaurant of owners Judith Hammerschmidt and Tom Williams — the first is in Bethesda — featuring something called “mindful dining,” defined as an alternative to high-fat, high-calorie meals.

The idea is to offer “a complementary mix of nutritionally balanced foods that are as kind to your palate as they are to your body.” Executive chef Ethan McKee, formerly chef de cuisine at Equinox, uses fresh, seasonal ingredients, meats and seafood in his dishes, made without butter or cream. The last page of the menu provides a chart of “Nutritional Facts,” enabling diners to count the calories, proteins, carbohydrates, cholesterol, fiber and saturated fat in each of the menu items.

The nutritional aspect of the cooking has not diminished the tastes and flavors, which tend to be delicate and lightly spiced rather than robust. A diner might wish for more character in some of the chef’s dishes, but everything is well prepared and attractive on the plate, combining French, Italian and American traditions.

The menu is similar at lunch and dinner, with the addition of several salads and sandwiches at lunch and some main courses at dinner.

Vegetable soup, gnocchi, a fried soft-shell crab and steamed mussels are the appetizers at both meals, along with salads. At dinner, steak tartare is added. The gnocchi are delicious, tender and well sauced in a ratatouille with Parmesan cheese and a splash of basil pesto. The crab is fresh, juicy and very crisp, albeit salty.

Plump Medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese and rolled in toasted hazelnuts make an interesting salad. The Caprese salad of heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella is augmented with grilled eggplant.

Grilled veal medallions are outstanding among the dinner main courses. The meat contrasts nicely with slightly bitter broccoli rabe and toasted semolina patties with a tomato-basil sauce. Grilled beef strip loin is served sliced with mashed potatoes and a mix of squash and tomatoes.

Diver scallops, shrimp and mussels make a fine combination in a mild Thai basil-and-curry sauce. The grilled scallops are perfect, the little mussels sweet and tender. My two shrimp were a bit tough and not quite fresh — not up to the quality of the rest of the dish. An iodine aftertaste and lack of freshness also were a problem with a lunchtime tartine, or open-face sandwich, of shrimp salad.

Pasta with chanterelles is light and fragrant. At lunch, the pasta is penne; at dinner pappardelle. The penne are served in a flavorful tomato sauce with chopped olives, summer squash and Parmesan. The few pieces of delicate chanterelles get lost in the tomato sauce.

A breast of chicken is roasted and served with oven-dried tomatoes, spinach and corn; sea bass is pan-seared and accompanied by baby spinach and fennel; tuna loin is grilled and served with a black bean succotash and green tomato chow-chow (a mustard-flavored relish).

At lunch, yellowfin tuna becomes a salad on hearts of romaine with white anchovies. Other sandwiches include a bison burger, a turkey burger and a crab cake sandwich.

There’s a sweetly delicious warm chocolate cake to tempt at dessert. Try the blueberry ice cream if it’s on the day’s menu. It’s apparently made without cream, but it’s creamy and smooth.

The wine list, though not extensive, is well chosen, with many good wines by the glass. Service is friendly and efficient, but it can be slow. Rock Creek at Mazza is a pleasant place to dine — noise is not regarded as part of the entertainment.

RESTAURANT: Rock Creek at Mazza, 5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202/966-7625

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

PRICES: Appetizers $8 to $12 (lunch), $8 to $14 (dinner); main courses $15 to $20 (lunch), $18 to $29 (dinner); desserts $8

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Validated complimentary parking in Mazza Gallerie for two hours

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Friendship Heights (Red Line)

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