- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

There’s nary a real tree at Cedar, but an abundance of mural-size photographs of cedar trees cover the walls. Smaller pictures of acorns and paths offer woodsy touches throughout this basement restaurant on E Street downtown.

Location, location, location — Cedar is within an easy walk of the Shakespeare Theatre, Sidney Harman Hall, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the E Street Cinema and the Verizon Center, among others. A clearly marked awning at 822 E St. NW says you’ve arrived, and you’ll be glad you have: What’s on the plate is very good to eat.

A steep stairway opens onto an attractive room with a cozy bar. Mirrors opposite the entrance make the room seem much larger than it is, and tables covered in linen are well-spaced with upholstered banquettes and a few booths.

Conversation is invited — there’s no bombastic noise posing as music. The ambience, in fact, suggests romance or even an assignation — not that anything like that ever happens in Washington. The food is beautifully prepared and impeccably served. The basement setting has all the accouterments of fine dining with moderate prices.

The menu, prepared by chef Andrew Kitko — recently of Redwood in Bethesda — is limited to a half-dozen appetizers and about the same number of main courses. The standard bases are covered: chicken, beef, pork and quail; salmon and tuna; a mix of soup, salads and fish appetizers; and a handful of desserts. There’s no culinary exotica, but everything we tried was prepared with concern and care, and the dishes are elegantly presented.

An appetizer of white-corn soup with a hint of creme fraiche, lots of corn kernels and a spoonful of pickled crab was a frothy delight with a deep, luscious, fresh corn flavor. The crab isn’t necessary, but it’s a welcome touch. Virginia oysters are roasted and served in a creamy sauce with leeks and Jerusalem artichokes.

Salads include an excellent salad of well-trimmed asparagus spears covered in a light mousseline sauce and topped with mache, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and several delicious croutons fried in olive oil. The croutons are made of the same fresh country bread served with meals.

Wild king salmon is grilled just long enough to retain the moisture and fresh flavor of the sea. The fish is served on a ragout of diced spring vegetables in a beurre blanc sauce redolent with dill and chives — a delicious dish.

Herb-crusted pork tenderloin, sliced and served on braised Swiss chard is well-prepared, fragrant with fresh herbs and the sweetness of a sauce of roasted cherries that taste like plump raisins. Steak is served with watercress-potato puree and an heirloom potato jam, and roasted chicken breast comes with chorizo-bell-pepper compote and crispy polenta.

For vegetarians, Mr. Kitko prepares grilled porcini mushrooms with green lentils, a poached egg, and an arugula and frisee salad.

Desserts include a many-layered carrot cake with a bourbon sauce and a sinfully delicious chocolate praline crunch bar with slices of roasted banana and chocolate ice cream, a portion large enough for two.

Cedar’s wine list is an intelligent assortment of international wines by the glass and the bottle. On a recent warm evening, our accommodating waiter let me try several of the white wines until I found the one most pleasing.

Cedar is open for lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. The lunch menu includes several entree salads plus sandwiches that go beyond a burger with fries to grilled ahi tuna and a BLT with house-made pork belly. Lunch entrees include a mushroom strudel, halibut with roasted red-pepper marmalade, and seared scallops with sweet potatoes.

A limited menu is available at the bar only, such as duck-fat-fried potatoes, grilled lemon chicken wings, and crispy risotto bites. These are available for $6 each, three for $15 or five for $20.

RESTAURANT: Cedar, 822 E St. NW, 202/637-0012

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily; brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Dinner starters $8 to $12; entrees $20 to $28; desserts $8 to $9. Lunch $8 to $18

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair-accessible, but call in advance

METRO: Gallery Place or Archives

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