- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A “scion” is an offshoot, a detached twig of a living plant. So since Joanne and Julie Liu grew up in their parents’ Asian fusion restaurant — Jenny’s, in Southwest Washington — they didn’t look far for a name for their own restaurant.

Scion occupies the space that was formerly Cafe Tropez at the corner of 21st and P streets in Northwest. The restaurant is not Asian, but, says Joanne Liu, American fusion with Asian influences. The flavors may be familiar, but the kitchen puts them together in different ways.

The decor is mostly unchanged from its time as Cafe Tropez, except for the bright vinyl tablecloths covered by placemats. The covered patio along the P Street side of the restaurant has been enlarged. The interior lacks warmth, but the greeting by the owner and the quality of the cooking make up for shortcomings in decor.

Scion is a genuine, informal neighborhood restaurant where, on any given evening, you can find a mix of students and young professionals of the Dupont Circle area, together with older adults and, on one recent evening, a dispatch of diplomats from one of the embassies in the neighborhood.

In keeping with the informality, Scion offers diners a good selection of small plates as well as entrees, which can be shared or combined as a meal.

A dish of rock-shrimp tempura is outstanding. Greaseless, crisp and hot, these sweet morsels are accompanied by an excellent tangy dipping sauce. Vegetable spring rolls are classic Asian offerings. Like the shrimp tempura, the rolls are not greasy, but hot and tasty, enhanced by the traditional sweet-hot dipping sauce.

An appetizer - which, when combined with a salad or side, could be a perfect main course - is a dish of three lamb chops, roasted to order with basil and rosemary. A bargain at $8.95, the chops could be combined with one or two accompaniments for a delicious, inexpensive meal.

Starters at Scion make an interesting mix, ranging from potato chickpea croquettes to seared scallops served with a citrus salad and crispy prosciutto. A crab, artichoke and spinach dip is a good dish to share; so, too, the smoked spicy chicken wings.

Main courses receive careful attention from the kitchen. Seared five-spice duck breast is succulent and tender, served with a slowly roasted duck leg and jasmine rice. The leg, almost a confit, is a particularly delightful contrast to the small pink rounds of duck breast.

A mix of shrimp and scallops served over flat, broad rice noodles is clearly inspired by something good from Asia. The dish is prepared in a soy-based sauce with chopped peppers and garlic. It’s rich and filling, though lacking clear definition.

Not to be missed is the Scion burger of Kobe beef. It’s topped with smoked mozzarella, sauteed onions and unusual fried pickles, tart and delicious. The pickles are available as a side dish. It’s a first-rate burger. A smaller version of the burger as part of surf-and-turf sliders is offered as an appetizer; the surf slider is a crab cake.

A roasted chicken half comes with green beans and cornmeal stuffing; short ribs are served with bok choy; and pan-seared rockfish is accompanied by gingery basil curry and bok choy over rice. A grilled rib-eye steak will satisfy carnivores, and for something unusual the lobster Reuben combines lobster with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing on rye bread.

For dessert the creme brulee du jour was excellent, the rich custard topped with a splash of mango.

The beer and wine list is reasonably priced, like the food, with most wines in the $30 range with several under $30. At Scion, the menu choices and the prices are right for the neighborhood, marred only by the loud music and a long wait between courses. Both faults can be fixed. Scion, as Miss Liu says, is a place for sophisticated comfort food.

RESTAURANT: Scion, 2100 P St. NW, 202/833-8899.

HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

PRICES: Starters $4.50 to $9; main courses $9 to $23; desserts $4.50 and $5.50. Lunch prices slightly lower.

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Dupont Circle

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