- - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

To start the new year I’ll tell you about my favorite dishes in the year just past. They’re not from the city’s haute cuisine establishments, but from the midrange restaurants. Here they are:

Farmstead pate at The Majestic Cafe (911 King St., Alexandria). This is not really a pate, but a creamy, delicate chicken liver mousse topped with a wine-flavored cherry compote. The mousse is served with a handful of pickled vegetables and a grilled baguette. The Majestic’s dishes are a mix of contemporary and classic American fare, and include a superb fried chicken — crisp, light and irresistible. On Sundays, the restaurant serves a multicourse family dinner for $24 per person.

Mama Rouge (3000 K St. NW) prepares a lovely version of pork dumplings. The filling is subtle and the dumpling “skin” is feathery light. It’s a perfect version of an Asian classic. Chef/owner Aulie Bunyarataphan also puts together a tasty version of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches on crisp, fresh French baguettes. Mama Rouge began life at the Washington Harbor complex as Bangkok Joe’s, specializing in Thai dishes, with Chef Aulie at the helm. In 2014, the owners decided to revamp the restaurant and make it a Southeast Asian bistro, combining Thai, Vietnamese and French dishes.

The stuffed sour cabbage at Ambar (523 Eighth St. SE) tastes like something you wish your grandmother had made. The white cabbage leaves are filled with a mix of pork belly, cabbage juice, rice and yogurt. The flavor is subtle; the dish is remarkably light. Ambar is Washington’s only Balkan restaurant, and it specializes in small plates at lunch and dinner. Its beautiful, open-faced sandwiches are unique: Served on dark bread, they combine meats, vegetarian options and seafood with spreads, salads, nuts or sauces, and each sandwich is topped with an edible flower.

Sand dabs are a specialty at San Francisco’s Tadich Grill. When the restaurant opened its Washington branch in November at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, the delicate little fish became part of the regular menu. Three or four fillets are served in lemony butter, sauteed so they remain tender and juicy. Wonderful. Tadich is a lively, handsome restaurant, larger than the San Francisco original, but serving many of the same dishes. Oysters are always fresh and excellent.

Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj has a magic touch with his establishments, which include The Bombay Club, 701 Restaurant, The Oval Room, Bibiana, Rasika and its sister restaurant, Rasika West End (1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW). Each has its own distinct culinary character. Although the two Rasikas are similar, their menus are not identical. Rasika West End makes a delectable dish called palak chaat — a combination of crispy spinach, tamarind, dates and yogurt. The restaurant’s mango shrimp belongs among my favorites as well. Rasika West End is a beautiful, modernistic space at the angle of New Hampshire Avenue and M Street, and the food is both classic and original.

My favorite lunchtime salad is at La Tomate (1701 Connecticut Ave. NW). A layer of prosciutto is topped with a small mound of arugula, which in turn is topped with grape tomato halves and cubes of fresh mozzarella. The salad isn’t dressed; add a spoonful of balsamic vinegar and one of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and — voila! — a perfect, light meal.

For dessert, at Arlington’s Bayou Bakery (1515 N. Courthouse Rd.), New Orleans-born chef/owner David Guas makes beignets worthy of his hometown. Three to an order, the yeasty, hot, small squares, dusted with powdered sugar, are a treat not easily forgotten. Bayou’s hot dog — in this case, a spicy smoked andouille sausage — is something special for a lunch snack.

To take home, eat in the street straight out of the paper bag, or enjoy at a table, the croissants at Patisserie Poupon (1645 Wisconsin Ave. NW) are my favorites, the best in town, and as good as any you’ll find in Paris. Buttery and crisp, the small crescents enhance any breakfast, brunch or teatime. They are also available at the Sunday Palisades market on MacArthur Boulevard.

These are some of my favorites of the old year, and will continue to be in the new. Restaurant week in Washington is coming up — Jan. 25-31, when 212 restaurants will offer lunch for $22 and dinner for $35, so you will have a chance to start your own list of favorites.

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