Recent Recaps from Your Friendly Restaurant Refugee

Congratulations to all of the local nominees for the James Beard Awards.  There is no greater honor than to be recognized in this august group. It is my hope that each of the finalists enjoys this time.

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Café Soleil isn’t on the radar of most members of the DC epicurean scene.  I am not about to suggest that anyone needs to rush to get there, but it is a place that is worthy of some attention.

The menu itself reads just like that of any French bistro… well anywhere.  Roast Chicken, Steak Frites, Onion Soup, Short Ribs, standard salads, and a burger would not be confused with cutting edge anywhere.  However, the food is solid… if unremarkable.  The gracious service and generous happy hour are worth noting.  Five dollar glasses of pleasant wine, house cocktails, and three dollar beers make this smallish, comfortably elegant bar a rather pleasant place to wait out a Metro delay, have a quick not-overly-committal first date,  or just spend a couple of hours boozing with friends after work.  If you get hungry while you’re there, the food may not inspire, but it surely won’t disappoint.

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Eatonville* was not my idea for a low-key birthday dinner with a group of five friends.  However, when invited for a celebratory repast, one accepts or declines and does so graciously.  The menu at Eatonville is very reasonably priced and reads like the offerings of a really good diner.  When our food arrived, it was solid, perhaps even good when measured against their wallet friendly pricing.  Unfortunately the service was comically bad.  From the time we were seated to encountering our server and ordering our drinks, felt like ten minutes.  I hadn’t checked my watch so I cannot be sure, but it was long enough for me to note the time of our order – two beers and a bottle of wine.  Drinks took 16 minutes.  At this point it became a bit of a game to me.  40 minutes before ordering our food. Over an hour from the time we sat at the table to the appetizers emerging.  Of the ten total plates, only three arrived at their correct location.  15 minutes after everyone completed their first course before plates where cleared.

At one point during the evening, I excused my self – ostensibly to use the wash closet, but really to find a manager to explain my dissatisfaction with our perpetually empty glasses, delayed and not quite hot food, and general unhappiness.  The host couldn’t be bothered to find a manager for me.  By the time we were ready for our check – because we were late for a show for which we should have been incredibly early – we just paid and left.

The part of this that galls me most is that I swore off Eatonville after a similar experience many months earlier. I sent an email to the owner, general manager, and a couple other people.  It went unanswered.  So, fool me twice, and I feel like the worst kind of fool.

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In some ways the people who opened Cedar Crossing Café** and Wine Bar no more than ten yards from the end of the Takoma Metro station, had a pathetically low bar to hurdle on their path to success.  In an area that has plenty of cash (in that zip code, median home value is well north of $500K and well north of the city average,) there is a conspicuous absence of actual restaurants.  The ones that do exist are largely a place for sustenance rather than cuisine, and the bars… well that’s a wholly pathetic subject unto itself.

A wine bar and café really just had to not trip over their own prep list and they would be moved to the top of the heap.

Since they opened a couple of months ago, and I have been in a few times, I have been impressed by the fact that they actually take their wine program seriously AND still manage to keep their price per glass under $10 on average.  In a city filled with wine bars where a c-note is the usual price of a first date, a well sourced and reasonably priced winelist is a significant accomplishment in itself.

Despite the positives about the wine list, I wish that I had more than tepid feelings about this place.  The very solid winelist, more than respectable stemware, and mostly impressive beer program, do not entirely mitigate the concerns.  As soon as you enter, you will be stung by the impact of their poor ventilation – upon leaving, place all of your clothes in the dry cleaning pile.  The menus and wine lists are printed on crappy paper that isn’t as sturdy as the carry-out next door uses – it just feels cheap.  While the food is also reasonably priced, it is inconsistently prepared at best.  A well seasoned sandwich might be teamed with a green salad drowning in oil but absent salt.  The same soup might be lovely one night and barely recognizable the next.

They’re still new and Cedar Crossing is staying on my list and I remain optimistic about their success.  Rough around the edges in an area where people are starved for anything better than places with barbed wire for edges is still a tactical advantage.  Besides that, the winelist is pretty damn good… so’s the beer… and the Manhattan too.  Maybe I can live with the dry cleaning bill and eat beforehand?

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* I will not link out of pure spite and for the collective awfulness endured

** No link available… which concerns me on their behalf

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4 Responses to Recent Recaps from Your Friendly Restaurant Refugee

  1. Thanks for our comments on the Cedar Crossing Bar. I will give it a try.
    BEST, Chito

    It is a very worthwhile place, but mostly if you’re already in the area.

  2. Grace says:

    Too bad about Eatonville. I’ve only been once but I enjoyed my food (ribs) and our server was good. Not excellent, but I felt he was attentive.

    Do you have a list of places with excellent service that are budget friendly?

    Budget friendly is a difficult term as it is highly relative, but I will work on something.

  3. LiLu says:

    “No link available… which concerns me on their behalf.”

    *checks watch*

    It is 2010, right?

    How any restaurant in this class can exist without a web presence – before they open – is a complete mystery to me.

  4. kate.d. says:

    i love these little recaps – so informative! never heard of cafe soleil, but it sounds nice and the location is good for my general downtown traveling routes 🙂 thanks for sharing!

    It is a lovely little bar, and I am rather fond of one of the bartenders; Alex is charming, does a great job, and is there on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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