February 2006David Craig gets around. The Scottish chef worked for the late Jean-Louis Palladin and Roberto Donna at Pesce, moved on to the Tabard Inn, where he whipped up such gutsy arcana as haggis, and did time at Black's Bar & Kitchen in Bethesda.
Now he's opened his own place, David Craig Bethesda (4924 St. Elmo Ave.; 301-657-2484), in the former Napa Thai location. Dark-wood wainscotting, white walls, and abstract paintings make for a modern space. And Craig's personal approach to Modern American cuisine is welcome news for Bethesda, where it's easy to find a restaurant but hard to find a really good one.
Craig's Maryland oyster stew seems simple--a rich, milky brew studded with briny oysters--until you get a hit of smoky bacon and a ping of chive and leek. Chicken Two Ways is delicious: The leg is stuffed with wild mushrooms, slices of white meat are fanned on top, and beneath it all, soaking in the juices, are herb-flecked polenta fries and braised purple cabbage sweet with cider. Risotto made with vialone rice from the Veneto doesn't have the creamy consistency of the classic, but the riot of flavors in a single spoonful--bits of roasted apple, lobster, winter squash, and mascarpone--make up for the departure. Entrées are $12 to $29.
It's a promising start for this small, sometimes overworked kitchen, and a promising sign for a city with few independent, chef-driven restaurants.