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January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants: Mendocino Grille

THE SCENE. Don't let the space, a subtly evoked wine cellar with thick wooden beams and stone walls, fool you into thinking that this is just another wine bar. The menu, which marries Californian flexibility with Mediterranean rusticity, is full of fresh ideas, and the atmosphere after a few minutes (and a few sips of wine) begins to seem like an oasis of civility amid the chaotic streets of Georgetown.

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. From the bowl of warmed olives offered with drinks to the large selection of affordable wines by the glass (and half-glass), Mendocino pays attention to details. Chef Drew Trautmann's devotion to locally raised, sustainable food shows up in dishes that flaunt the bounties of the seasons.

WHAT YOU WON'T. The occasionally negligent service and the closely spaced tables seem out of keeping with a place where you're meant to linger. And the cheese service is undone by stingy portions.

BEST DISHES. A hearty salt-cod brandade with grilled bread; perfectly fried frog's legs with a tart sauce gribiche; a beautifully roasted organic poussin, served with potatoes and root vegetables; a superb choucroute garni of sauerkraut, duck confit, and sausages.

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