St. Albans grad David Scribner is at home with unpretentious American fare at Dahlia. But for how long?

By: Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Cynthia Hacinli

David Scribner slumps in the entryway to the dining room of Dahlia, his three-month-old bistro in Spring Valley. It's a good, if chaotic, night at the restaurant, and a good, if chaotic, time for the chef, who, after years of heading up the kitchens at Felix in Adams Morgan and Smith Point in Georgetown, has a place of his own for such plain-spoken American fare as brie and scallops with cider brown butter and herb-roasted chicken. This year he got married and had a daughter. Life, it would seem, has never been better.

But the chef confesses to already having his mind on an "exodus"--New England, maybe, or some other rural antidote to "congested and aggressive" life in a city that's been "invaded by strangers."

"Seriously," he says, "we're gonna be delivering ourselves from this. . . . Everybody racing around in their cars, it's really unhealthy. I can't do it for much longer."

Scribner, 37, is a wandering soul in preppy clothes--red lacrosse shorts peek out from under his white apron. The eldest son of Choral Arts Society founder Norman Scribner, he went through St. Albans figuring he'd become a painter--"I thought I was gonna be the new Degas or something." After dropping out of Brown "to discover my true self," he bummed around Nantucket, sharing a pad with the "Juice Guys" behind Nantucket Nectars and trying to reconcile life as a prep cook with his youthful illusions. "I loved it, but I felt I should be doing something more important."

In some ways, Dahlia sounds more like an exercise in responsibility than a dream restaurant. "There's a reason," says the chef, "I didn't name this place Scribner's."

Dahlia: 4849 Massachusetts Ave., NW; 202-364-1004. 

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for brunch.