The Needle: What's Hot? What's Not?

By: Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Cynthia Hacinli, sara levine

Vermilion

The eclectic decor—velvet curtains and gas lamps—has nothing on chef Tony Chittum’s wild ride of a menu. On a recent visit, seared scallops paired well with a panzanella salad made from Parker House rolls, a lamb kebab got a boost from Greek yogurt dotted with feta, and a medley of pulled pork and barbecue pork loin had just the right tang. Overrichness can get the better of Chittum, as with a roasted chicken with ham and brown butter and a groan-inspiring cream-cheese-iced hummingbird cake.

1120 King St., Alexandria; 703-684-9669

David Craig Bethesda

Nobody puts together a better salad than David Craig—try the unlikely but glorious mélange of red-leaf lettuce, fried green tomatoes, cornmeal-crusted oysters, bacon, Gorgonzola, and toasted pecans. Craig’s hand-rolled pastas, normally a sure thing, were hit-or-miss: A plate of thin noodles tossed with plump Gulf shrimp would have been at home in a great Italian dining room, while spinach pasta was overlarded with cream. Of the menu’s three entrées, two were disappointing: whole sea bream and grilled pork loin, both eclipsed by their vegetable sides.

4924 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda; 301-657-2484

Tosca

The dining room is as featureless as a law firm’s conference room. And surrounded by so much talk of deals, a leisurely lunch can feel like business. But chef Massimo Fabbri has the kitchen humming with purpose and invention. Take a recent plate of carrot pappardelle with a ragu of minced rabbit and thyme—the sort of concoction chefs are wont to highlight with a self-consciously clever menu description. While such dishes can be more interesting to talk about than to eat, this one eats better than it reads. A half portion (at half price!) at the bar, washed down with a good glass of Italian red from an excellent list, is one of the best lunches in town.

1112 F St., NW; 202-367-1990

This appeared in the September, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.

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