January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

No. 87: Leopold’s Kafe & Konditore

If I.M. Pei designed a Viennese-style kaffeehaus, this is what it might look like. Instead of brocade drapes and filigreed sconces, there are walls of glass, angular dessert cases, and artily sculpted—and uncomfortable—chairs.

The mod design is no surprise, given the surroundings: It’s wedged amid the furniture shops of Cady’s Alley, gallerylike showrooms where you might drop $4,000 on a mirror. What’s less expected is the food. If all Leopold’s had to offer were decent coffee and pastries, Georgetown fashionistas, urbane architects and designers, and weary shoppers probably would flock to it just the same.

But there’s a serious restaurant in here. The kitchen mostly stays away from fussy presentation and nouveau touches and focuses on straightforward renditions of Austrian tavern fare: pillowy bratwurst, a deeply flavorful oxtail broth, and crostini heaped with Liptauer spread—a fluffy, pale-orange mix of whipped butter, paprika, and Quark cheese. Other plates would be at home in a white-tablecloth Modern American restaurant, including a salad of thick, chargrilled asparagus stalks and a terrific roast chicken pooled in a coarse-grained mustard sauce. Only the sweets in the pastry case—and those uncomfortable chairs—seem to be more about looks than anything else.

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