D.C. Coast


1401 K St., NW
(202) 216-5988

It's still too early to tell if D.C. Coast is among the best of the many recent arrivals on the Washington restaurant scene, but based on my experience during its start-up period, it's definitely in the running.

Rating:

Food: 9 Ambiance: 7
Service: 8 Price/Value: 8

At a time when a host of talented, ambitious and well-financed chefs have launched expense account eateries like Aquarelle, Ardeo, el Catalan, The Mark, Max's of Washington, M&S Grill, New Heights, Tahoga, Vintage and Vox Artis -- this stylish newcomer at 14th and K is already generating a buzz among D.C. diners.

HOURS: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Mon.-Thurs., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Closed Sunday.

PRICES: Luncheon appetizers, $ 5.95-$ 10.50; entrees, $ 9-$ 16; dinner appetizers, $ 5.95-$ 11.95; entrees $ 12-$ 29.50.

Ensconced in a dramatic, high-ceilinged space in The Tower Building, which introduced the art deco architectural style to Washington in1928, D.C. Coast has been packing them in since opening its doors on June 17. There's a feeling of openness and comfort in the multilevel room, which seats 130 on the main floor and 50 on the upstairs mezzanine.

The culinary influences that inspired D.C. Coast's unusual name derived from the three coastal areas where Chef Jeff Tunks has worked -- San Diego, New Orleans and Washington. Tunks, who resembles New Orleans Meister Chef Paul Prudhomme in appearance and cooking style, left Washington 10 years ago after making his mark at The River Club. He won culinary honors at Loew's Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego and at the Windsor Court Hotel's Grill Room in New Orleans, where he toiled the last three years.

Tunks has two partners: Gus DeMillo, who worked with him at The River Club and helped launch Georgia Brown's and Notte Luna (now Isabella) on McPherson Square, and David Wizenberg, formerly at Paolo's in Georgetown. All three take a hands-on approach to the business and are there six days a week, which is reflected in the well-organized wait staff and excellent service.

But it's the food that dazzles you at D.C. Coast. You can watch Tunks at work in the exposed kitchen, where he combines the flavors and textures of regional foods with an Asian accent. His signature dish, Chinese-style smoked lobster with stir-fry vegetables and crispy spinach, is as spectacular looking as it is delicious. So is his rich and robust appetizer, osso bucco ravioli with veal just and summer vegetables.

I ordered the latter at dinner recently, along with a second appetizer, Chinese lacquered duck. The ravioli was swimming in reduced veal stock and came with bone and marrow, while the duck was served Peking-style with pancakes, hoisin sauce and scallions.

On another occasion, at lunch, I opted for the cornmeal-crusted fried oysters, served with roasted pepper salsa and cilantro pesto, and theVietnamese shrimp toast with cucumber salad and creamy sesame vinaigrette. The former was a wonderful pastiche of flavors and textures, but the shrimp toast and hollowed-out vertical half cucumber filled with spring greens were even better.

D.C. Coast's desserts are exquisite; don't miss the Tahitian vanilla bean creme brulee with almond tuile cookie, and the warm bittersweet chocolate cake with coconut ice cream and passion fruit coulis.

The only negative note I experienced came at dinner with my wife. The problem was that we were seated on the main floor near the 24-stool bar and lounge area, which was crowded with thirty-somethings creating a deafening din that made it hard for us to converse, despite the open space and high ceilings.

But we'll definitely come back to experience what promises to be one of Washington's most exciting and satisfying new restaurants, even if it's a bit noisy.