By Elana Schor - 06/29/07 06:37 PM EDT
Like its retail neighbors, which the Heights touts on its website but have not yet opened, EatWell’s latest arrival specializes in crowd-pleasing combinations that overwhelm the senses. Macaroni and cheese arrives laden with crab and shrimp fillings, and rotisserie meats come in three varieties in addition to the seven meat entrees.
The overall impression can overwhelm those seeking a unique discovery on their plates, but families with children and transplants to the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood are already flocking to the Heights’ reliable smorgasbord.
Choosing a meal from the extensive menu, crafted by EatWell executive chef Salvatore Del Rosario, can be a dizzying game of flavor association.
Like buffalo wings? They come in two sizes, perfect for washing down a few beers, but crispy wings with sweet garlic chili and buffalo shrimp in blue cheese sauce are also on hand. Like a salad with strong flavors? The Heights offers frisee with poached egg and French bacon bits, iceberg with blue cheese and bacon, endive with blue cheese and walnuts and spinach salad with goat cheese.
For those who dare to be delicate, the plain green salad is large enough to be a starter, cut by refreshing jicama strips and flattered by a slightly sweet house-made vinaigrette. Each entree comes with a salad, an inexpensive family-friendly touch that ought to come back into vogue.
The Heights has not yet marked its first month, and the staff is still working out its rhythm. But the servers’ invariable patience and courtesy is more than enough to smooth out the kinks, and diners can easily roll with the punches: The beer taps have not yet arrived, so try a cold bottle of the lemony, peppery wheat beer called Allagash White.
The bar also works wonders with fresh pineapple-infused vodka, tossing it with blood-orange puree or tonic, and adds an affordable glass-and-a-half option for its ample wine list.
The Heights’ dining room resembles a Gothic sports bar, with an eye-catching vintage clock painted over the bar, while sculptures of faces and hands join the gin bottles and flat-screen TVs.
The main door faces 14th Street, but most diners look northeast onto a row of new condo apartments and retail shops. The impression brings to mind Tyson’s Corner or Reston Town Center more than the hottest new ’hood in the District, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The only other restaurant in the area with mainstream appeal, Tonic, lies several blocks over on Mt. Pleasant Street, leaving the Heights a large niche to fill with newcomers.
Once the condos above and beside the restaurant are full of tenants, in fact, the Heights is likely to become a northern version of the EatWell franchise’s popular Logan Circle destinations, Merkado and Logan Tavern.
Among the appetizers, lightly fried ginger calamari is a standout, perfectly complemented by a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce and crisp red cabbage. The lump crab cake is superior to many on other pubs’ slates, tweaked with red pepper and scallions.
Starters and entrees are more often than not fried in oil, and all main dishes come with an eye-popping portion of starch.
Don’t be afraid to resist the childlike compulsion to clean your plate, and definitely ask servers to explain how a particular dish is cooked.
The mustard-crusted tuna, for one, flash-fries a choice cut of fish in dense and crispy breading, the mustard flavor of which is entirely unclear. Choosing the grilled tuna instead, which comes atop a sweet chili sauce hardly distinguishable from the first tuna’s ancho chile sauce, might be a better bet for smaller stomachs.
Happily, servers are also ready to substitute side items, if garlic mashed potatoes or jasmine rice is not your first choice. The horseradish potato salad, pleasingly sharp and studded with crunchy potato skins, is a quirkier alternative.
The wasabi-crusted meatloaf, however, suffers from a similar ailment as some of the fish dishes: The principal flavor appears lost. The meatloaf is delightfully dense, ground beef expertly hugging breadcrumbs and spices. But a confused dollop of wasabi hangs alone on the bottom edge of the beef, not crusting and barely noticeable unless you take up a fork to hunt for it.
The menu includes other mammoth pairings, from blue cheese-stuffed filet mignon to grilled turkey steak in sweet Asian mustard. Like the sextet of rich desserts, all main plates are homemade from scratch and soon will be joined by a weekend brunch that runs until 4 p.m.
Of the desserts, the creamy mango key lime pie dances onto the palate, sheathed in a delicious cinnamon graham crust. Banana hazelnut cake is equally unique, and espresso-crusted cheesecake promises particular decadence.
While Logan @ the Heights is a welcome addition to its ever-transforming neighborhood, its happiest ending would be as a permanent fixture that does not kill off smaller ethnic neighbors. Just as Best Buy and independent record shops co-exist, and Target shares the market with hardware stores, the Heights’ big tastes are best appreciated with more modest delights still living in its shadow.