[from August 2003 issue]

Word around has it that Perry's has streamlined and altered its main menu, one that now changes frequently, according to market availability and freshness, says the waiter earnestly. With all that a change -- and market freshness -- promise, Perry's new list of offerings seems too bare of kitchen finesse to warrant a return trip.True, I last dined at Perry's rooftop several years ago, quite satisfied with its menu that held Asian and Southwestern promise and with a meal that came in abundant portions, but not abundant prices. Frankly, then was better than now, and I should have simply stuck to the sushi menu recently, which also apparently gets a regular facelift. If so, too bad.Either way, my next Perry's meal will be comprised of a sushi medley, and among them, if it still exists, will be the Perry's Roll, a rice-wrapped conglomeration of seared tuna, backfin crab, avocado, flying fish roe, and a spicy sauce -- all served artfully in attractive arrangement on pretty pottery. From there, I'd move on to the Dragon Roll with eel, surimi crab, cucumber and avocado -- which if this runs true to Dragon form, will be ample enough for two. Then to top it all off, how about chirashi sushi -- fresh fish atop vinegared rice -- or the sushi platter. If it seems odd to come to a blatantly Western restaurant to order sushi, it is; yet the Asian chefs behind the counter seem equal to their fishy job, and I'm glad for it.As for the Western menu, let's take a look: Appetizers included a miso soup (more Japanese influence), chilled zucchini soup, a summer vegetable roll with red lentils, and duck prosciutto, none of which made more impact than the sushi appetizer. The entrée selections, which rely much on fish choices, included a vegetarian sampler (eggplant, shiitake and quinoa), rockfish with beets, king salmon with cucumber, roasted chicken with potatoes, red snapper, and a filet of beef with grape tomatoes. Although each meat comes with a vegetable garnish, you can also order more abundant sides such as mixed greens, butter beans and corn salad, leek salad with mustard, lemon Portobello mushrooms, and basil mashed potatoes.The last would have paired nicely with my roast chicken, better than the roasted potatoes that formed the chicken's bed and evidently had a parchment wrapper in the oven: a strip of parchment paper came with the potatoes. In a city where roasted chicken is a standard menu item, Perry's version set no record for tenderness, succulence, or flavor. The chirashi sushi would have been a better bet. Desserts also didn't present any must-have sweets: all priced at $7, the recent offerings included ice cream, a summer pudding (no explanation), a pistachio torte, chocolate cake with raspberries, and melon with lemon sorbet -- not ground-breaking treats.Seated facing the bar may not offer patrons a rooftop view of the city -- classy alfresco dining on its rooftop is one of Perry's greatest selling points, that and its Sunday drag brunch -- but it will amuse people who can try to figure out the logic of combining what appear to be religious icons and Santos and a plastic globe with liquor bottles.

Perry's, 1811 Columbia Rd., NW; tel., 234-6218. Price range: $14-$19; sushi entrées, $12-$22. Hours: Dinners only, Sun.-Thu., 5:30-10:15pm & to 11:15pm, Fri. & Sat; Brunch, Sun., 10:30am-2:30pm. Rooftop seating, first-come, first-served.

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