[from March 1999 issue]

On upper Connecticut in Cleveland Park, a special restaurant strip grows almost daily, making this one of the top be-there places in DC. Consider these following neighbors: Firehook Bakery, Uptown Bakers, Palais du Chocolat, Lavandou, Ardeo, Nanny O'Brien's, and Spices. What a line-up for great eats! But one place worth regarding and revisiting is Spices, where the popular Oodles Noodles trend started. A mere sliver of a restaurant with a small sushi bar and a handful of tables, this Asian gem offers decent sushi and a collection of pan-Asian dishes that include Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese fare. What makes this sampler so intriguing is that management has selected both familiar and unfamiliar dishes to tempt your appetite--and in some cases, gives them a special twist.

Consider the spring onions cakes, which most often turn up on dim sum carts, but in a slightly altered form. Here, the kitchen makes them resemble wonderful savory pancakes (hold the maple syrup!) and serves them with a gingery dipping sauce. Or take a few nibbles of the Thai favorite, Tod Mun, normally made with a special fish pounded into a paste. Here, these luscious patties are made from chicken, seasoned in the traditional manner with curry paste, deep-fried, then brought piping hot with a great dipping sauce, thick, sweet, piquant, and textured with crushed peanuts, cucumber slivers, and chilies.

Then, for a quick change of pace, order up from the sushi bar. You can choose to sit there, too, and since the area is so small, get a great bird's eye view of the two sushi chefs hard at work. Or just order from the extensive sushi menu, either a la carte or as an assortment--perhaps a bit much for appetizers. (By the way, should you order sushi as entree, the assortment comes on a unique serving dish with a lucite top and wooden bottom, giving your sushi presentation a new-old look.) Sushi and maki sushi choices include marinated mackerel, crab cake, shad roe, broiled octopus, and eel, as well as California roll (try theirs with crab and avocado--delicious), Japanese Bagel Roll (cream cheese and salmon), New York Roll (broiled salmon and scallions), and Rainbow Roll (tuna, mackerel, salmon, flounder, eel, and cucumber).

But for my money, noodles are really the name of the game here. Consider the choices: The popular Thai Tom Yum (lemongrass soup) with noodles, the Japanese Nabeyaki Udon, two popular Thai noodles dish (pad Thai and Drunken Noodles), plus three Malaysian/Singaporean noodle specialties--Chor Koay Teow, Mee Goreng, and Curry Laksa.

Want a special treat? Try the Chor Koay Teow--especially good with pork, by the way--a filling street-food kind of dish with fresh wide rice noodles, soy, eggs, bean sprouts, and meat stirred into a sizzling noodle dish. This version could have used a sprinkle or two of sugar for a slight sweetening, but this is a classic offering of traditional fare.

Don't expect desserts: None show up on the menu, and the waitstaff didn't suggest anything. However, if your sweet tooth urges you on to more calories, head up or down the street to either bakery (Firehook, Uptown) or to Palais du Chocolat (if you finish up before their closings, obviously). This way, you can keep your dining out to a single 100-foot strip of sheer gastronomic pleasure.

Spices, Sushi Bar & Asian Restaurant, 3333-A Connecticut Ave., NW. 686-3833. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11:30am-3pm & 5-11pm; Sun., 5-11pm only. Price range: Dinner entrees, $6.95-$16.95. Free delivery with $15 order in a limited area. Catering services available.

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