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Reservations Recommended

Swimmingly Good: Nage

By Alexandra Greeley 

Although there’s not much swimming going on along Rhode Island Avenue at Scott Circle, Nage restaurant — the DC city cousin of one of Rehoboth Beach’s fav hangouts — may get you yearning for the water, but it will also cause you to celebrate the stomach. One chef and a new menu later, Nage has become a hip, cool, and out-there gastronomic treat. (Note: The French word “nage” translates as “swim.”). 

Although Nage is not brand new — it first opened two years ago — it didn’t really click with local foodies in the beginning, despite its bustling beach popularity and reputation elsewhere. It may have been the menu, or it may have been the ho-hum service. But since then, Nage and its menu have come a long way, baby. A long way. 

The décor isn’t much, kind of a beachy-vibrant room that under different management might look like a hotel coffee shop. In fact, Nage is a hotel coffee shop of sorts, located as it is in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard Embassy Row hotel, a stylish yet affordable destination a couple of blocks east of Connecticut Avenue. It’s just the sort of place where Nage fits in neatly, appealing to the neighborhood locals for walk-ins, but its draw reaches out to the ‘burbs, because anyone who is kitchen savvy will drive miles for a serving of the skinny, hot frites with their truffle butter.

Meals begin pleasantly with the offering of thick, dense, richly-flavored bread slices (all breads are baked in-house) and a hummus spread; forget the butter. But you should follow this cardinal rule: Read the “specials” blackboard before you decide on anything. Although the specials come and go, depending on the chef’s whim and the season, you might find such fare as a sweet potato soup with crème fraiche, candied pecans, and cocoa oil. Cocoa oil? I asked. Made in-house from Dutch cocoa, grape seed oil, and salt, the cocoa oil is a cunning trick the chef has up his sleeve — the oil adds a slightly tart flavor point, a pleasing contrast to the sweet potatoes, candied pecans, and tarragon snips, and it anoints the soup with its own smoothness. 

Other recent lunch (and maybe dinnertime) specials included a crispy pork and shrimp roll with a black bean and corn salsa; warm haricots verts salad with frisée and a bacon vinaigrette; and the unusual version of lasagna made with Portobello mushrooms. While these dishes are not — well, not yet — permanent fixtures on the funky Nage menu, they complement the menu, which pretty much lists permanent fare, though I wonder if the ultimate comfort food, a lobster pot pie, will weather DC’s summer heat. 

Never mind. To date, you can wallow in a luxurious hamburger made from prime rib beef and seasoned with a multiplicity of secret ingredients, including smoked gouda and a lusty mushroom duxelle, which adds a profoundly intriguing taste, juiciness, and texture to the meat. Heaped on a homemade roll, the burger comes with those sinful frites and a ramekin of pleasingly hot mustard. Other possibilities include the Nage BLT with crispy pork belly and a grilled tomato (none of that conventional stuff!), crispy rockfish for larger appetites, and a Cajun meatloaf with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, the ultimate in homey comfort foods. 

Speaking of comfort foods, whatever you do, plan on having a dessert or two. While the sweets selection is short (and sweet), it stars several must-eat dishes, the best of which may well be the artery-clogger, the chocolate butterscotch mousse torte with candied cashews and topped with whipped cream. Not cake-y but smooth as a pound of butter, the chocolate portion resembles fudge, and plays as counterpoint to the butterscotch accent. 

Although more home-spun than high-glam, Nage acquits itself quite well with a menu that is a mix of haute eats and homey fare. The chef’s trick is to mix it up a bit, as you find with its playful menu. Even the baked oysters appetizer, which might have been homespun, is a zany take on Oysters Rockfeller — Nage’s oysters come with spinach, fennel, and Asiago cheese. Then there’s the chef’s take on the classic bouillabaisse, so chock full of flavor and seafood that you’ll sigh with pleasure. Congrats, folks at Nage. You’ve hit a home run. 

Nage / 1600 Rhode Island Ave., NW; (202) 448-8005. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 6:30-10am, 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-10pm; Sat., 7-11am, 5-10pm; Sun., 7am-3pm. Dinner entrée price range: $22-$32.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.