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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ Nage Bistro (Courtyard Embassy Row) / 1600 Rhode Is. Ave., NW

Over the years of its DC life, Nage Bistro —- formerly known simply as Nage —- has operated under one chef or another and with somewhat mixed results. That is, until recently, when a super-energetic and highly imaginative and qualified young man stepped into the breach: His name? Dwayne Motley, and boy, can he cook.

After all, Motley’s training and experiences speak for themselves. He worked as a sous chef at NYC’s Tabla restaurant with Chef Floyd Cardoz, and later at Blue Smoke with restaurateur Danny Meyer. He has also worked under super chefs Marcus Samuelsson, Tom Colicchio, David Chang and Dan Barber. Before arriving at Nage Bistro, he also worked as the executive sous at Rosa Mexicano, confirming that he is very familiar with Latino flavors and ingredients. This culinary history certainly qualifies Motley to run a Grade-A kitchen at Nage.

With a fresh look and a new menu to tempt any DC foodie, this Scott Circle eatery, tucked into the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard Embassy Row hotel, gives off an informal, lets-eat air. No longer resembling a beach cottage that had moved in from Rehoboth Beach, where its cousin restaurant inspired this place, Nage Bistro makes a suitable destination for a casual upscale night out. Besides, it now offers private quarters for that special party, and its short but smart wine list will impress the fussiest wine drinker. Add to that the selection of specialty cocktails –- “The Pears Morgan” with vodka and a house-made pear purée is but one example —- to ignite a lively get-together.

Getting down to the fundamentals, scan through the menu and the nightly specials, and say a quiet “wow.” If Motley’s turkey dumpling soup (maybe a seasonal special) is still on offer, be sure to order that as one starter, and then add to that the fried oysters. Of course, you should probably dine here with a friend so you can really get your fill of appetizers, soups, and entrées.

For a lighter appetizer, consider the apple salad with fennel, goat cheese and red mustard greens —- a pleasing combo of sweet-tart-salty with a hint of licorice. Pair that with a serving of the salmon ceviche, Motley’s take on the Latino classic of raw fish marinated in citrus juice, usually lime, until the fish “cooks.” He sparks this dish with a jalapeño emulsion and cilantro, two typical Latino seasonings.

If you have the appetite, you might want to add on the French onion soup, which with its toasted brioche and Gruyère accents, would make a perfect setting for the upcoming order of the medium-rare pan-seared ribeye with cipollini onions and a bourbon-peppercorn butter. Add to that already over-the-top main dish a side of mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

For a very different taste experience, and a far lighter meal, select the wild striped bass with mushrooms and select greens. Other options include the lobster mac and cheese, with peas and three different melting cheeses; the Chesapeake crab cakes with sweet potatoes and mustard greens (so Southern!); and the Angus burger with mushroom duxelle, tomato jam, and Vermont cheddar. At one point in the restaurant’s early days, its burger was a big draw for the young and hungry, and this version probably has the same appeal. Hmmm…a return trip is in the cards!

All this leads up to the meal’s sweet ending. Motley has invented a clever treat that recalls childhood fireside memories, a Campfire Sundae, with (believe it or not) marshmallow ice cream, smoked vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and graham crackers, all the elements of that outdoorsy treat we all enjoyed as kids. For a more sophisticated dessert, consider the classic sticky toffee pudding, a British original, composed of dates, ice cream, and a warm toffee sauce. Yum.

Nage Bistro / Breakfast, daily 7-10:30am; Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu. 5-10:30pm., Fri. & Sat. to 9:30pm, Sun. to 9pm; Brunch, Sat.& Sun. 11am-2:30pm. (202) 448-8005; www.nagedc.com.

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.