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Overrun by college students, the Peacock Cafe in Georgetown is loved by regulars because it isn’t complicated. It’s a grocery-cum-cafeteria glorified by some round marble tables. The Peacock’s sandwiches, served on baguettes and generally given a twist, be it a wedge of avocado or a smear of tomato pesto, are enough to make you feel sophisticated, but waiters are the only unnecessary luxury you pay for. The soups and salads are good enough that you could bring a date, and cheap enough that you could offer to pay. Order fresh juice or coffee and you could waste a day in the Cafe being creatively unproductive. The Cafe even sells gum.
But at some point, usually when you start to make as much as college costs per year, you start to want more out of a restaurant. Peacock has opened a new location for grown-ups, this time a bistro. The Peacock Bistro is closer to downtown and more likely to cater to people with jobs. (Judging by the number of different ways she promises to “act more professional,” one woman has chosen the Bistro as the place she’ll try to talk her way out of getting fired.) The Bistro and Cafe may share a name, but you’d never confuse the two on sight. The Bistro’s dining room is stylish, its walls awash in soft orange and yellow, with floor-to-ceiling windows I wish opened onto the patio. The new Peacock, like the old, offers fresh squeezed juice from the bar, but booze is also available, and the wine specials excuse the absence of gum at the cash register.
My first visit to the Bistro is awkward. I lose track of exactly how many waiters, but at least two try to push a pineapple-papaya smoothie on us even though our table is already covered with juice, coffee, and water. The Jimmy Stewart is pleasant, though 20 minutes seems like a long time to wait for a cold sandwich of avocado, cucumber, carrots, feta cheese, and alfalfa sprouts. An herb vinaigrette is rumored to come with the spinach salad, but after finishing half a plate we can’t tell what the dressing tastes like—or even confirm that any was used at all. The black bean soup screams for hot sauce to give it life. We find so many foreign objects in what we order (hair mostly, we think, but also some pasta in the french fries) that my friend wonders why the waiters didn’t “pluck the food” before bringing it out.
After the initial disaster, the Bistro seems to hit a groove. As well it should: The Bistro’s sandwiches, salads, and appetizers are virtually the same as those offered at the Cafe, albeit slightly more expensive. The best sandwiches are vegetarian, in particular the Paul Newman—pesto, warm brie, tomato, sprouts, and roasted eggplant and pepper—and the light egg salad. The restaurant always offers soups of the day (the chunky vegetable, in fact, had the honor three days running), and usually one is served cold. On a hot day, the Bistro’s cantaloupe soup—think upscale applesauce—is a delight you could suck down with a straw. The combination meal of a steamy spinach-feta croissant and either soup or salad makes a great quick lunch. And at $5.50 it’s a bargain.
The new Peacock’s qualifications as a bistro are suspect (wheat tacos—how French!), but its entrees certainly qualify the restaurant as something greater than a cafe. I make it a habit to order the squid ink ribbon pasta only for the waiter to tell me the kitchen has run out of it and recommend something else. One time, that something else is the sage linguini, a rich plate of pasta with chicken sausage, artichokes, and tomato. Another time, I’m steered toward the grilled tuna niçoise, a plump hunk of char-smoked fish with Calamata olives and tangy tomato relish. By the time the waiter finally admits that the Bistro no longer serves the squid ink pasta, I don’t much care. The flank steak marinated in vinaigrette and served over greens holds my attention just fine. And the grilled prime ribeye, served with the Bistro’s wonderfully delicate string onion rings, is cut-with-a-fork tender and smothered in a peppy black pepper sauce.
When fans of the Peacock Cafe recommend a visit, they usually include a stipulation to keep quiet about it: “We don’t want it to get too crowded.” But if the Peacock Bistro ever becomes too crowded to be enjoyable, it will be less the fault of its food than its most redeeming feature: Shaded by trees, umbrellas, and a hotel that towers above, the Bistro’s patio is lush and astonishingly forgiving of the heat. It provides the sort of luxury mature people go out of their way to afford themselves—even if they have to wait.
Peacock Bistro, 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW. (202) 785-0011.
Decorated only by some dreamy but unflattering portraits of Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Marley, and Miles Davis, the Creole Cafe isn’t much to look at. When I inquire about eating at one of the few tables set about the place as if as an afterthought, the woman tells me to suit myself, but that “most people usually don’t.” Taking that as a suggestion to find a more bucolic setting to dine, I take my veggie roti to the street outside. On the hood of my car I enjoy a flat-bread-wrapped stir-fry of curried eggplant, zucchini, cabbage, and still-crisp carrots and broccoli. The dish is Creole by origin, says the woman, but it’s got the portability of a burrito, and the spices are ripped off from Indian cuisine. The hot pink cake is strawberry and freshly baked. But don’t get it to go—the frosting melts.
Creole Cafe, 1339 H St. NE. (202) 398-1652.
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