On The Mark
MARK AND ORLANDO’S
[from November 2006 issue]


In case you didn't know it, this duplex restaurant location has had a former life, at one point as a pan-Asian eatery that was a favorite stopping place for assorted pals who dug the kitchen's noodle dishes. Today, all that is changed, for what was once Asian is now decidedly first-rate American with a two-pronged menu: one for fancier eats, and one for more casual fare. And the setting matches: Upstairs, apparently it's shirtsleeves and TV, while downstairs it's dressy enough for Ladies Who Lunch.

That's who gathered in the cheery, first floor one recent noonday -- ladies talking business, ladies eating solo, ladies chatting with friends. It's hard to picture a gentler place to break the business of the day -- polite and prompt service, a genuinely interesting menu with thoughtfully prepared dishes, and a cozy atmosphere minus all the hubbub of DC's power places. Yes, you can see why M and O's is becoming a Dupont Circle fixture. Only wish we'd gotten a chance to lunch upstairs to try out the more casual “Mark's Menu.”

Never mind. Who can quibble with Orlando's take on lunch, starting with the very unusual grits cake fortified with goat cheese and crisped in a hot skillet. Served on a bed of shaved fennel that resembles a quirky coleslaw and encircled with a creamy ancho sauce, the cake is a first-rate appetizer. If Orlando served two of these, this appetizer easily could become a light lunch entree. My only complaint, if such it is: more shaved fennel, please. What an interesting taste counterpoint to the savory, crunchy grits.

As for appetizers, Orlando -- for it is he who does the cooking, though it's not clear whether that extends to Mark's Menu as well -- seemingly won't take no for an answer. Other choices include a classic Caesar (it's always temptation to discover the infinite variations on this theme); a smoked fish plate; a roasted tomato lager soup, which may be phased out now that tomato season has ended; and a roasted beet salad with lamb's lettuce and walnut vinaigrette.

Lunchtime entrées do include sandwich and salad selections, but the heartier, more formal dishes pose some really difficult choices. I suppose on a chillier day the obvious selection would have been the lobster pot pie, for its very name suggests crackling fires, hot spiced tea, and woolly socks. But when the weather remains fair, it's hard to refuse a lamb leg steak -- tender, juicy, and rare -- accompanied by caramelized Brussels sprouts that are bathed in a sherry vinegar sauce. These are so good that I almost asked the waiter to bring seconds. And Orlando's natural chicken breast or the Alaskan halibut might have been a choice as well, but lamb cooked any way always wins in my book.

If you want lighter fare, Orlando offers a crab cake sandwich with house-cut fries, a crayfish salad with onions and julienned Granny Smith apples, and a grilled house-ground cheeseburger on a sesame brioche, plus more. All this emphasizes the chef's ability to take standard lunchtime fare, add a twist, and come up with something out of the ordinary.

Desserts get the same thoughtful treatment, and Orlando's presentations skip past the obvious to include such sweets as a bourbon-infused bread pudding and a flourless chocolate cake with house-made ice cream. To satisfy curiosity, I ordered the fresh fruit tart, expecting a tartlet shell filled with lemon curd and a sprinkling of berries. Instead, what comes is so much more tempting: a slice of a thick crumb-crusted pie topped with a custardy filling and baked berries. Tossing calorie care out the window, I ate nearly the whole thing and went away pleased and guilty.

Dinnertime's menu simply expands on the lunch theme, with some of the same players, but converted into bigger dishes, and others that switch to more serious fare. That's only fitting for a place that appeals to dinnertime crowds wanting a dressier meal and more to write home about. All in all, it's easy to see why these two partners, Mark Medley and Orlando Hitzig, have made a name for themselves in the very competitive DC dining scene. Come once. Come often. Linger and enjoy.

Mark and Orlando's / 2020 P St., NW; 223-8463. Hours: lunch, Mon-Fri., 11:30-2:30pm; lunch entrée price range, `$10-$16. Dinners nightly starting at 5:30pm. Major credit cards accepted.

Copyright (c) 2006 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §107.

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.


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