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15 ria, 1515 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., (202) 742-0015 As a rule, traveling diners are well-advised to skip the hotel restaurant and seek out sustenance elsewhere. But 15 ria, which opened in the Washington Terrace Hotel near Scott Circle last summer, turns that conventional wisdom on its head. At 15 ria (named for its address, 1515 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.), Chef Jamie Leeds has replaced the generic, continental cuisine that gives hotel restaurants a bad rap with stick-to-your-ribs creations like blue cheese-crusted sirloin and grilled pork chops. In fact, once you have crossed the lobby into 15 ria’s dining room, outfitted with a fireplace and oversized plum upholstery, it is easy to forget you are in a hotel at all. Leeds’ menu tends toward hearty meat dishes, but the kitchen also turns out inspired seafood and vegetarian selections. As a diner at 15 ria, no matter what your fancy, it is delightfully difficult to go wrong. The price feels right too. Entrees range from $9 to $18 at lunch and $16 to $23 at dinner. 15 ria’s hallmark — the “Meat & Two” — is a daily special served with a choice of two side dishes, comfort fare such as sauteed greens, blue cheese-drizzled onion rings, and, of course, macaroni and cheese. Meat selections vary with the season, and current offerings include duck confit on Monday; soft-shell crabs on Friday; and grilled leg of lamb on Sunday. The molasses-braised short ribs — tender and smoky with a hint of sweetness — created such demand as the Tuesday night special, 15 ria now offers them every night of the week. Ordering a skinless chicken breast in a restaurant can be an invitation for disappointment. At 15 ria, the roast boneless breast is surprisingly lovely. Cooked to perfection, the chicken is plump and juicy, topped with fragrant lemon relish. The star of the plate, however, is a white truffle mash — lumpy mashed potatoes infused with truffle oil — so decadent it’s almost sinful. When it comes to seafood, Leeds achieves robust flavor by pairing fish with smoked meat, for instance pan-roasted halibut with spring cabbage and andouille sausage or salmon with spicy corn bread pudding, morel mushrooms, and bacon. And while 15 ria may not cater to vegetarians, it doesn’t leave them hungry either. At both lunch and dinner, the wild mushroom shepherd’s pie — layers of sauteed mushrooms, wilted spinach, and mashed potatoes — proves a reliable standby. When ordering appetizers, opt for simplicity. A bitter green salad of arugula, watercress, and asiago cheese drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice tastes so fresh it might have been tossed in an Italian farmhouse. Another salad marries soft buttery lettuces with tart cherries, spicy-sweet pecans, and aged goat cheese. The daily soup selection, most recently a gusty blend of tomato and fennel, showcases the freshest produce available and rarely disappoints. Less pleasing is the fried shrimp and calamari starter with creamy cayenne dipping sauce. The bite-sized morsels, which come served in a paper cone, are a touch greasy and ultimately ordinary. Likewise 15 ria’s crabcakes, served with beets and a dollop of horseradish cream. Though well-crisped and lovely to look at, too much mayonnaise masks the delicate flavor of crab. A good deal of thought has clearly gone into 15 ria’s wine list, which is varied and affordable, offering roughly 50 selections at prices ranging from $20 to $200. The menu also includes more than 10 wines by the glass. In keeping with the latest restaurant trend, 15 ria also offers a separate bar menu featuring mini hamburgers, jalapeño hush puppies, and fanciful cocktails like berry sangria and hard root beer floats. The bar is roomy and rarely too noisy for conversation. 15 ria has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant. Service is friendly, rather than flawless. The food is flavorful, not fussy. Unfortunately, it’s missing a neighborhood proper. Not quite downtown and not quite Dupont Circle, 15 ria is simply not very convenient. It is, however, worth any small detour, and odds are you’ll find yourself coming back. Vanessa Blum is a reporter at Legal Times andPhillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling

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