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21 P, 2100 P St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037 (202) 223-3824 There’s a scene in the movie “Elf” where Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, is drawn into a New York City coffee shop by a sign advertising the “world’s best coffee.” Na�ve enough to believe the gimmick, he congratulates the shop workers on their achievement. From the expressions on the clerks’ faces, they clearly believe that they are looking at a half-wit. That’s a bit how we felt on our first visit to 21 P, when our waiter claimed the restaurant’s tuna tartare to be the best in D.C. Claiming to serve the best tuna tartare in Washington is almost as bold � and unbelievable � a bit of puffery as claiming to have the world’s best coffee. Did we look like we’d grown up in the North Pole? And yet, when we ordered the tartare, we were rewarded with plump morsels of fresh tuna gently spiked with sesame oil and heaped on a plate drizzled with spicy wasabi dressing. So fresh. So light. So simple. Sophisticated, but not at all fussy. If not the best tuna tartare in the city, it was certainly the best we’d had in quite a while. That’s just the beginning of the praiseworthy items at 21 P � the new Dupont Circle venture from the team behind Herndon, Va.’s SBC Cafe. There is a luscious corn tamale adorned with seafood in a creamy ancho chile sauce; a heaping plate of succulent duck breast with strawberry sauce and sweet potato mash; and for dessert, a velvety chocolate mousse in an espresso mug. Soups are also a strong suit for 21 P chef Mark Sakuta. The conch chowder has a bright tang and teems with potatoes, tomatoes, and tender conch morsels. A smoky seafood gumbo abounds with firm bites of shrimp and scallops. A bowl of either and a bread basket heaping with corn bread and foccaccia makes a perfect starter or a cozy meal. At lunch, the restaurant’s menu features an array of interesting salads and sandwiches. The restaurant’s take on a New Orleans muffalatta � a traditional sandwich of Italian meats, cheeses, and olive spread � could have used twice as much olive salad, but was otherwise agreeable. A Cuban sandwich, plump with pit ham and roast pork, also needed an extra dash of spread � in this case mustard. But both sandwiches were warm and toasty. And we enjoyed dining out at lunch for $8 to $10 a person, instead of paying the inflated lunch prices of so many upscale restaurants. At dinner, 21 P shows a penchant for large portions, robust sauces, and imaginative presentations. Unfortunately, many entrees, while grand in size, fail to live up to their grandiose billing. Over several meals, our most-common gripe was that dishes simply did not match their menu descriptions. The coffee-crusted New York strip with habanero sauce and chipotle whipped cream is, in the final analysis, just a succulent steak. Was there coffee in the seasoning? Maybe a bit, though, we couldn’t taste it. And the dollop of cream perched on the steak had no peppery kick or chipotle smokiness. Similarly, tandoori-crusted rack of lamb, though tender and juicy, lacked the promised zing of Middle Eastern spices. Servers tend to talk up the korobuta pork, describing it as the kobe beef of the pig world. But unlike the tuna tartare, which exceeded our expectations, the pork was a bit of a letdown. The top-shelf meat had been overcooked and the side dishes � squash puree and green beans � showed little inspiration. In comparison, it is Sakuta’s simpler dishes that shine. Pan roasted rockfish atop a mound of fennel-specked potatoes is a delight. The fish, at once crisp and moist, gets a boost from sunny saffron sauce and a snappy olive-tomato salsa. When it comes to dessert, the best bets are all chocolate � that silken chocolate pot du creme in an espresso cup is a winner, as is a chocolate-mint molten cake. We were less taken with a white chocolate, Heath Bar bread pudding. And be prepared: While entrees tend to be oversized, the desserts are often just big enough for two or three bites. Three months after the restaurant’s opening, service is still uneven. On one Saturday night visit, we were seated in a darkened back room with no other diners. Our server insisted on making desperate guesses as to which plate belonged to whom without ever once getting it right. But on another weekend night, we brought in a large group, and the service was efficient and gracious. Despite the occasional misstep � a mixed green salad garnished with one (yes, just one) walnut comes to mind � everyone enjoyed themselves. Our No. 1 recommendation: the tuna tartare. Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times . Phillip Dub� is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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