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1343 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. 530-8844 Sitting just south of Dupont Circle, Caf� Citron is a restaurant that belies its seemingly refined European name. The small, narrow space offers a festive and informal atmosphere, with the bright colors, overhead fans, and background Latin music combining to create an interesting, unusual, and generally welcoming ambiance. This relaxed atmosphere, whether at lunchtime, Happy Hour, or dinner, is backed up with a generous selection of beers and tropical drinks, from the freshly made (not mix-based) margaritas, to Cuban Mojitos, to three varieties of the Brazilian Caipirinha. The menu embraces the tropical/Latin American flavor in a broad and somewhat unusual mix of selections, including the ceviche (an appetizer of marinated raw shrimp and fish), the Caribbean sub sandwich (strips of chicken cooked in jerk seasoning with onions and bell peppers), the Vegetales al Coco (vegetables cooked in coconut milk and spices), and the Chorizo a Caballo (grilled Argentine spicy sausage topped with two fried eggs, peppers, onions, and tomatoes). This last entree is part of an unusual brunch menu served throughout the day. A nice opener for lunch or dinner is the vegetarian quesadilla, a light mixture of cheese and fresh peppers, zucchini, squash, corn, tomatoes, and onions. The Relleno de Papa (potato cake stuffed with beef and spices and served with pico de gallo salsa) was also tasty, although one might have been left asking “Where’s the beef?” since one was hard pressed to find much of it. Its absence, however, did not harm and may have even benefited the taste. A third appetizer, the Platanos Maduros (sliced fried plantains) was delicious and served with a spicy dipping sauce that balanced the sweet fruit. Yet it was very filling and had more of a dessert quality. Unfortunately, not everything on the menu lived up to expectation or description. For instance, the Aji de Rabo (oxtail stew) was flavorful and came with a generous portion of rice, but it presented a challenge to the oxtail neophyte struggling for an easy way to remove enough meat from the bones to provide a filling lunch. The Aji de Pollo (chicken stew) might have proved a better choice. The mixed fajitas was disappointing, the taste overwhelmed by a heavy pepper seasoning that left virtually everything, from the peppers and onions to the beef and chicken tasting virtually identical and not particularly savory. The Fajitas Vegetarianas was slightly better, if only because the variety of vegetables was greater and the seasoning somewhat less overpowering. The Escabeche de Pescade (grilled fish medallions marinated in vinegar with tomatoes, onions, and peppers) offers a perfect example of the disconnect between message and meal that Caf� Citron sometimes sends. Although extremely tender and very tasty, the fish was a fillet rather than medallions, and appeared to be pan-seared, rather than — or at least in addition to — being grilled. The generous portion was served with rice and a salad. But the salad, made up mostly of iceberg lettuce, was less enticing, topped with avocado pieces that were broken rather than cut and with large chunks of hearts of palm thrown in. To add to the disappointment, a side salad, ordered separately, proved a duplication because neither the menu nor the waiter mentioned that the identical salad came with the meal. Though uneven, service at Caf� Citron was cheerful, reinforcing its almost laid-back island-style atmosphere. In general, the lunch-time meal and service was stronger than the dinner’s, and worth a midday or Happy Hour trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of law firm life. It’s no lemon. Appetizers: $3.95 to $6.95; sandwiches: $6.95 to $7.75; entrees: $7.95 to $11.95. Lunch for two: $20 to $30; dinner for two (including drinks): $40 to $60. Alexander Wohl is a D.C.-based lawyer and writer.

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