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West 24 Washington, D.C. On Election Day, Democratic strategist James Carville and wife Mary Matalin, the Republican pundit, dished out their standard partisan fare to Katie Couric on the “Today” show. But instead of holing up in the local NBC affiliate, the pair bantered with the show’s host from their four-month-old eatery, West 24. In the restaurant business, where buzz is everything, you couldn’t ask for a better recipe. And West 24, nestled in the ground level of an office building and surrounded by hotels, needs a good buzz. It welcomes visitors with brightly colored festoons and folksy, if sometimes fumbled, service — the kind of place where your appetizer and soup might arrive at the same time or at almost exactly the same time, but both will taste good. For power lunchers who don’t mind such flubs or who won’t obsessively check their watches while waiting 15 minutes for someone to set their reserved table, be sure to sample the smoked trout appetizer ($7.75), but skip the pickled cucumber salad with which it is served. A brothy tomato and bread soup has a delicious bite to it, while the spicy chicken and sausage gumbo — a signature dish from the Ragin’ Cajun’s homeland — is a perfect example of the southern American dishes prepared by chef James Reppuhn of Red Sage and the Ritz Hotels fame. Yet the real gem of the lunch menu is the fried oyster po’ boy ($9.95). The buttermilk-fried oysters are served on a baguette with lettuce and tomato. It’s messy, but oh, so worth it. The roasted pork loin stuffed with pears and raisins ($10.75) is worth a try, but only for those lunchers who skipped breakfast and are planning to eat a piece of celery for dinner. “I’m sorry” is something you might hear at West 24. For example, I wouldn’t know about the apparently very popular fish and chips ($9.25) or the roasted turkey breast sandwich ($9.25) because, on a recent visit, both items were sold out. West 24 seems like a great place to hold a party. In fact, on one November evening, reservations were unattainable because of a private gathering. At a recent birthday bash for an unnamed Washington lobbyist, Carville dropped by, bid her a bonne anniversaire, and continued making the rounds. That’s pretty tough to beat. The mini-appetizers — including yummy crab cakes — were a big hit with the crowd. West 24 has two private dining rooms, as well as an outdoor area for functions in the warmer months. The walls in the main dining room are a hip blend of bright yellow and deep purple hues, adorned with similarly colored impressionistic-style paintings. The crowd for dinner is a mix of couples, business diners, and those lonely souls buried in a book — the types you most often see in a hotel restaurant — a feeling that West 24 is desperately trying to eschew. The roasted jumbo shrimp and andouille sausage appetizer ($9.75) served with grits and succotash just had too much going on. The shrimp themselves were good, but shrimp and crispy grits should be kept apart. By far, the best part of my dinner was the watercress salad ($7.25). If for no other reason, go to West 24 for one of the best salads in town: watercress, baby pears and blue cheese, topped with a pear-sherry vinaigrette. Try it with a bottle of the medium-bodied Louis Jadot Pouilly Fusse ($44). Stick with the fish for dinner, especially the pan-roasted cod ($17.95). The venison ($21), which comes with a cranberry relish and baby turnips, hinted too strongly of game. Diners with a serious sweet tooth who can slip into a food coma after the meal will enjoy the warm chocolate-pecan brownie ($6). The apple-raisin cobbler ($6) has a nice flavor with hints of cinnamon, but for an eatery where hearty proportions predominate, the teaspoon-sized dollop of maple ice cream is just plain insufficient. Throughout dinner, the waitress appropriately treated me, a female dining with a male, as the hostess — one of those intangibles about which I could gush this entire column. I hate it when, at the end of a meal, a waitperson assumes the check belongs in the grip of the man and out of my reach.Restaurant: West 24 Location: 1250 24th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. Reservations: (202) 331-1100 Hours: Lunch served Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner served Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Reporter Kate Ackley covers lobbying for Legal Times and its affiliate newsletter, Influence.

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