Flavor // Love on Monday Night

Don’t you love it when this happens? You sidle into a café and the host seems truly overjoyed to see you — offers you a choice of tables (on the cushy plush banquette, please, and right next to the window). Springs to honor your request to adjust the music’s volume to ease conversation, then checks back. And entrusts you to a waiter whose seeming goal in life is to orchestrate a pleasant evening. I love this restaurant! And I haven’t even seen the menu. Could be cornflakes and I wouldn’t care.

Much, anyway. Fortunately, it’s about five stars above that culinary level, and I’m here on bargain night, to boot. Every Sunday and Monday evening, Cafe Maude offers a multi-choice, three-course menu plus glass of wine or beer for $25.

Not “special value items,” either. These were dishes straight off the regular list, starting with a cool pour of gazpacho: summer in a glass. Maude’s version eschews the customary tomato base for a puree of watermelon, along with cucumber and lemon to temper the potential sweetness. Then it’s mined with tiny grapes and burly croutons under a topknot of basil.

The roasted beet salad — the alternate starter — was another summer champ, composed of the signature veggies varying in size and color to excite the eye. Then, to ignite the palate, they’re strewn with soft and creamy goat cheese and a mince of toasted almonds and sent out under a drizzle of Champagne-truffle vinaigrette.

Still purring, we next went halvsies on the pair of entrees, starting with the salmon, sweet and juicy as you please. It’s served with small, sugary heirloom tomatoes, a shower of young arugula and a dollop of soft yogurt, laced with lots and lots of dill. If Maude were Swedish, she’d be rightly proud.

Loved the vermicelli, too — a tricky noodle to time because it’s whisper-thin, but someone in the kitchen got it right. Then he loaded it with juicy, slightly smoky chicken, roasted tomato chunks and a swirl of cheese-rich basil cream. Nice folks don’t lick the plate, so I refrained.

But that was even harder to resist when the chocolate torte came my direction. Talk about gilding the lily: It’s served with pistachio ice cream, a swirl of deep, dark chocolate sauce and a painting of potent, nicely non-sweet mint syrup. And the panna cotta, composed of tart, malleable Greek yogurt, proved nearly as beguiling, attended by blackberries and slices of roast peach.

Even the wines were winners — an amber, crisp and fruity vinho verde from Portugal and an Argentinean sangiovese, full of depth. Maude, I love you!

Café Maude
5411 Penn Avenue S.