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Posted at 5:57 PM ET, 03/19/2008

Dinner Hopping Near the Verizon Center

By Julia Beizer

A trip to the Verizon Center usually means an after-game drink or dish at a few reliable spots, like Matchbox, Clyde's or Jaleo. This month, newcomers Leeloo and Asia Nine jumped into the fray. Earlier this week, a friend and I brought empty bellies along to scope out the new neighbors.

Stop One: Leeloo Lounge & Restaurant
Set on the less-traveled Sixth Street side of the Verizon Center (and down the block from a Burger King), Leeloo has an understated exterior. Imposing black doors make it look almost closed. But once you get inside, white tablecloths and festive red napkins await.

A big bowl of "mojito calamari" and a heaping platter of ceviche (served on a lettuce leaf) proved to be more than ample appetizers. At first bite, the calamari had the typical rubbery-fried taste of most squid-and-marinara dishes, but subsequent pieces revealed a sweet sauce. Not sure I'd characterize the sugary kick as "mojito," but the more complex flavor livened up what threatened to be a standard appetizer. A main course of strip steak and sauteed vegetables in a subtle cumin sauce delivered the Latin flavors the restaurant promotes on its Web site.

Our waiter/bartender was divine and catered to our every need, but this could have been because we were the only people in the restaurant. That's right -- just us and a guy who worked at a nearby bar and stopped in for a drink. Okay, so the place just opened. And it was St. Patrick's Day. And a Monday. And there was a game going on. The service merits another evaluation on a busier evening.

My only gripe about Leeloo was the music. Bumpin' pop tunes filtered in through the speakers -- not too loudly, but just audible. Perhaps if the restaurant were more full, the clubbed-out Mary J. Blige remixes wouldn't have seemed quite so out of place next to the classy tablecloths and the flat-screens over the bar showing CNN.

Stop Two: Asia Nine
You wouldn't know it from the office-building exterior, but Asia Nine is surprisingly large inside. A sushi bar and a regular bar are set in opposite corners of the room, and tiny mod spotlights lend a futuristic vibe. The menu relies heavily on Thai recipes and sushi, but dishes from across Asia make an appearance as well.

We sampled an adequate spicy tuna roll and a bland stir-fried Thai noodle dish called Gway Tiew, but the spicy Sukothai Noodle soup was the highlight of our meal. The broth, brimming with rice noodles, was a steal at $10.

Then it was time to explore the cocktail menu. A purplish lychee martini had just a touch of sweetness; a fruity tropical cocktail dubbed "One Night in Bangkok" was at the opposite end of the spectrum. The blue, coconut-flavored drink had a candy-like appeal, but wasn't too syrupy going down.

For a full run-down of the food, check out Tom Sietsema's First Bite column in next Wednesday's Food Section.

--Julia

By Julia Beizer  | March 19, 2008; 5:57 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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