Shrimp and Grits at Roof Bethesda, photo by Carole Sugarman

Roof Bethesda opened in late December with high expectations, and not just because the second floor restaurant perches over downtown Bethesda.  

Owner Alan Pohoryles and Chef Jed Fox—whose impressive resume includes stints at the Inn at Little Washington, Bistro Bis and Ris—promised this was to be a serious eatery, with a lively rooftop bar above it.

But my first meal there was so forgettable that I went back for a second taste, thinking the dinner was just a fluke. Lunch was an improvement compared to the first go-round, but Pohoryles recognized me, and perhaps that had something to do with it.  

At both meals, however, the cooking came across as clunky and heavy-handed. At dinner, the trout amandine arrived with a gloppy lemon-caper sauce reminiscent of institutional fare, the kale salad’s almond-tahini dressing provided a gluey coating, and at lunch, and scallops were overcooked and over-salted.

The mussels’ bath of white wine and smoked tomato broth was wan and only faintly smoky; a few days later I demolished a similarly-titled rendition at Chevy Chase-D.C.’s Blue 44 that was about a thousand times better. There, Chef James Turner packs a flavorful punch by sautéing the mollusks in Jack’s Hard Cider, roasted shallot butter, garlic, leeks and noticeably smoky tomatoes.

I made another comparison with shrimp and grits. Roof’s version had nicely creamy grits and decent shrimp, but the smoked tomato sofrito and bland homemade chorizo added little oomph. There was just something klutzy about the whole dish. A couple days later, I had the much-better-executed Creole-spiced shrimp and chipotle Gouda grits at Potomac’s Tavern at River Falls.

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After a bizarre dinnertime banana parfait dessert—it not only came in two separate dishes, but the salted caramel ice cream and pudding-like banana mixture were totally mismatched—lunch time brought a homey and fruit-packed blackberry and pear cobbler, served with ginger ice cream. It worked.  

I can only hope that as time goes on, Roof’s cooking will be elevated to a higher level.

7940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 240-245-7663, www.roofbethesda.com   

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