Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Restaurant Eve - 01/26/2010

110 South Pitt Street
Alexandria ,VA 22314
(703) 706-0450

During our first meal in DC our waitress mentioned some of her favorite restaurants including one Restaurant Eve about one mile away from my hotel in Alexandria. The restaurant is owned by Cathal Armstrong, a self-taught chef from Dublin Ireland along with his wife Meshelle. The Armstrongs are pretty much the culinary first family of Alexandria. Along with Restaurant Eve, named after the couple's first child, they also own Eamonn's, a Dublin style fish and chip joint named after their son. Co-located with Eamonn's is PX an upscale semi-secret speakeasy with partner/sommelier Todd Thrasher. If that wasn't enough the couple also lead the charge to reopen The Majestic rustic American cafe that has been part of Alexandria since 1932.

Back to Restaurant Eve, the exterior is almost completely nondescript except for a small sign and I actually walked right past the restaurant while looking for it initially. The interior is divided into three distinct parts, a lounge, bistro, and tasting room. The lounge and bistro offer a more casual dining experience while the tasting room offers 5,7, and 9 course menus. I originally tried to get a reservation for Saturday or Sunday but the dining room was booked the whole night through. Finally on a whim I called Tuesday and was able to get a seat.

First up was a trio of canapes.
Quail Egg with Caviar - A nice study in contrast between the dense egg white and the almost whipped airy yolk. The caviar helps to add accents of salinity to the unseasoned egg.
Rabbit Liver Mousse with Cranberry Gelée - Easily the most pungent liver I have had in recent memory and perhaps ever, though the cranberry helped temper the blistering gaminess somewhat.
Ham and Cheese Fritter - Like breakfast all rolled into one bite, biting through the crunchy shell yields a bounty of molten cheese and savory ham.

Amuse: Heart of Palm - with Cilantro, Coconut, and Australian Finger Lime
On its own the Heart of Palm had a firm texture and root-like sweetness. The cilantro was integral in drawing the vegetal characters of the heart out while the lime added a nice citrus counterbalance. This was my first experience with Australian Finger Lime, the vesicles have a caviar-like appearance and the burst with a crisp pop and sudden rush of flavor.

Intermezzo: Champagne Gelée - with Frozen Satsuma Orange, topped with Lemon-Rosemary Espuma
I know its a bit early to be having palate cleansers but when they are this good I don't mind. The frozen Satsuma screams for attention with a tooth numbing chill and impossibly dense texture. Add to this the subtle flavor of champagne and a sweet herbaceous foam and the result is absolutely superb.

Bread - Ciabatta, Honey Wheat, and Pumpernickel
All three breads came piping hot with a nice crisp exterior and moist center. Especially delicious with the Kerrygold butter, my new favorite butter, though I had to restrain myself for fear of filling up on bread.

01: Cured Steelhead Trout - with Meyer Lemon Crisp, Candied Ginger, and Meyer Lemon-Grilled Peanut Vinaigrette
Absolutely superb, the fish was exceedingly fresh with a rich fleshy texture and delicate brine; spot on with the multifaceted acidity from the citrus marinade and the spicy sweetness of the candied ginger. I'd have devoured the whole trout if it were prepared this way.

02 "OOO" - Oysters Cippolini Onions Iranian Osetra Caviar
The name stands for "Oysters, Onions and Osetra" and is a play on the "000" rating given to Beluga caviar. My first bite of this dish was superb. The mellow oceany sweetness of the oyster comes to the fore; the caviar restores some of the natural flavor of the oyster while the cooked onion and buttery tart complete the dish offering weight and balance. My only complaint is that this course is too big. After the first bite there is no more oyster, which leaves the diner with a glorified onion tart. Either add more oysters or shrink the course

03: Root Beer
Next up was the "Root Beer," actually terrine of foie gras with root beer, apple diamonds, and a milk tuile. Nothing subtle about this course, the terrine itself was superb buttery soft and intensely rich. The root beer adds a general sweetness but I doubt I would have recognized it as root beer had I not been forewarned. Quite enjoyable though preferably in small amounts.

04: Butter Poached Maine Lobster - with Baby Parsnips and Parsnip Purée
Like the previous course, the lobster is an upgrade from the standard 9-course but I consider the extra $15 money well spent for the spectacularly succulent sweet lobster tail poached in more of that delicious Kerrygold butter. A bit on the sweet side when taken with the parsnips but so delicious on its own that I hardly touched the root vegetable anyway.

05: Pan Fried Veal Sweetbreads - with Brussels Sprouts, Baby Turnips and Cumin Vinaigrette
I mentioned that I was looking forward to this course all night which drew a smile from my waitress. She then told me of the difficulty getting diners to try sweetbreads. One time when she forced a customer to try the sweetbreads and he agreed as long as she called it something else when she brought it to the table. The waitress presented the sweetbreads as fried chicken which turned out to be a better fit than I first expected. The initial crispiness gives way to a dense pillowy interior. The liberal sprinkling of rosemary and bitterness from the sprouts help counter the offaly weight of the sweetbreads.

06: Broken Arrow Ranch Venison - with Chestnut Purée, Crosnes and Shallot Marmalade
The deep redness of the meat had me expecting a strong gaminess but this turned out to be quite mild, almost more like a rare steak then deer. As with any good piece of meat, the venison was better enjoyed alone, letting its natural flavor come to the fore.

07: Bavarois of Cachel Blue with Apple Vinaigrette, Blue Cheese Crisp and Pecans
I find the absolute best cheese courses are those where the kitchen does something different from the traditional cheese plate and this was no exception. The dense Bavarian Creme was substantially milder than pure cheese, reminiscent of a sweet custard tinged with the essence of blue cheese and a great lead in to dessert.

Pre-Dessert: Religieuse - filled with coffee-cardamom cream and topped with caramel glaze and creme mousseline
Apparently the name of this pastry comes from the fact it looks like the habit worn by French nuns. Regardless of the name, it was delicious, particularly the interplay between the spicy bitter filling and the creamy sweet topping.

Champagne Sabayon, Blood Oranges and Minted Tapioca
This dessert reminded me of toothpaste, slightly chalky and minty with the blood orange adding jarring flashes of intense citrus.

Chocolate Tasting
On the menu this was listed as a chocolate soufflé but the chef decided to do something special for me. This was a study of chocolate in a myriad of types and textures. Most were fairly classic but he one standout was the white chocolate beignet with risotto filling.

Restaurant Eve easily lived up to and surpassed my expectations. For someone evidently proud of his Irish heritage, Chef Armstrong's grasp of French cuisine is second to none. I think Restaurant Eve would be a strong contender in DC and easily dominates the pack in Alexandria. As with Central, time constraints severely limited my time at Restaurant Eve and the staff had me racing through the 9-course in just under two hours. If I am ever in the area again I'd like to revisit the tasting room under less rushed circumstances and give the menu the consideration it deserves.


uhockey said...

Dining at Eve in 3 weeks - along with many of DC's other top tables. Looking at your meal and receipt I do have a question - was the 9 course "spontaneous/chef's whim" as per the website, or did you compose it from menu items? I ask because of the supplement costs.

Epicuryan said...

The 9 course was spontaneous though the chef may include some menu items as well.

The restaurant offers the 9-course for $150. The supplemental costs basically replace two of the courses with more luxurious ones.