By Ronya Misleh
We were that table. You know, the group having such a good time that they forget their inside voices.. The table behind us may have switched seats. Whatever.
It was only because we were having such a great time. And it’s important to note that not one member of the staff asked us to keep it down. That being said, the staff was very attentive…and then, not. It took some time to be seated for our 7:00 reservation, but they did seat us before our entire party arrived. One of my dining companions dropped her menu onto the floor and, before she knew it, a staff member had rushed over, picked it up for her, and asked if she would like a clean one. Attentive service, huh? Also, any time one of us got up and left the table, someone came by and refolded her napkin into a nice, fancy shape and placed in back on the table.
All that great attention and then nearly an hour for our server to take our order. All in all, we had three courses and were there for a little over four hours. Granted, some of that was because we were taking our time, celebrating our friend’s birthday. Did our server not check on us often because we looked to be having such a good time? I cannot say.
But what I can say is that the food was pretty fabulous. There were nine of us. Among us, we had a good variety of all parts of the menu and, with a good deal of confidence can say that, while everything was not the best thing we ever ate, it was all nevertheless superb and worthy of another trip to this Alexandria gem.
Let’s start with drinks. Specifically, the soda (I know, I know, in grown up world, that is not a “drink.” But it is still important!). There are specialty sodas on the menu, created by “the wizard.” For a Coke aficionado, seeing things like this made me shudder. What, do they have one of those Bed Bath and Beyond soda makers in the back? No thanks. I was happy to hear that they did, in fact, have Coke. What they failed to tell us was that it was small bottles of it, not from a fountain. Fine, whatever, I will stop whining. But, to me, this is a legitimate gripe. Now, as for real drinks…the wine menu was long and plentiful and our server was nice enough to suggest bottles instead of individual glasses—which is obviously something that is a given but it’s nice when the server acknowledges this instead of trying to get a bigger tab out of us. The cocktail menu was also not short, but it contained more drinks of the “harder” variety (whiskey was a big component in many); perhaps this is because they are a seasonal menu kind of place. Speaking of, one dining partner noted that they were still serving the fall menu, even though it was January. Which was fine, considering it was a chilly night and many of the items were very warm and comfort food-esque.
Several of us ordered appetizers. I ordered the “Tomatoes and Potatoes,” a beautiful dish that consisted of a fried green tomato, potato croquette, fried egg, melted onions, and a lemon-parsley emulsion. This was a hearty appetizer, one that, when I was finished I (1) wished I had shared (2) was glad that I didn’t. The tomato had just the right amount of crunch, emphasizing that it was just right for picking. Who wants a soggy fried green tomato? Not me. It lay atop a potato croquette that lay atop the onions and the combination worked so well together. The onions were soft and sweet and not onion like in the least. With the tartness of the tomato and the blandness (in a good way) of the potato, the flavors all melded into one delicious bite. Atop of all of this was, for me, what I expected to be the piece de resistance of the dish: the fried egg. When I see fried egg on a menu, I imagine a glorious, crisp egg white and a yolk that is just begging you to poke it with your fork so that, when you do, it just oozes its perfectly cooked yellow goodness onto all with which it shares the plate. This was, unfortunately, not what happened. I slightly stabbed the yolk. Nothing. It was cooked all the way through. This wasn’t even an over easy kind of fried egg. It was fully fried. This was a little bit disappointing, but the uniqueness of the dish made up for it. Just this once.
The Caesar salad was a hit; made tableside, with each ingredient in its own prep bowl, the recipient can pick and choose what—and how much—of each ingredient to put into the mix. The result (for these gals, without the anchovies) was a crisp, cold, and wonderfully garlicky plate of Romaine and parmesan and whatever other Caeser-y ingredients they put into the mix. No bad things to say about this one.
Probably the star of the meal was the Brussels sprouts side dish that we ordered as an appetizer. Cooked with caramelized onions and house cured lardons (a fancy French word for bacon that has been diced, blanched, and fried) this was a small plate that made its way around the table several times, for just “one more little taste.” One friend was forced to take a “no thank you bite,” just to try them. She ended up becoming their biggest fan.
We also ordered two sides of the onion rings for the table. They came with three dipping sauces (house ketchup, ranch, and a classic aioli), were super crispy (there was a heavy batter to onion ratio, leaning more heavily on the batter) and, as one friend said “a lot of fried deliciousness.”
Among us, we were able to sample five of the 11 entrees. Three of us ordered the meat loaf, which came with the creamiest mashed potatoes known to man and a side of green beans that were so delicious you could forget that they were a vegetable (the butter they were cooked in and the bacon that was mixed in with them also probably took away from their vegetable-like qualities). The plate came with two generous sized slices of the meat loaf, which was firm and not icky mushy like meatloaf has the propensity to be. The meat was juicy, but not to the point of falling apart, and well-seasoned (though it still could use a dash of salt). There was just enough pan gravy to swipe a little bit with each bite. Not one to usually “mix” my food, more than one of my forkfuls contained every component of the dish. And it was fantastic. It was even fantastic three days later when I finally got around to eating my leftovers (gross, I know. But notable that it still tasted just as good—dare I say better?—as it did when it was fresh out of the chef’s kitchen).
The twice baked potato was the draw to the Amish chicken entrée, but it turned out to be a slight dud. It was not overly flavorful or exciting, just a nice carb to have on the side of the perfectly cooked, fried breast and confit chicken with a maple glaze. The chicken was a warm, honey color that looked just as crisp and juicy as it tasted.
There were two of us who ordered the ravioli zucca. A good sized portion (I’d say each plate had about 10 wonderfully stuffed pillows of pasta), this was another dish that made the rounds. The ravioli was filled with butternut squash and topped with crushed amaretti (a classic Italian almond macaroon), parmesan, and a sage-butter sauce. It was as warm and delicious as it sounds, a light pasta dish for sure. The flavors were all delicate and smooth and even if you ate the whole dish—which was easy to do—you weren’t left feeling full and icky (as pasta, no matter how delicious going down, often makes you feel).
Another dish whose sides were the draw—in this case, the parsnips—was the crab stuffed flounder. The medley of parsnips, carrots, and pearl onions did not disappoint. Full of flavors of the fall, the dish was homey and comfy, warm and delicious. The fish was flavored well and flaked off with just small encouragement from the fork. The crab stuffing was also plentiful, spilling out of its flounder vessel. The crab harkened back to summer flavors but was quickly reined back in with a bite of parsnip. It was a wonderful combination.
The venison was also a non-regretful choice. Cooked to a nice medium rare, it was juicy and served alongside a sweet onion-cranberry marmalade, mustard greens, and turnips, with a juniper sauce accompaniment. Definitely a fall themed selection. The greens were tart and were well complemented by the sweetness of the juniper sauce. And the onion-cranberry marmalade was an interesting and well-received take on your traditional, Thanksgiving cranberry sauce.
Our final entrée—never thought we’d get here, did you?—was actually an appetizer for an entrée: the housemade kielbasa with caraway scented sauerkraut. This was just the right size for a mini-meal, especially if you order an appetizer or another first course first. It had a beautiful presentation. The sauerkraut, which often can take over a dish, was tangy but not overpowering. The kielbasa was also well-prepared and it was obvious that it was homemade.
What’s a birthday celebration without dessert? By far, the coconut cake stole the show, a multi-tiered, beautiful slice of sweetness. Served with a coconut anglaise, it was more than adequate size for sharing. The Majestic coconut cake lived up to its name and then some.
We also tried the pecan pie. Served with a scoop of homemade salted caramel gelato that could have doubled for a salt lick, the pie was nothing special. It was more filling than pecan, more sweet than balanced. The salted caramel gelato was a nice touch, as a sweet and salty dessert is such a great treat, especially when well executed. But this selection’s flavor proportions were off.
The double chocolate bundt cake could have done without the cherry-port sauce and could have done with some homemade whipped cream. Or hot fudge. Or, both. The cake itself was an extremely large sized slice and was moist, but it was also very dense. The pistachio brittle may have been the dish’s best component (and they were generous in its presentation).
The key lime pie was fresh perfection. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had a key lime tree in the back. Yes, in January. The candied tangerines and the lime infused whipped cream just carried on the crisp citrus taste. The pie itself was cold and creamy and firm, indicating that the pastry chef knows the proper consistency for such a dessert.
As the sweethearts of the Alexandria dining scene, Cathal Armstrong and his wife, Meshell, know what they’re doing. With four restaurants, a speakeasy, and the new Society Fair, they have a lot of momentum. And, based on the quality of their food, the variety of their menu, and their commitment to their community, its no wonder that their dining rooms remain full. And loud.
911 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314 | 703.837.9117
Read More of Ronya Misleh’s reviews at Telling It Like It Is