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August 2006

Viridian Restaurant

It's pretty rare that I write about a restaurant that I visit during Restaurant Week. Restaurants are so packed at this time of the year; they're often not in top form; and it's hard to tell if the hurried service and slow kitchen are a normal occurrence or just a result of...Restaurant Week.

When I was at Viridian on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (yes, all three days) during Restaurant Week, I didn't witness any of those complaints. Other than the "Restaurant Week" heading on the menu pointing out the special, you wouldn't know...and not only was the full, normal menu available, but there were no up-charges.

Servers were gracious each time we were there, even on the second night when we took Noah with us. Noah was in a rare (for him) cranky form and was being a complete pill -- impatient, squirming, and screaming out often. Despite this, every waiter or bus person that went by made it a point to say hello to Noah and smile at him. I know he's the most adorable baby in the world and all, but I've never witnessed this at any other restaurant.

We were rushed to finish our meal, and our server recognized that we were a little stressed. Our waitress handed us dessert menus while we still had our entrees: "Please don't take this as a sign that I am hurrying you out, but you look like you want to get out of here."

"Thank you! Yes we do!" We replied.

Our check was on the table soon after we received our desserts.

The following day for brunch, our server was again very friendly to Noah, and even took the time to make an origami crane for him...BWAH?!? What world have I suddenly been transported to? Some perfect world for diners with children?

Okay, so the service was great. Get it?

Got it.

The food was refreshingly good, and fresh, organic ingredients are the highlight of the menu at Viridian. While so many other restaurants serve their steak with some combination of mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and/or spinach, Viridian serves theirs with cippolini onions, figs (not dried -- there's an amazing difference), crispy watercress and a sweet port mustard sauce. Ok, so it's not super dramatically different from what you can get elsewhere, but it's kind of like that change-up pitch that you get after three straight fastballs.

A barramundi with crispy skin like it came out of a deep fryer, beet risotto, lobster and an original beet-ginger reduction sauce was a highlight. Order the cool and refreshing (yes, I used that word again) watermelon soup if you like cold soups. It's given a creamy texture by adding a champagne sorbet to the bowl before pouring the soup in front of you.

I didn't love everything I ate at Viridian, though. I'd suggest ordering the tartare appetizer for the steak and not the tuna. While the lean raw steak is 100% creamy and salty goodness, the tuna is a letdown in comparison in its blandness. And while the beat salad sounds (and looks) like it should be a sure winner, it falls flat on the taste buds.

However, I have yet to try all of the dishes on the menu, and sadly the menu changes on the first of every month, so most likely I won't be able to try the trout with gazpacho and blue crab or the gnocchi with chanterelles. Or maybe I'll luck out and the chef will still have a variation of them on the menu again.

Either way, I don't think that Chef Antonio Burrell is trying to make every diner love each and every dish they eat, but rather he's trying to go for a wide variety of tastes. I'm sure when I return, and the menu has changed, I'll find something new that I'll love -- like the flat iron steak or barramundi -- and there will probably be dishes that I'm not as crazy about. But I imagine that I'll leave happy either way.

Viridian Restaurant
1515 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
Web Site

Corkage: Allowed
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street: Street Parking or Park in the lot for $10.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle or U Street. It's a hike from either.
Reservations: Taken.
Baby friendly rating: 3.5 Diapers. As I said before, the servers seem to love kids.


It was a humid Thursday evening when Amy and I found ourselves at a local Tenleytown restaurant called Dahlia. Dahlia replaced the mostly unknown Finding Someone Who's Been There Is Like Finding A Needle In A Haystack Meglio's, or maybe it was called Melio's. I forget. I never went.

Late in the day, I had made arrangements for a babysitter since I never like to take Noah to a restaurant the first time I visit, mostly for fear of the unknown, but also because I sometimes like to see how places treat people with children and without. Luckily, my babysitter had turned me down the night before and "owed" me, otherwise that night I might have found myself playing "Ridin' on a Horsey" and singing along to Dan Zanes' Choo Choo Ch' Boogie for the millionth time instead.

Parking, in what is by day a very packed parking lot, was fairly easy to find around dinnertime. We had a reservation, but didn't need it because the dining room was mostly empty -- save for maybe four or five tables, one of which seemed to be the chef's parents for whom he brought out plate after plate of interesting combinations from the menu all night.

Other than the chef's parents, it was an extremely mixed clientele: a pair of young college girls, one wearing a skirt that was way to short too be wearing out in public, as she was forced to yank it down each time she jumped up to look for her boyfriend, for fear that she was flashing the entire restaurant, an older couple decked out in a wool suit and tie and a formal dress suit with evening pearls, and another couple in t-shirts and shorts. All were treated with the same respect and courteous service that we received.

Our dinner began with a summery salad of fresh mozzarella, mango, arugula, and prosciutto, which most likely gets its influence from the street food of prosciutto and melon, and is even better. The lone special for the night was a bruschetta with smoked salmon, pesto, tomatoes, and mozzarella, which we had to order, just because it sounded so interesting.

The wine list isn't huge but is reasonably priced. I struggled to find wines I was familiar with, but ended up choosing the lone Pinot Noir on the menu due to the fact that Amy had ordered a seafood dish and I picked a lamb dish.

I was discussing American food recently with a friend/restaurateur, and the topic came up about what American food would be today if it weren't for the invasion of French Cuisine in the early 1900's, World War II and McDonald's. I normally don't talk about culinary history; in fact, I avoid the subject like the plague because I'm incredibly ignorant about it. I'm more about what I am eating now and tend not to be a "woulda, shoulda, coulda" type of guy, but while I was dining at Dahlia, I thought a lot about the topic. Dahlia is simply American food.

For instance, the Parmesan-encrusted lamb chops I ordered were each on their own a perfect cut of meat, that reminded me of what lamb actually tastes like. You might mistake them as bland, until you realize that they weren't over-salted, which was the key to being able to actually taste the lamb, and they were cooked perfectly with tender meat that ran with juices as you cut into them. I cleaned each of the bones with my teeth when I was done. I also shouldn't fail to mention the vegetables that came on the side: eggplant, zucchini, and a myriad of others, all grilled to perfection. However, the mashed potatoes were in dire need of salt, pepper, or any kind of seasoning at all.

The scallop dish is also very American in its design. Seared scallops are place on top of a large bed of yellow cheddar grits and served with a side of vegetables. Assuming the restaurant is getting their scallops from a decent supplier, it's hard to screw them up, short of overcooking them and these were definitely not. Screwed up, that is. Once again the dish wasn't over-salted which would be the theme for the evening I'd say.

We shared the mini lemon bundt cake for dessert, and by "share" I mean she had a couple bites. Perhaps this could have been a little moister? I don't know. The lemon icing on the top on the cake hid the dryness pretty well and it was good nonetheless.

Dahlia can be a special night out or it can also be a casual dinner depending on the size of your wallet. If you're a person that looks for a more elegant atmosphere for that special night out, you might want to look elsewhere, but if your definition of a special night out is simply good food and service, then you'll probably want to give Dahlia a try. It's comparable in price to that of a Corduroy or Vidalia with entrees between $20 and $30. Our tab ended up being around $150 before tip.

As our meal was winding down, I overheard another table talking to the Chef's parents.

"It must be nice to have a chef for a son!"

"Yes, it can have its privileges", they replied.

"Everything is was excellent," they said in a sincere tone, "we'll be coming back for sure."

I look forward to trips back to Dahlia and I'm happy that a restaurant like it has opened in my neighborhood.

4849 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 364-1004

Mon-Sat: 11:30 AM - 9:30 PM
Sundays:  11:00 AM - 3:00 PM

Corkage: Allowed
Dress Code: You decide.
Parking: Street: Parking in the shopping center.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Probably Tenleytown, but it's a hike from there.
Reservations: Taken. Probably not needed.
Baby friendly rating: 2 or 3 Diapers. I'll probably try to bring Noah on our next visit. 

San Jose Day 3

When I was planning our trip to San Jose and all the wineries, restaurants, and attractions that we wanted to go to, I had some pretty lofty expectations for how many places we were going to cover in 3 days. All in all, the list included 20 wineries and 5 restaurants, and in the end, I was only able to visit 2 restaurants and 7 vineyards. I probably could’ve made an attempt to go to a 3rd restaurant, except, our visit to Manresa the first night was so incredible that we decided to return again on the 3rd night.

Many of the wineries I intended to visit ended up not having a tasting room or their tasting rooms were closed when we were in town. Cinnabar, Mt. Eden, and Silver Mountain were originally on the agenda, but they don’t have a tasting room and are only open on "passport" days. I also would’ve gone to Alghren, which a local wino recommended, except they were only open on Saturdays for tasting. Sigh.

On our last day, we had some slim pickings for wineries that we could actually go to so unfortunately, we ended up spending a lot of time in the car. On the positive side, all of the vineyards that we visited, including Beauregard, Testarossa, and Savannah-Chanelle, were actually very good.

Beauregard Beauregard’s tasting room, the first we visited, was located on Santa Cruz’s wharf and we had a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean as we tasted the wine. There were a couple drawbacks though. The salty and fishy smell of the air kind of interfered with our ability to smell and taste the wine, plus, we were horribly underdressed. We weren’t expecting the ocean to be so breezy and cool so we ended up being pretty cold the entire time.

On the other hand, the wines at Beauregard ended up being very good, so good in fact, that I ended up joining their wine club. This was the first winery that I visited that didn’t distribute outside of California, and since I liked the wines, I figured I’d sign up for their wine club. We also picked up a bottle of their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, just to take advantage of the 30% discount that came with signing up for their wine club. I’m such a sucker.

I originally intended to visit a couple other wineries in Santa Cruz, but we were cold and we received high recommendations at Clos LaChance about Testarossa Vineyard, so we decided return back up Rt 17 away from the ocean to Los Gatos. The Testarossa Vineyard was situated in a historic Jesuit Monastery on the hillside in Los Gatos and of all the vineyards that we visited, I would say that this was the most…commercial, with lots of t-shirts and memorabilia for sale, and they even charged $10 for a tasting -- the most expensive that we paid.

The $10 tasting was worth it, though, because the Testarossa Pinot Noirs are great! The one Pinot Noir that we ended up buying a bottle of was the ’04 Bien Nacido, a very big, spicy Pinot that’ll put hair on your chest, or take it off, whatever you prefer. I would have bought more, except by this point, we were struggling to figure out how we were going to get the 22 bottles that we’d already bought previously on the plane. I’ll probably order some from the winery directly or hopefully, I can get in touch with their distributor in D.C. We had a nice lunch with some brie and a baguette and drank a couple glasses of the wine that we bought.

On another note, I couldn't get over how nice the weather was in Silicone Valley. A similar experience in D.C. this time of the year would lead to excessive sweating and heat exhaustion, but in California, we didn’t want to go inside.

After Testarossa, we headed a little bit Northwest to a winery called Savannah-Chanelle in the mountains outside of Saratoga. I can’t really say anything different about this vineyard that I haven’t said already about the previous vineyards for the experience was very similar. When we were done tasting the wine there, we were a little sad, for we knew that it was our last vineyard and we’d be returning home the following morning.

In the end, I think we picked the perfect length of stay for this wine region for we were able to go to all of the good wineries that actually have tasting room hours. Plus, I don’t think that we could’ve gone on tasting wine anymore. We were beat.

That night, we returned to Manresa. To save money, we drank the '96 Chardonnay that we bought at David Bruce, althought we still ordered 4 courses. The meal was just as good as the first night we ate there and I couldn't think of a better way to end our trip to the area.

Clos LaChance and David Bruce Vineyards: San Jose Day 2

By far, the highlights of our second day in the Santa Cruz Mountains were our visits to Clos LaChance and David Bruce Vineyards. We got a late start that day, and Clos LaChance was a good 40 minutes away from our hotel in San Jose and the furthest away from our hotel of all the vineyards we visited.

Clos_lachance I can thank Grapeseed Bistro in Bethesda for first introducing me to the Clos LaChance Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, a flowery and aromatic wine with hints of peach and vanilla, which Clos LaChance's tasting room had for sampling that day and tasted as good as I remembered it. The man running the tasting room was very friendly, as most wine pourers are when you start talking to them about the wine and show them that you aren’t just there for a quick drink. I probably learned more about wine in the first two days of this vacation, talking to the wine pourers, than I have in all the wine drinking I’ve done before. You can really gain an appreciation for how wines are made and the differences between wines when you taste them in rapid succession to one another.

After the tasting, we decided to pick up a couple bottles of the Chardonnay, a bottle of Rose, a dry Muscat Blanc dessert wine, which was sweet but not syrupy, and a dry and spicy Cabernet Sauvignon. We tried to pick up wines that we knew we couldn’t get back home, but it was hard to keep track of which wines were available back in DC.

The Clos LaChance vineyard was probably one of the more beautiful vineyards that we visited, nestled in a valley between two sets of rolling brown-grass-covered mountains. The tasting facility seemed like it had been constructed recently, and there was a huge outdoor area with multiple levels of picnic tables and umbrellas that's perfect for having a casual lunch. Off in the distance you can see a bright green golf course that sticks out a bit compared to the brownish color of the rest of the scenery. We sat outside on the terrace, took in the view, ate cheese and salami, and sipped our glasses of rose that we’d bought at the tasting room.

After we were done at Clos LaChance, we hopped in the car and drove a half hour to David Bruce winery in Saratoga. Saratoga had a couple other wineries with tasting rooms that we would visit the next day, but all we had time for after all the driving we did, was to visit David Bruce. Everyone knows that David Bruce has fantastic Pinot Noirs. In the D.C. area, we can get the Central Coast Pinot Noir just about anywhere, but you rarely see the other wines that were available at the vineyard like their Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Syrah. Perhaps the Petit Syrah is available in a couple stores, but it isn't very common.

The David Bruce vineyard was fairly high up in the mountains, like Ridge, but without the awesome views of Ridge. The vineyard itself had more of an industrial feel to it, with cement steps and metal railings rather than an older farmhouse type of feel like the other vineyards we visited, but it was still fun to be there.

As a special bonus, the tasting room at David Bruce had opened a ’96 Chardonnay, probably because they were trying to clear out their stock of the wine since it was past its peak.  Just about every vineyard that we visited has some kind of “special surprise” bottle open that they were giving extra tastings of. (Although some vineyards were Nazis about the wine pours and others were very free flowing with them.) David Bruce was free flowing.

Where the ’04 Chardonnay was crisp with citrus flavors, the ’96 had a buttery texture and reminded me more of a French Chablis. It was discounted enough that we ended up buying a bottle. We were instructed not to let it age anymore and drink it right away, and we gladly obliged the next night when I took my own advice on a return trip to Manresa and drank it with dinner. $25 corkage and an $18 bottle of vs. $52 a person wine pairing ends up saving you a lot of money on your final check.

Later that night, we met up with an old friend at Amber India in Mountain View. Overall, Amber India had pretty good Indian food with spicy curries and freshly baked flat breads. However, stay away from the chicken korma because it was pretty bland. If you do order it, I’d ask for it spiced up a bit, because it was probably the blandest Indian dish I’ve ever eaten. The paneer makhani that Amy ordered was plenty spicy, but our friend commented that the chicken tikka masala that he ordered was not as creamy as he’s accustomed to.

And with that, we concluded our second day in San Jose.