Thursday, June 13, 2013

FOOD REVIEW: Vidalia (Washington, DC)

shrimp and grits
(anson mill’s grits, vidalia onion, spinach, tasso ham, tomato, shellfish emulsion)
jumbo lump crab cake
(english peas, apricots, pancetta, scallions, sweet pepper butter)
seared hudson valley foie gras 
(lemon marmalade, candied pecans, parsnip butter, brioche, apricot ice cream)
shenandoah lamb loin
(surry lamb sausage, ramp spaetzle, king trumpet mushroom, strawberry jam, vadouvan jus)
georgia pecan pie 
(bourbon ice cream, praline lace crumble, caramel)
interior of Vidalia

My plan to sample the food at the best restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area continues with a stop at Vidalia. (I have previously been to Fiola, Blue Duck Tavern, Corduroy, Zaitinya, Proof and Rasika, among others.) At Vidalia, we had the five course tasting menu. In order, I had the foie gras, crab cake, shrimp and grits, lamb loin and the pecan pie for dessert. The chef and owner at Vidalia is Jeffrey Beuben, a James Beard award-winning chef (1999), who describes his restaurant as "regional American infused with a heaping serving of Southern influence."

The food was uniformly excellent with one standout for me: the shrimp and grits. I am most decidedly not a fan of grits (they seem too plain to me usually and the texture usually brings flashbacks of negative experiences with cream-of-wheat breakfasts!). However, I was convinced by the excellent waitron to try the shrimp and grits since it is one of their most popular dishes. From Yelp I had read good comments about the lump crab cakes so I ordered that as well. The shrimp and grits at Vidalia were an absolute revelation to me, one of the best things I have eaten while living and working in DC for nearly two years. The grits absolutely melted in your mouth and combined with the substantial heartiness of the shrimp and the delicious sauce (called "shellfish emulsion" on the menu) it was one of those rare dishes that make you laugh out loud it is so good. If you eat at Vidalia you must order them!

You'll notice I didn't place the crab cake on the standout list despite the Yelp plaudits (so much for crowdsourcing). The crab cake itself was fine, although with almost too much texture (i.e. a bit rough in the mouth) but this was almost certainly because it was chock-full of crab. If you're a fan of too much crab in a crab cake, this is the one for you. No, the biggest problem I had with the crab cake were the peas. They were simply not done well enough, and to me the hard peas combined with the rough crab put me off slightly, (I understand this was probably a deliberate choice by the chef--some people like very firm vegetables, so do I, but these were a little too close to the nearly raw side for me). I must say that the sauce combined with the apricots were amazing, and really the best part of the dish.

The second favorite thing I had was the lamb loin, which was a splurge for me because I only eat red meat rarely these days. However, it was cooked exactly right (medium rare) and had immense flavor. The mushrooms were really well balanced with the meat and the little green ramp spaetzle were simply delightful. Absolutely an excellent dish, but not a rare transcendent experience like the shrimp 'n' grits were for me.

The foie gras and pecan pie were simply mistakes (on my part). The best dessert on the menu is the lemon chess pie, and I knew my error as soon as saw my neighbor's dessert. I picked the pecan pie because I generally like it and wanted to see what the chef would do with it. Sadly, it was just average, which after a meal that was decidedly not seemed like a bad way to end things. The foie gras was me being adventurous and that dish has a LOT going on. The apricot ice cream was yummy and an interesting counterpoint to the warm, very viscous foie gras but it reminded me a bit too much of eating marrow. Some people like marrow, and if you do, you should definitely try the dish but I should have probably ordered one of the salads to start with instead.

One unexpected pleasure of the dining experience was that they had a lovely cherry soda, called Cheerwine, also suggested by the lovely waitron when I asked about a no-alcoholic beverage. It was delicious and a great choice for teetotalers like myself who don't want to just drink water or ice tea with dinner.

Overall, Vidalia was an excellent dining experience, in the top echelon of the meals I have had. It was not better than my first meal at Fiola (but since my second meal at Fiola was a disaster, it's seems unfair to assign the top spot to until I have visited Vidalia a second time as well, something I hope to do soon) but on average I would say it was better than Corduroy, but at a higher price point than that restaurant. Really, at this level of dining it is almost attempting to split hairs to distinguish between them.

You will have a memorable meal no matter which of these restaurants you choose, I certainly still dream about those shrimp and grits at Vidalia!

: Vidalia.
Location: 1900 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Contact: 202-659-1990.
Visit: May 1, 2013.

FOOD: A+. 

OVERALL: A+/A (4.083/4.0)

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