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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thing 126: Vidalia

My second Restaurant Week meal was had at Vidalia. (For the first, click here).Vidalia is a pretty big deal, in my book. It wins awards at a steady clip (along with Central, swoon), the most recent being the James Beard "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" Award. It has a sterling reputation, and everyone who eats there seems to come away happy. Besides, who doesn't like updated Southern classics, like shrimp and grits or mac 'n' cheese or pecan pie, made with the highest quality ingredients and the very best techniques?

I know for a fact that the restaurant buys at least some of it's ingredients at my beloved Dupont Circle Market. And that the kitchen staff enjoys the pleasures of Hank's Oyster Bar. And while it sounds a bit like I'm stalking head chef Jeffrey Buben, I promise that our paths just seem to trip across each other from time to time.

The usual caveat -- it is totally unfair to judge a restaurant purely on Restaurant Week. Kitchens are rarely at their best and wait staffs are frustrated, overworked and undertipped. That said, I think restaurants that are really excellent at their core tend to do pretty well within the confines of Restaurant Week and Vidalia had about as good of food and service as I could have hoped for.

Of course, the first thing you can't help but notice about Vidalia, as you descend down the front steps, is that it's subterranean. Not a scrap of natural light can enter the dining room, and while that might sound dark or depressing, somehow the room is illuminated softly. A stylish lounge greets you, long banquettes and stark flower arrangements. I got there a touch early, ordered an obscenely expensive glass of champagne at the bar served in a perfect, angular glass and was promptly shown to my table when the three others in my party arrived.

Our service was attentive and patient, sophisticated and also dumbed down for Restaurant Week tourists. My party and I were a fairly savvy bunch, ordering cocktails and wine to let him know that we weren't here on the cheap (just cheaper) and asking his opinion on the best way to proceed.

Vidalia offers the standard three course for $35 Restaurant Week deal but they add an extra option to order a five course meal for $50. That's $10 a course, at a restaurant where you'd be hard pressed to find a starter for that price. And I was totally ready to do it, too, except I was dining exclusively with skinny gays, and they weren't having it. Boo.

Only choosing three courses instead of five made it really hard to choose, but eventually I narrowed it down to a duck egg with fried sweet breads to start, and the pork belly as my entree, and that glorious, glorious lemon chess pie as my dessert.

The duck egg was amazing. Served poached, it had a thick, gooey white and a rich, runny center. It was warm and rich and decadent and had almost a custardy texture. Just as surprisingly good was the sweet bread fried with a light, crispy crust. The salty meat paired perfectly with the rich egg, whose runny yolk made it's own de facto sauce, and the creamy bed (I think of grits?) both were laying on added some heft to the dish. It was delicious.

Having learned my Pork Belly Rule of Thumb only two days prior, I did not make the same mistake twice and promptly ordered the pork belly as my entree. I will admit to being hesitant because it came in a ham broth with peanuts, peas and wheat berries and I thought that sounded weird, but I should have trusted because that broth/sauce was actually better than the pork belly (!). The pork belly was good, don't get me wrong, especially the skin. The skin was crispy crispy glazed fat. The meat at the bottom was soft and flavorful. But the layer of fat in I wrong? Isn't that supposed to get kinda crispy and oozy? I ate the skin and the meat and left the fat on the plate, which is probably some amateur mistake. But the broth was delicious, and the boiled peanuts and the ham and the peas and the chewy wheat berries just all mixed together in a soupy, porky, deliciousness.

And then dessert. If I weren't already dating the Boyfriend, I would marry that lemon chess pie. It was a huge slab of perfectly tart/sweet lemon pie filling. No top crust. No meringue. no shallow tart. This was an enormous, deep dish piece of creamy lemon pie filling. Served with just a dollop of cream and a mixed berries, with a delightful glass of sparkling red muscat it was the perfect sweet end to a really lovely meal.

Everyone else's food looked good too. GFD even let me try his sausage-crusted scallops (!) which were divine, and his goat cheese Bavarian which would be the dessert I married after Lemon Chess Pie and I got divorced. All in all, we had a really great experience and I will gladly save my pennies and return again. Or bribe my way in with farmer's market produce. Either way.

One year ago: Central. Ohyesohyesohyesohyesohyes.


Jon - The DC Traveler said...

I enjoy your DC food and restaurant reviews. Love to see you post more.