Vidalia Restaurant Week

Vidalia
1990 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 659 – 1990

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Generally when I visit Restaurant Week locations I find that I’m more interested in ordering off the restaurant’s regular menu rather than the RW menu (unless, of course, the regular menu is completely out of the picture and restricted). Often times the RW is too paired down and not very exciting, and I can’t help but feel like a kid who’s wandered from the wrong side of the tracks and is trying to play where I don’t belong. Times are tough, and it’s hard to be reminded of how I can’t order whatever I want whenever I want.

Not so at Vidalia. Recommended by the Washingtonian’s dining editor Todd Kliman as one of the top tier restaurants to visit during RW, Jay and I headed to Vidalia late on Friday night.

Walking in from the street, it’s hard to know what to expect. The only thing announcing the presence of the restaurant is a yellow awning with the name subtly printed on the side. A few steps inside and you find yourself walking down a flight of stairs, surrounded by magnolia flowers behind glass walls. Upon reaching the bottom, you are greated with a comfy-looking lounge and sitting area, as well as the host. The room was dimly lit and sparsely decorated, mostly white walls and pale wood, but still manages to be inviting and unpretentious.

Even though our reservation wasn’t until 10:15 pm, the restaurant was still crowded with diners taking advantage of the RW offerings. Sandwiched at a little table between multiple other couples, we dove into our menu options.

Vidalia’s RW menu is a little unique in that it offers diners the option of choosing 3 items from an essentially 5 course meal for the regular restaurant week price or choosing a 5 course tasting menu for a little extra. Given the option, I want to eat as much food as possible, so Jay and I decided to take the 5 course route. A quick glance at the menu reveals only a few extra surcharges for certain dishes (+ $5 for my lobster, + $10 for handcut steaks) and a wide variety of enticing and intricate dishes. The menu also offered RW wine prices, making bottles more reasonable, and specialty cocktails (one of which I ordered, and which I almost couldn’t finish because it was so strong).

Our waitress was very attentive, always commenting that we made a very good or excellent choice, and really took care of us for what otherwise would have been a very expensive meal. Like any tasting menu there are high and low points, but the general impression for the meal is a resounding high. I’ll be sure to visit Vidalia again when I can bankroll a non-RW meal (any family want to visit soon?), and I would definitely recommend it to anyone considering dining there. (Note: Vidalia is offering a reduced price and reasonable pre-fix lunch menu).

General menu note: I’m getting really tired of the “Southern” restaurant movement. Yes, I’m proud of my southern heritage, but too often a chef or restauranteur will think that frying everything makes the menu southern, or that having a few generic southern-esche dishes is enough to claim notoriety. When Jay first offered to bring us to Vidalia for restaurant week, I was a little apprehensive that the whole ideology of trying to be southern would dominate the dishes, but it’s thankfully different. Vidalia offers up a wide array of dishes that are complimented or enhanced by southern touches, rather than bending to the party line and sacrificing quality for an idea.

First Course:

Red waddle pork jowl rillettes
with pickled okra, radishes, creole mustard, country breadfall09 086

This was a great first dish, cold terrine with accompaniments. One of my favorite parts was actually the mustard, which was spicy and flavorful without being so generic. The pork jowl was deeply flavorful and the pickled okra added a nice touch of the south to an otherwise French-like dish.

Vidalia’s rabbit mortadella
Red mustard greens, sliced pecans, rabbit bacon, truffle-honey vinaigrette

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“It tastes like Thanksgiving turkey” was the first thing out of my mouth after I tasted Jay’s first course. Richly seasoned, this dish was almost like rabbit deli meat, something that you would put on a sandwich, and it tasted strangely familiar. Why it reminds me of Thanksgiving turkey, I’ll never know, but the familiarity of the dish was very nice and comforting.

Second course:

Grilled octopus
Avacado, red rubin, heirloom cherry tomatoes, smoked chili vinaigrette

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I’ve had a lot of grilled octopus in the past year, most of it baby, and this falls among the very best. Very light without being chewy, a light flavor of smoke clinging to the charred tendrils, this dish was easily one of my favorites.

Heritage pig tail croquette
Red wine apple butter, pickled pheasant egg, kale

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Third course:

Lobster

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Unfortunately I do not have a detailed account of this dish or its ingredients because it was an offering not included on the website’s RW menu (although from the picture, it looks like there was some pork bell, which is probably the deciding factor in what made me order this particular dish). This was also one of the highlights of my meal, rich and deep without being overwhelming.

Shrimp and Grits
Yellow corn grits, Vidalia’s shrimp chorizo, heirloom onions

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Fourth course:

Shenandoah lamb shoulder
Heirloom eggplant caviar, pot belly farm fig mostarda, smoked garlic

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If I mentioned low points about the meal, this was it. Although the lamb was cooked well and very moist, the presentation only highlighted how little we were actually served. Maybe it was the whole “less is more” approach, but I couldn’t help that I was being cheated out of something. It also looked like the different parts of the dish were just slapped on the plate with little thought, and the lack of color similarly dampened the experience. I wanted to order the locally raised hand cut steaks for this meal, but those came with an extra charge and I had already slapped more money onto the meal with the lobster. Nevertheless, looking back, I think it would have been worth it to spring for the steaks.

Fifth course, dessert:

Vidalia’s lemon chess square
Lemon custard, berry compote, sweet cream

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If you’ve read any of my restaurant post before, or maybe if you’ve dined in the Washington metro area long enough, you’ll know that too-often the dessert menu at a restaurant is the most disappointing. Even some of the most imaginative restaurants will dismiss the dessert menu as something not worth spending time or effort on, filling it with mass-appealing versions of things you’ve already had countless times. This can put a real damper on an otherwise sumptuous meal, one that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed and are about to drop a good deal of money for. Even if I’ve really enjoyed the meal, I’m less likely to come back if the dessert leaves me looking for more.

Again, Vidalia proves to be the exception to the rule here. Not only was this dessert phenomenal, it’s one of the best I’ve had in the area in a long, long time. The lemon custard was SO lemony and so clean, with that nice tang in the back of your mouth. It paired very nicely with the sweet cream and berry compote, which offered a nice contrast to the lemony sourness, and reminded me of the desserts I used to enjoy in the good-ole day of being a child.

Peanut butter crunch bar
Caramelized banana compote, sea salt caramel

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Generally chocolate and peanut butter is not a pairing that I’m a fan of. I love both of them individually, but when they’re combined something is lost and the sum is less than each part. Not so with this dish, which managed to maintain the integrity of both the chocolate and the peanut butter in an almost-heavenly combination. Even though salted caramel seems pretty commonplace nowadays, this was masterfully balanced and not too salty. My favorite part, however, was the crunch of the dessert, almost like a rice crispy treat, a fancy one that still manages to have some fun.

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