Dinner at Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Restaurant
2340 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007

A few months ago I wrote a blog post on the then-impending announcement that Barton Seaver, head chef of Blue Ridge Restaurant in Glover Park, would be named chef of the year by Esquire magazine. When the news hit the DC blogs, it brought a rash of both praise and criticism. The point of the article was this: based on early reviews of Blue Ridge, it seemed very unlikely that someone like Mr. Seaver would be named chef of the year. Sure, he’s got the notable sustainability movement going for him, but based on the food alone, there was a question floating around on whether or not he really deserved the award.

Even though Blue Ridge is in my neighborhood and only a few minutes walk down Wisconsin from my apartment, I was pretty apprehensive about visiting for the first time. The reviews were pretty damning (a pot pie was described as having a glue-like texture), and the prices didn’t justify a risky gamble. Would our dishes be worth the money, or would we be sorely disappointed, with the additional sting of being out of wasted money? I’ll admit it, I was scared, and I didn’t think the food would deliver. I wasn’t ready to give it a chance.

The night I found out that I would finally be working again (albeit in an unpaid position), I wanted to celebrate with a dinner out. Nothing fancy, and I didn’t need a full 3 course dinner, I just wanted to go out and have someone else cook me a meal, somewhere where I could sit down and have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner. Jay agreed after a little arm-twisting, on the condition that we stayed local. In other words, our neighborhood, no driving. This was a severe limitation on my choices, but still provided me with a decent selection. Just as I was turning over my options in my head, Jay suggested, “Why not Blue Ridge?”

Blue Ridge?

You mean the same place with the bad reviews? The place with the pricey and over-reaching menu? The place with the consistently bad service? The place whose chef’s achievements I had just questioned?

I was skeptical, I was nervous, but I really wanted to go out to dinner. Then Jay looked at the menu online, read off some of the selections, and then told me the average prices. Not only were the menu offerings appealing, but the prices were also much more reasonable than I remembered. Ok, let’s give it a shot.

The interior of Blue Ridge is decidedly simple, with quilts lining the walls under a blue ceiling and rustic, somewhat homemade-looking chandeliers serving as the light source. I can appreciate the easy casualness the restaurant is attempting to attain, but there’s something a little lacking. Although the tables and settings are fine, something about the interior decoration suggests an indifferent, amature effort. It almost works, but for me it doesn’t quite mesh.

Regardless of the wall coverings, our table was cozy and intimate. Soon after we sat down we were presented with a paper bag full of popcorn,  intensely salty with a hint of sweetness that we couldn’t quite identify. It’s also wildly addictive, with each bite spurning on more eating frenzy.

If you like plaid shirts and dark fingernail polish, you’ll love the waitresses’ outfits. The service was pleasant albeit slightly aloof, and I might have waited for my first beer for a while, but this is just me nit-picking. Our waitress warmed up a little as the night went on, and really there wasn’t anything major to complain about. One observation: I never saw a male server. I think the bartender may have been male, but the only staff I saw was female. Not sure if this is some sort of standard or just a fluke of the night.

For a first course, Jay and I split the fresh Rhappahannock oysters on the half shell. The only complaint I have with these oysters is that I had to do the work of separating them from their shells, an unpleasant surprise when I tried to eat my first oyster and only the house-made sauce slid into my mouth, leaving the oyster securely teathered to the shell.  On the good side, the oysters themselves were extraordinarily fresh, like bursts of clean water in my mouth. I personally prefer salt-water oysters because of their briney-ness, but these were clean, simple, and without a hint of unpleasantness. I could probably eat a whole bucket-full of them (and will definitely be visiting Blue Ridge’s oyster happy hour sometime).

Second course for me was the grass-fed burger with garlic fries. I was a little disappointed that grass-fed steak that appeared on the online menu wasn’t listed on our menu, but I wasn’t going to let my red-meat craving go unsatisfied. Cooked to order (medium rare please), with juice dripping down my hands and covering my face, the burger was surprisingly light and clean tasting, with that wondeful flavor that comes with grass-fed beef. And don’t even get me started on the fries. They’re so garlicy, salty, not at all greasy … the flavor is so intense that ketchup almost detracts from it.

Jay ordered the rustic pork meatloaf with smokey tomato sauce and garlic-yogurt potatoes. The menu sure didn’t lie when it labeled the tomato sauce as smokey, and it infused the already flavorful meatloaf with its deepness.

Even though we intended to escape Blue Ridge without ordereing dessert–we had cookies waiting for us at home and more on the way–we just couldn’t go without at least looking at the dessert menu … a fatal mistake that always leads to ordering. The rootbeer floats and cream soda floats were very enticing, reminding me of hot summer days by the pool at my parents house when I was a child, and the honeycrisp apple tart caught my eye, but the new jersey blueberry cobler was what I couldn’t go without. It’s more of a crisp than a cobler considering there’s not any cobler dough, but the deep, intense, clove-rich flavor is enough to make you forget or care about any difference. I recommend topping it with a scoop of lush vanilla and spreading the ice cream over the top to help cool down the cobler.

All in all, I was very impressed with Blue Ridge. Surprisingly so. I had set the bar so low and had expected such a disappointment that I couldn’t help but like the clean, focused presentations. After dinner I went through some of the bad reviews from the early days of the restaurant and noticed that Jay and I didn’t order any of the “bad” dishes. I don’t know whether we were just lucky or if the food was just honestly good, but I’m leaning toward the latter. Cooked to order, fresh, local ingredients prepared with a focus that likely develops out of learning from your mistakes, the food at Blue Ridge was a far cry from the expectations of over-worked, over-imagined, and ill-conceived dishes I had been prepared for. Jay and I both loved our meals, and we’re adding Blue Ridge to one of those solid go-to spots on our list of restaurants. I’m happy that Blue Ridge is within walkign distance from my apartment and that a local restaurant is receiving good press nowadays. Although I hold by my original skepticism, well-founded in early reviews, I have a feeling there has been a change in Blue Ridge since its opening, one for the better.


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December 2009
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