While VIRIDIAN opened quietly last year in the quickly changing 14th Street corridor (1515 14th St, NW - www.viridianrestaurant.com), I am sure it has taken new turns for the better this year under the guidance of Chef ANTONIO BURRELL, previously of Bis, Gabriel and Vidalia. The large spacious high-ceiling dining is quite beautiful and yet simple. The gorgeous decor is pale with wood accents, stone floors and extremely comfortable chairs. The artwork includes a monstrous self-portrait of Chuck Close in the entry, but more beautiful B&W charcoals of waves that actually look like photos until closer inspection. Above the bar is a subtle and almost boring video display of blue waves, clouds and infinity, that barely changes.
Speaking of the bar, the one thing I must complain about at Viridian is the noise level. The architect (is he a friend of Tony Chi over at the Blue Duck Tavern where the stone creates unbearable noise levels) sadly did not consider us diners, and we had to constantly raise our voices to hear ourselves, despite the fact that the dining room was relatively quiet. The noise from the crowded bar just seems to float all around the room; so ask for a perhaps quieter table towards the rear corner, unless you want to be seen or look out at the passers-by on through the large windows up front.
We all started with the "V" Pimm's Cup which could easily win an award as one of the best summer drinks in town: Campari, House made strawberry-ginger lemonade, strawberries and cucumbers make this the perfect thirst quencher full of shredded fruit and just right for deciding what to order from the menu, as the choice is not easy.
Our first dish was a revelation, and is not on the menu at this time (but maybe you can request it?): VIRGINIA OYSTER SALAD topped with AMERICAN STURGEON CAVIAR in a BERGAMONTE PRESERVED LEMON in PICKLED GINGER & CUCUMBER SOUP with Creme Fraiche. OK, move over gazpacho....cause this easily beats anything in that field. The small oyster salad sat in the hollowed out preserved lemon rind that packed a citrus punch, but the soup itself was also a chilled treat that is welcome on any hot summer day--so many flavors, yet so exciting. We also ordered a bottle of ANDREW RICH COLUMBIA VALLEY ROUSSANNE 2004 from Washington State at $20-something, because on Tuesdays much of the excellent wine list is offered at HALF-PRICE! It was the perfect wine for our seafood starters as well:
CHILLED WATERMELON SOUP with Grapefruit, Cilantro and Yogurt Lime Sorbet was refreshing, yet filling.
The yummy STEAMED MUSSLES with SHALLOTS, Parsley, Lemon & Tomato Water had a nice chili punch giving them some spice and my only complaint is that the mussels were so small, I do prefer them a bit plumper.
The starter winner was the SEA SCALLOPS with American Caviar, Yellow Tomato & Potato-Leek Hash, just about as American a dish as you can imagine, yet nobody would dare pin down Chef Burrell in the American catergory. His background and training covers so many styles, which he uses to such an advantage!
I can't fail to mention the excellent CHIVE FOCACCIA that comes with two spreads: a simple, yet superb WHITE BEAN PUREE and a sweet, but tasty CARAMELIZED ONION with MUSTARD SEED. Who would even want butter or olive oil when these tasty toppings arrive, but we had to restrain from asking for more....
The entrees were all winning choices from a victorious vegetarian PARISIAN GNOCCHI (made from flour, butter and cheese--with no potato) with CHANTERELLES, SWEET CORN, GREEN ONION & TRUFFLES to my ARTIC CHAR (on the menu it was listed as Red Trout,but had been switched due to supply) with GAZPACHO, BLUE CRAB & OLIVES. The light tomato broth worked well with the big rich flaky fish.
The winner was easily the SEARED BARRAMUNDI with LOBSTER, BEET RISOTTO & Beet-Ginger Reduction. Not only is the fish wonderful, but the
preparation was sublime.
A small treat of CASSOULET of SOUTHERN BEANS (with bacon, tomato, black eye peas & lima beans) came with a Rack of Lamb Chop & Confit with a slash of dried Balsamic on the side of the plate(this reminded me of a very thin fruit roll-up) which was one of the best lamb chops ever. We enjoyed this with our 1/2 price red, a very cherry MCKENZIE-MUELLER Los Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 which is a steal at $30-something!
Desserts are prepared by Pastry Chef Eileen Ratnofsky and are worth notice. The Sorbets are varied from Champagne to Passion Fruit, but don't skip the LEMON & LIME BARS with Coconut Macaroons and STRAWBERRIES stuffed with Champagne Sorbet. This is a brilliant dish with two rectangular fruit bars of green and yellow, the lime being somewhat like a mini-key lime pie. The strawberries are refreshing and the macaroons are heavenly; a new favorite dessert for many!
We look forward to returning to Viridian soon and tasting lots more!