Saturday, September 15, 2007

varying vibes at EXTRA VIRGIN

We have always enjoyed the food and service at EXTRA VIRGIN in Shirlington (Arlington, VA) where we love to go before or after a performance at the new Signature Theater complex across the street. We did just that last night after a short cabaret performance using a certificate we had purchased at a charity auction for a "tasting menu for two."

On arrival we were a bit shocked to see the place heaving at the bar with a jazz band playing quite loudly. We had a reservation and were quickly shown to our table, which we soon moved from to a quieter spot further from the music. I think the a/c was really messed up (perhaps they have no zones), since there were so many people at the bar (where it was clearly turned up)that it was ice cold in the dining area. We ordered a bottle of LA CAPPUCCINA GARGANEGA 2006 from Soave in Veneto that was quite tasty and enjoyed the delicious bread with the olive oil/tapenade mixture that was quickly poured by our server. We showed him the gift certificate and told him the chef could prepare almost anything he wanted, but I think the crowds and bad timing may have severely influenced his choice of what to serve which sadly showed little love or invention. We would have been better off simply ordering off the menu.

A simple field green salad arrived with vinaigrette which was nice, but was so simple it was boring.

Next came a plate split between two pastas (which came out just past lukewarm): the GNOCCHI with MOZZARELLA in Tomato Basil Sauce strained out for fresh ground pepper, which took a while to get, and the VEAL & MUSHROOM Stuffed RAVIOLI in a similar reduction was a much better choice with the ravioli coming out nicely al dente. We moved on to a wonderful deal on the "1/2 price clearance wines" by choosing a 2001 CASTELLO del TERRICCIO "TASSINAIA blend of Sangiovese/Cab/Merlot that was silky with slight to medium tannins and really was amazing at $55!!

Our entrees were a delicious ROCKFISH with ARTICHOKE Hearts in buttery BELL PEPPER COULIS, but nobody seemed to have a clue what it was (we asked THREE people, and our server finally figured it out) with the other being a VEAL SCALLOPINI with BROCCOLI RABE & Mushrooms in a simple and unexciting sauce. Sadly part of once piece of meat was extremely chewy.

We decided to take over for ourselves and told our server we wished to choose our own desserts: PANNA COTTA of LIME with STRAWBERRY Compote was fruity and creamy and not heavy at all, while the TORTA de MELE is a Puff Pastry filled with Caramelized Apples and Pear Sorbet on the side, nice but no prizes.

We left full, but feeling unfulfilled; perhaps a result of the Friday night crowd (the live jazz is apparently there on Thursday THRU Sunday!) and such a hectic scene that there was really not much interest from the kitchen other than moving the tables. Maybe it will improve IF we try again next year.