Sunday, July 28, 2013

You gotta get to THE CURIOUS GRAPE in Shirlington, VA for great eating. (7-26-13)

We are regulars at Signature Theater in the Shirlington area of Arlington and last week we tried Carlyle Café and couldn't fell really great about it, but then since Extra Virgin closed there isn't really a great "fine"
dining spot nearby. UNTIL I discovered THE CURIOUS GRAPE  ( hidden at 2900 S. Quincy Street actually behind Carlyle!
I always thought this was a wine store, but it is much more. It offers up a winse shop, cheeses, great food and a wonderful place to dine when art the theater nearby or just
to go out for a wonderful meal.
We had two servers introduced as Veronika and Katy, as Katy was in training. We perused the wonderful meanu offering many wines by the glass or bottle as well as many portions in 1/2 size; I love that for more tastes. Our friends were drinking a red sparkling HUBER Austrian Rose made from Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch which I quickly ordered a glass of and marveled at the dryness yet full fruit flavors in each sip.
Focaccia arrived with oil and after one tiny bite, I knew I could easily resist the bread; it was not their highlight for sure.
We perused the menu more and finally decided on numerous dishes for the fours of us.
Starters included ALBARINO-Steamed MAHONGONY CLAMS with house made Chorizo, English peas and Tomato Bread which was as tasty as clams get. My only quip is that the larger Mahogony clams, while very flavorful, can be chewier than the smaller Manila or Cherrystone varieties.
Warm BABY ARTICHOKES with Crispy Panko, mint and Red Chili is a dieter's delight as the dish is not fried, just served with crispy crumbs atop. The chokes are tender and the chili has a little bite; the mint is mild and makes for flavor as well.
Pan Roasted SCALLOPS with Black Rice, Baby Bok Choy is in Plum Wine Beurre Blanc and comes as a starter/half portion or full. The scallops were superb, the black rice divine and the sauce irresistible!
Fried GREEN TOMATOES are served with Bonito Tuna (salad style) with Pickled Ramp Mayo, Espelette Pepper & Spring Radish. This dish was another fab creation due to the ramp mayo that was so amazingly flavorful.
We first tried a 2012 Assyrtiko from Hatzidakis in Santorini that one of declared to be like sulphur! Instead a fun earthy and mineral-intense white COCCOCCIOLA 2011 from Terre Valse, Cantina Frentana in Abruzzo got us all excited about a new grape varietal. Suzanne McGrath is the wine person here and really knows her stuff.
Main courses were truly unbelievable, especially the 5 SPICE Pan-Roasted CHICKEN with Summer Squash, Pioppini Mushrooms and White Miso Chicken Jus which I declared one of the best restaurant chicken dishes on earth! The BRONZINO was just as sublime with Soffrito-Braised Greens, Creamy Cauliflower "Grits", Roasted Cauliflower, Verjus Soaked Raisins and Toasted Almonds. Every element here was a hit even down to the tasty "grits" which are made only with cauliflower and the crunchy almonds!
My DUCK LEG CONFIT came with "Creamed Corn," Piquillo Pepper and Grilled Tomato jus. The corn was grilled first then "creamed" but again with little no cream so that it was not too rich. The duck fell off the bone and was superbly cooked. I had a glass of 2008 Tempranillo from Sierra Cantabria in Rioja, Spain which is drinking beautifully now. This lasted through our shared cheese course as well.
You really can't come here without enjoying some cheese so we all decided to split one plate. we choose three:
CORNELIA from the Netherlansds which is a tangy coriander semi-hard goat
FROMAGE d'AFFINOIS is always a creamy rich French brie-like cheese that oozes
SHROPSHIRE BLUE is a brilliant blue that has a darker hue but also not too made me want to get on the plane to England, which I shall do later this week!
The plate was beautifully arranged with bread, olives, caperberry, nuts, dried fruit, berries and quince paste.
We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Joe Hornbeck who worked with Wes Morton of Art & Soul, whom I adore. He has been at The Curious Grape only for several months. I know it won't be that long before I return.
I do wish that since wine is so important here they took greater care in their glassware, as it is a bit thick and needs more delicacy. Lots of love went into choosing the plates, stainless and other items on the table, just not the glasses.
It can get very crowded in here as we were there on a Friday at 6pm when it was just filling up, but by 740pm, we had to search far and wide for our server to get the check and be at the theater on time; so do allow extra time if the place is full....