By Amanda Grace Johnson - 05/06/09 05:52 PM EDT
But local chef Miles Vaden’s done just that. After two years as chef de cuisine at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, he’s found a new gig as executive chef of Arlington’s hotly anticipated Eventide. And he’s about the only common ground between the two establishments.
As for those biscuits, try (unsuccessfully) not to eat too many, as appetizers seem to be where Eventide excels. Fork never meets table once mouth-watering rabbit cannelloni arrives, and one order of luscious seared scallops is certainly not enough (especially since just two scallops, one large and the other small, compose the dish). A crunchy poached egg smothers grilled asparagus, greens and goat cheese to create one seriously creamy salad. One night, a satiny mushroom bisque serves as a tantalizing amuse-bouche; the crostini with olive tapenade and petite pine nuts also fits the bill well on a different occasion.
Vaden’s old restaurant and his new home do share one trait: They fill the same neighborhood niche. Sonoma is a sophisticated haven sandwiched between rowdier establishments; Eventide’s low-key bar and lounge is a nice addition to a lively strip that’s riddled with noisy clubs and packed bars. Heavy black curtains hang from high ceilings in the spacious dining room. Beneath a sparkling black-and-crystal chandelier, patrons sip signature drinks like the Upswing, a champagne cocktail blended with elderflower liqueur, berries and peach bitters, all decanted atop a sugar cube that keeps the ingredients combined — a gimmicky effect that’s charming nonetheless.
Such elements may seem minor, but the true gems here are the details, with the side dishes showing up the entrees. I’m all for light-handed seasoning and allowing natural flavors to run the show, but Eventide may take that concept just an inch too far.
An almost-bland pork chop that just borders on dry borrows both color and tang from a bright escabeche of marinated peppers and olives. Its neighbor, a fragrant yucca root cake, gets more attention than the main course. Crisp, bright peas and beans tossed with pesto upstage salmon that’s perfectly cooked but lacking in lemon or spice, and the cornmeal gnocchi, meant for background, becomes the center of attention. Flat-iron steak almost sees the same fate, nestled among thick coins of savory potato and juicy pearl onions, but the truly flawless piece of beef succeeds admirably.
The exquisite appetizers aren’t on the restaurant’s brunch menu, but sweet, aromatic coffee stands in well. At $7 per French-press pot, which yields three cups, the brew may fall short volume-wise for those accustomed to sipping a 32-ounce latte every morning, but it’s certainly one of the tastiest coffees offered in the area.
But I didn’t come for the coffee. I came for the food, and I’m pretty glad I did. Like many of the establishment’s offerings, the corned pork belly and potato hash needs a dash of salt. But it’s otherwise addictive, blanketed by a fine hollandaise sauce. Sunny-side-up eggs crowning the dish are cooked just right. Red peppers and fontina cheese are happily tucked inside a sublime bison sausage omelet, which makes for a true breakfast of champions when paired with the perfect potato hash. It even arrives with a side of ketchup, saving this writer the embarrassment that surely would have arisen over having to request it.
Not all the egg dishes are triumphant. A rubbery, overcooked asparagus frittata doesn’t stand a chance against the omelet and can’t even be salvaged by the artful smear of goat cheese on its plate. A caramelized banana crepe for dessert suffers a similar shortcoming, with a rubbery texture and not even close to enough banana. Don’t run to Eventide’s brunch, but don’t run away from it, either — with a little tweaking, it could become an easy Sunday morning favorite.
That may take some time, but Saturday night already seems to have attracted a loyal following. The proprietors are sticklers about obeying Arlington’s occupancy limit in the bar and lounge, a practice that was irritating while waiting to enter but started to seem like a pretty great policy as I enjoyed a quiet conversation with a fellow diner after being seated.
The dining room offers an even lower noise level, and the waitstaff is friendly, a few very minor service speed bumps notwithstanding. Some of the food may be plain, but what the restaurant at this point lacks in culinary polish it more than makes up for in comfort. With a little effort — and a lot of salt — Eventide is well on its way to becoming the Sonoma of Clarendon.