You’re eating lots of fish because it’s heart-healthy but it’s beginning to taste all the same? Order the wild Scottish salmon with roasted cauliflower and Roma beans at Restaurant Eve and you won’t miss red meat at all.
And these are just some of the more mundane choices at this split-personality restaurant in Old Town Alexandria that features two distinctly different dining experiences: An ࠬa carte bistro menu and a more formal chef’s tasting menu that, if you’re not worried about calories and cost, allows chef-owner Cathal Armstrong to show off his dazzling gastronomical skills with a $75 five-course menu and a $98 nine-course menu.
Restaurant Eve is the newest star in the Washington area’s constellation of Michelin-class restaurants. Opened last April by Irish-born Armstrong and his hostess wife, Meshelle, and named after their 5-year-old daughter, Restaurant Eve has already won a legion of admirers.
Armstrong and his wife are both veterans of the Washington restaurant scene. He earned his toque most recently at Bistro Bis and Vidalia, while she managed Gabriel and provides recipes developed in her husband’s kitchen.
“The dual concept we came up with is very important,” Meshelle said. “We wanted to give people a choice, and it’s worked out wonderfully, but it’s very difficult to execute.”
I can’t vouch personally for the food served in the tasting room, since it’s booked up three to four months in advance and I don’t have Tom Sietsema’s unlimited budget. But I can tell you this restaurant will impress even the most jaded appetite or critical diner, even if you don’t have the tasting menu.
It’s not perfect — the noise level can be annoyingly high, the wine list is a bit confusing and the prices have been bumped up about 10 percent since it opened — but it’s definitely worth the journey from D.C., McLean or Bethesda.
Parking is no problem, despite Old Town’s crowded streets, as there’s a parking garage directly across the street. You enter the building, a former warehouse that the Armstrongs gutted and completely renovated, via a long brick-walled corridor, where you’ll be greeted by the dark-haired Meshelle.
The bistro area and tasting room are side by side, separated by a glassed-in wine cellar and gleaming modern kitchen, where I counted at least five people in full white chef’s regalia hard at work. The bistro area seats 54 and the tasting area 34. There’s also an inviting bar and lounge that seats about 30, to the right of the entry, with its own menu, and a garden terrace that seats 30 in warmer weather.
I’d heard so many good things about this place that I took my wife on a recent Saturday night, although I had to settle for an early 6 p.m. reservation. But even at that hour, the restaurant was nearly filled. We were seated underneath a large painting of flowers, one of many that adorn the walls. The restaurant’s modern interior belies its Old Town exterior, with lots of mirrors, subtle lighting and large skylights in the ceiling.
Service is silky smooth. Kaira, a lovely young woman who moved like a dancer, brought the menus and wine list, which turned out to be the tasting menus instead. I was disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t be able to try the saut饤 Hawaii prawns with leek flowers or lobster cr譥 br?as a first course or the butter poached halibut with lobster mushrooms and leek cream as a second, but such is life.
I ordered a half-bottle of the excellent Qupe chardonnay ($22), from one of the better Napa Valley labels in the 110-bottle wine selection. But unlike most wine lists, there’s no separate listing of American and foreign wines, so you have to choose carefully.
My wife is a mussels fanatic, but I can take them or leave them. She ordered them as an appetizer ($9.75), while I chose the game bird terrine with poached dried apricots and brioche ($11.50). The sweet apricots added a nice touch to the terrine, which usually comes with cornichons.
The fragrance wafting from across the table enticed me to sample my wife’s mussels, which were bathed in a tomato-garlic-wine sauce that was irresistible, and I was instantly converted. My wife said they were the best she’s ever had.
My salmon ($25) was wonderful, roasted to a perfect crispness outside and rare inside and served over a bed of risotto, while the side order of spinach ($5) my wife ordered in lieu of an entr饠was as ambrosial as her mussels.
We finished with dessert crepes dusted with powdered sugar and served with diced apples and berry compote ($8.50) that was equal to any I’ve had in Brittany.
All in all, a lovely restaurant as tempting as its name.