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Restaurant Eve Review (long)

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Restaurant Eve Review (long)

Lucullus | Jan 7, 2005 09:04 PM

On December 30 my wife and I took my parents to Eve in Alexandria for their forty-ninth wedding anniversary. It was my first time at this restaurant, and after hearing much about it on this and other chowish sites I was eager to taste what the buzz was about. We were not disappointed. Although not perfect, Eve was a memorable dining experience, and hounds of all spots and stripes should try it post haste. It is especially gratifying to be able to say this about a local restaurant that has been open for less than a year.

We ate in the Tasting Room, where my father and I had the nine-course, my wife and my mother the five-course menu. I started with an aperitif, the “New Age Gibson,” made with Bombay and garnished with plump pearl onions infused with saffron. Like much of the food that would follow, it was a witty and carefully prepared riff on a classic preparation.

The amuses let us know immediately that we were in the hands of an imaginative chef with a well-schooled crew: delicately blanched leaves of Brussels Sprouts filled with an aromatic mushroom duxelles, deviled quail eggs topped with osetra caviar, a little button of foie gras mousse studded with a spiced apple compote of perfect, tiny dice. All left us eager to see what would come next.

My parents and I started out with the lobster crême brulée I had read about so often on this site. The little timbale of lobster custard with its sugar glaze was presented attractively on a long, narrow platter together with a few morsels of lobster garnished with a fennel compote and tarragon vinaigrette. Unfortunately, it seemed that someone in the kitchen had applied the blow torch a bit too long to my example, so half the custard had liquefied. Despite this last-minute mistake, the combination was inspired and the flavors were spot on. The anise tones of the fennel and tarragon paired beautifully with the lobster cream, and this pairing in turn was enhanced by the sweetness of the sugar glaze.

Meanwhile, my wife had chosen the marinated kampachi for her first course. The single slice of fish was served carpaccio style, “cooked” only by its marinade of anise and licorice. It was a simple presentation in which bright and bracing flavors showed up the freshness and sweetness of the fish.

The nine-course continued with “OOO” (oysters, osetra caviar, and onions). A creamy blanquette of caramelized onions and caviar enrobed the delicately poached, succulent oysters atop a light tartlet shell. The flavor and fragrance reminded me of a rich and luxurious version of the humble Alsatian tarte flambée. What impressed me most about this dish was how the chef showed an unfussy respect for the natural flavors and quality of his ingredients while combining them with ingenuity and flair--really the essence of all great cooking.

For our third course my father and I had the terrine of moulard duck foie gras with fig jam. I don’t think the chef was intending an Alsatian theme of any kind, but this dish, like the “OOO,” reminded me of Alsace, because the last time I had such a carefully prepared and flavored foie gras terrine was in a restaurant tucked away in the foothills of the Vosges. Eve’s was dense, rich, luscious, and everything else you would expect a traditional foie gras terrine to be. The presentation, with sticks of brioche toast, was also traditional, but this garnish lacked the eggy richness that makes brioche such a beloved accompaniment to foie gras terrine. The fig jam was bright and deeply flavored; the chef’s judicious use of jams and fruit compotes would prove to be a delightful thread throughout the evening.

For their second course, my wife had the ahi tuna with braised oxtail, rapini, and celery root, and my mother had the pan roasted onaga snapper with cauliflower panna cotta. The snapper was also the fourth course for my dad and me. Both it and the ahi tuna were faultlessly prepared. The piece of lightly seared tuna I tasted was of such high quality I would almost have preferred it raw, but then I would have had to forgo the sumptuous reduction of oxtail broth and aromatic winter flavors that accompanied this dish. The snapper was a morsel of succulent, deeply flavored fish with crisply seared skin sitting atop a disk of cauliflower panna cotta just firm enough to hold its shape. The sauce was a fragrant lobster cream. This talk of panna and cream might make this dish sound heavy, but, as with the “OOO,” the subtlety and simplicity of the flavors and the judicious portioning of the components kept it light and appealing.

Eve’s wine list is arranged by style rather than region or grape variety, something I don’t care for but which I suppose has its merits. It is also very eclectic, a quality I admire but that puts me and my admittedly Eurocentric wine preferences at a disadvantage. Despite this, the wine we had been drinking until now was a no-brainer, a Riesling from Zind-Humbrecht. It was a near perfect accompaniment to the foie gras terrine as well as the tuna and snapper dishes, and as the food was creating all manner of Alsatian associations in my mind it could not have been a better choice. For the upcoming sweetbread and game dishes, however, I wanted a “Burgundy,” and sommelier Todd Thrasher suggested an Oregon Pinot Noir, Soter Beacon Hill. This wine turned out to be a highlight of the evening--all the rich berry overtones of an old-school Burgundy, and every bit as worthy.

The Soter sang with the fifth course on the nine-course menu: veal sweet breads with caramelized apple and Calvados. The veal was an exquisite, fluffy, juicy morsel, lightly dusted with panade and fried with the utmost delicacy and respect for the texture of the meat. The apple and calvados-infused sauce paired magnificently with the sweetness of the sweetbreads while carrying through the fruit flavors that had already appeared in a number of dishes.

For their third course my wife had the seared venison loin and my mother the roasted guinea hen with cabbage and quince. The latter was an attractive and traditional presentation, with the leg meat in a little galantine. The skin was beautifully crisped, though the meat in the one bite I tasted was a tad overcooked. The sauce, a reduction with cabbage and quince, again brought out this chef’s use of fruit flavors to brighten traditional combinations and styles. The same could be said for the venison, which was also the men’s sixth course: a perfectly cooked morsel of the highest quality presented with a simple demi-glace flavored with huckleberries and chestnuts.

The women then had a selection of artisan cheeses, which I did not sample but which by all accounts were good and presented well (i.e., at the right temperature). The seventh course for my dad and me was the cheddar soup with Irish bacon sandwich--a tiny tureen of soup accompanied by a little canapé-sized sandwich. Here, the attempt at a witty quotation of an old favorite (“ham and cheese”) fell flat, and the dish was a dullard compared to the smartness and light touch of all the others that had preceded it. Despite the small portions, the oily grilled sandwich and the saltiness of the smoked meat and cheddar soup were heavy going this late into the courses.

At this point Todd Thrasher came to our table to wish my parents a happy anniversary and present them with a few gifts. To our delight he also brought us a round of “Hot Chocolate” on the house, something I had wanted to try since reading about it here and elsewhere. All I can say is that this ideal winter warmer, an alcoholic concoction of peppers and chocolate, lives up to the pun of its name and epitomizes the witty and imaginative style of Eve.

The eighth course for my dad and me was house-made yogurt with caramelized pear--a refreshing and tangy palate cleanser that again demonstrated the chef’s use of caramelized fruits and compotes to heighten the interest of individual dishes while conveying a sense of continuity in the overall menu.

For desert came a “gift box:” A small chocolate box topped with a tiny golden sugar ribbon and filled with a creamy chocolate-hazelnut ganache. It was executed with technical skill worthy of a first-rate Brussels confectioner. I ended the meal with a 1995 Madeira that helped me reflect on everything that had come before it.

A few quibbles about service in addition to the food-related ones already mentioned: Both bottles of the Zind-Humbrecht we ordered were underchilled, even though I mentioned this problem to Mr. Thrasher after the first bottle. (Could this be an example of overcompensating for the widespread tendency to serve white wines too cold, somewhat like mistaking undercooked vegetables for al dente?) Our welcome was a bit confused. On leading us to our table the hostess suddenly said, “Hold on!” and left us waiting while she backtarcked to talk briefly with a colleague. I think the welcome of a restaurant is like the handshake of a first acquaintance, so this made me feel a bit uneasy. At our table, service sometimes appeared uncoordinated or impromptu, though otherwise professional and solicitous. These are probably nothing more than wrinkles that will be ironed out once the team finds its rhythm.

People in the Washington metropolitan area are fortunate to have Eve in their midst. This culinary treasure is easily one of the best restaurants on the East Coast, and all hounds should get there as fast as their paws can carry them.

Lucullus

Link: http://www.restauranteve.com

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