Didn't have a great meal at Virtue recently and I'm wondering if I could have navigated the menu more wisely...
In terms of atmosphere, the place is beautiful - an interior designer's dream come true. The theme of a feed and grain warehouse extends to almost everything (little burlap sacks hold the bill, even). We got there early-ish and with the place fairly empty you could really appreciate all the work that obviously went into creating the elegant/rustic effect. Maybe a little *too* themey, but that's nitpicking.
The food seemed almost like an after-thought when compared to such carefully executed decor. We got an assortment of smaller plates, including two specials, hoping to sample a variety of things and benefit from the freshest ingredients. Overall, everything was bland or out of balance, or otherwise underwhelming.
Fried mushrooms with aioli seemed intriguing, but they ended up being exactly how they sound - whole button mushrooms in breading, deep-fried. The kind of thing that should either surprise you with its simple, unexpected fried goodness, or doesn't seem to warrant a place on the menu at all. They were just OK. Fried calamari was above average in moistness, but considering how dry most fried calamari is I think that says more about other restaurants than this one. The portions for both fried app's were fair-to-generous, although neither was tasty enough that it mattered much.
The specials were baba ganoush and an heirloom tomato salad. The baba ganoush was served hot -a first for me - and came with too-thick, too-hard slices of baguette. The bread was completely wrong for the dip, drowning out its delicate flavor and clashing with its texture. When we tried the dip straight or with softer bread its seasoning came through a little better. Still, I found it too close to bland. The heirloom salad had chunks of tomato that were somehow over *and* under ripe. I'm not a salt fiend at all, and I can't think of a single time I've salted food at a restaurant, but these needed salt to bring out any fruity-ness in the dish. We thought that the strips of cheese on top of the salad were maybe supposed to be the salty element, but they were bland and didn't give any balance at all to the tomatoes (the cheese also had a curious texture, which I actually didn't mind, that reminded me of licorice -- the strips were very glossy and almost waxy). We also shared a crab cake sandwich ($20). The cake itself was good - sweet, nicely textured, crisp - but it was served on a soft roll that was spread with whole-grain dijon mustard. I love the stuff, but it overpowered the crab cake. I thought it was an odd choice considering it usually shows up to cut the fatty richness of sausage, beef, and the like. To my palate, the crab was drowned out by such a pungent mustard.
In all, we walked out for around $75 (including tax and tip, no alcohol) pretty disappointed. I've had the lunch special at Restaurant Eve and thought everything was excellent; I also really like the Majestic and I've had lots of fish and chips at Eammon's. I'm a fan of Cathal Armstrong's commitment to Old Town and his work on school lunch programs, but my ultimate loyalty is to food not chefs! Virtue gives the impression of a project where the design team responsible for the space was motivated and genuinely inspired, but the food team lacked that spark. After this dinner I'm feeling pretty skeptical about the place.
Before I write it off (at least for a while), I'm wondering if anyone else has maybe had entrees there, or made better choices among the small plates? It occurred to us as the meal was winding down that maybe Virtue's real virtue lies in being Alexandria's most stylish, comfortable, and scenic bar - we weren't drinking and so maybe we missed its best charms? I would go back for a drink with visitors, maybe, just to enjoy the ambiance. But unless I hear of undiscovered gems on the food menu Virtue won't be a dining spot for us...
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