I am surprised that this little jewel of a fine dining establishment doesn't receive more fanfare. It's tucked in a the back of a strip mall a few doors down from the Virginian on Glyndon St., just off 123. Cafe Renaissance is not that big -- the main room might seat 50 on a Saturday night, and the little room off the front side might seat another dozen or so -- but it is probably the most comfortable and romantic dining room in northern Virginia. From the white tablecloths with fresh cut roses, the tuxedoed and attentive wait staff, the paintings and murals on the walls...this is a destination for a nice event or a dinner with your special someone.
Saeed and Soraya are the Persian couple who own the restaurant, and Ocean is the Turkish chef who runs the kitchen. In just a few visits they become your family.
Ocean's food is the best kept secret in northern Virginia. He generally nods in the direction of Italy and France, with a few Turkish riffs tossed in. The mussels are spectacular, with a garlic-y broth as the base, which I sopped up with almost a whole basket of bread. My girlfriend then enjoyed a tower of salmon, monkfish and crab cake, sauced with a wine and butter reduction, with a wonderful carrot puree that was poached in Grand Marnier for 4 hours. I had a mixed grill of lamb and steak, each bit tender enough to be cut by my fork, and sauced with a raisin glace.
On previous visits I was able to enjoy my inner European foodie with pate, sweetbreads and calves liver, or my inner Italian with all manner of pasta dishes, like Capellini Renaissance with shrimp, scallops, calamari and mussels. But whenever I have a hankering for a big pile of mussels, this is where I come.
For flair, Ocean is experimenting with different dinnerware shapes and sizes, and he is also exploring some new twists on recipe themes. I'm looking forward to tasting the evolving repertoire over the coming months.
Wrap the ambiance of the restaurant around Ocean's food, and it's really a special place. The only reason I don't go there more often is my concern for my waistline.
A word about the extensive wine list -- Kirby Pope, who runs the Vienna Vintner in the same strip mall -- and worthy of a whole write-up on his own -- helped put together a very thoughtful and extensive wine list for Cafe Renaissance. You're not likely to find a better wine list this side of 2941.