Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Curious Grape

The Curious Grape is a specialty wine and cheese shop in Shirlington, VA. The shop has recently expanded to include a fabulous restaurant in March 2012. Executive Chef Eric McKamey has designed a seasonal menu of wine-focused fare, balancing simplicity and precision with surprising complexity to match an impressive lineup of wines served by the glass and bottle. There is also a fantastic selection of beers on draft and in bottle.

A northern Virginia native, Chef McKamey honed his skills under some of Washington's top chefs at 2941, Palena, Central, and CityZen, just to name a few. But the fun of dining at The Curious Grape is about more than just fabulous food, as there are  top notch wine pairings available to satisfy any oenophile.  In October 2012, Open Table diners voted them as having one of the Top 100 Wine Lists in the country!

After watching a movie, we headed over to The Curious Grape for dinner.  The wine shop area is most prominent when you walk in with a large round glass case area in the center of the room.  The dining area is off to the right side and was already quite full when we arrived.  We sat against a crazy patterned wall that made Keith dizzy throughout the evening.  It reminded me of those 3D puzzles and was lucky that my back was towards it.  The hostess thoroughly described the layout of the menu with food courses on the left and suggested types of wine pairings on the right.  Our server soon came over and recommended we pick several small portion dishes to share and do our own little tasting and wine flight.  While waiting for our first items to arrive, we nibbled on the fresh pumpkin seed focaccia with pumpkin seed oil.  It was different and seasonally appropriate. I was tempted to finish the whole basket, but knew I had to refrain and save room for the food yet to come.

First, we each drank the 2011 Joel Gott Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington.  It was very light and crisp and paired well with the Cremini Mushroom Soup.  The soup was wonderfully rich with an unexpected burst of lemony flavor from the beech mushrooms.  The drizzle of oil and toasted sunflower seeds on top also provided another layer of richness.  The evening was starting off on a high note.  Keith also ate Braised Wild Boar Empanadas with cilantro and served with a spicy pumpkin seed salsa and creme fraiche.  The empanadas were perfectly crispy on the outside and full of meat on the inside.  After waiting a while, our next glass of wine arrived - 2011 Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé from Pfalz, Germany - which we enjoyed with one of the night's special, the House Cured Salt Cod Brandade Fritters with Espelette Aioli.  The wine was a little more fruity than the first varietal, but a nice segue to the medium bodied wines we chose for the later courses.  The cod fritters, on the other hand, were disappointingly bland and mushy.  The aioli had a little spicy kick to it, but added little to the lackluster fritters.  During this course we also shared the Pan-roasted Sea Scallops that arrived with black rice, bok choy, and a lovely plum wine beurre blanc.   The scallops were cooked just right and the black rice had an air of licorice that gave another unexpected quality to the dish.  This combination of ingredients and presentation reminded me most of something you'd find at 2941.

By this time, the dining room was packed and you could tell service was falling behind.  Tables were getting restless and minor glimpses of stress were seen on the faces of the servers who hurried around the room offering complimentary cheese platters to settle inpatient customers.  We accepted our platter of an onion cheese and Swiss cheese with almonds, grapes, and apricots and happily sipped on our next glass of red wine - 2009 Torres "Celeste" Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain - as we waited for the next course to come from the kitchen.  I've written here before: "give me a cheese platter and a glass of wine and I am totally happy," as was the case again this evening.  Next, we enjoyed Butter-poached Lobster with a house-made corn stuffed agnolotti and diced apples.  The presentation was pretty but the lobster pieces were a bit overcooked and chewy, while the agnolotti were undercooked.  Possibly a casualty of the overwhelmed kitchen, but the lobster was outshined by the larger portioned Spice-roasted Chicken served with mascarpone spaetzle, matsutake mushrooms, and a smoked paprika sauce.  The chicken was expertly seasoned and had a crispy skin with tender and juicy meat.  We really enjoyed the spaetzle as well and this dish proved to be one of the favorites of the night.  To end the meal, I ordered my last glass of wine - 2010 Sanford "Flor de Campo" Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County, California - that complimented a decadent dessert of Warm Chocolate Soufflé.  The soufflé is made fresh to order and takes about 18 minutes, so be sure to order it ahead of time.  It arrived with a cute shot glass of chocolate hazelnut creme anglais that you can pour over at your leisure.

Despite the course delays from the kitchen, the staff was knowledgeable and overly accommodating and made up for it in other generous ways (they took 25% off our check).  Each course showcased high quality ingredients and the wine pairings available made for a totally enjoyable evening.  The Curious Grape certainly left this diner curious to see what other innovative creations are yet to be featured.  I only wish they were more easily accessible by Metro for us city-dwellers.  Check them out next time you are Shirlington!

Total Rating: 4.13
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 3, Accessibility: 3

What I ate:
Cremini Mushroom Soup
with preserved beech mushroom and toasted sunflower seed

Pan-roasted Sea Scallops
with black rice, bok choy, and plum wine beurre blanc

House Cured Salt Cod Brandade Fritters
with Espelette Aioli

Cheese Plate

Butter-poached Lobster
with house-made corn stuffed agnolotti and diced apples

Spice-roasted Chicken
with mascarpone spaetzle, matsutake mushrooms, and smoked paprika

Warm Chocolate Soufflé
with chocolate hazelnut creme anglais

Plus Keith ate:
Braised Wild Boar Empanadas
with cilantro, pumpkin seed salsa, and creme fraiche

The Curious Grape on Urbanspoon

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