Sunday, January 15, 2012
Virtue Feed & Grain
Alexandria, VA 22314
The first thing you notice about Virtue Feed & Grain is that the space is huge. It is a wide open seating area that meshes well with the bar that runs almost the length of the restaurant. The tables are spacious and gives plenty of elbow room for everyone to sample the food. The next thing I thought about is how in the world do you ever keep up the rent for such a big restaurant (albeit very aesthetically pleasing) which used to be a feed and grain house (presumably for horses). It is located in the heart of Alexandria's waterfront and while it's not New York City, it can't be cheap. The answer, I think, is that while it calls itself a restaurant, it almost certainly doubles as a sports bar since when we went there for lunch, there were equal amounts of patrons sitting to eat a meal and milling about to watch games at the several TVs along the bar.
When I first read the menu, I was excited that there was some eclectic ingredients splashed along the menu such as chicken livers, crubeans, ox tongue and bone marrow. This seemed befitting a Cathal Armstrong restaurant but then you look over the right side of the menu and you see fried calamari, buffalo wings, stuffed potato skins and fried mushrooms and you may be expecting beer pong to break out any second now. To me, the restaurant side seems to be compromising wit the bar side knowing full well that the offerings, while attractive to foodies, may not be enough to keep the place afloat with the local clientele.
We started the meal with the Fried Chicken Livers and Ox Tongue. The Chicken Livers were served over a baby spinach salad and lightly fried and were delightfully devoid of the the "liver"-y after taste that we all know. The breading did not overpower the meatiness of the liver and we probably could have eaten a bit more. I was expecting the ox tongue to be fatty and greasy enough where a taste would just be enough. I couldn't be further from the truth. They seemed to be simply broiled under the oven with some sea salt and fresh herbs. While still full of the fat that defines bone marrow, they had very little grease and when paired with the wonderful homemade bread, it may have been the best dish of the night.
For entrees we tried the Rockfish with Colcannon, Smoked Haddock & Shellfish Chowder and Chicken Pot Pie. The Chicken Pot Pie was more akin the pastry over a chicken stew. The broth, while delicious was more soupy in texture then the creamier and richer versions of pot pie you would expect. The flavors were familiar and expected but beyond the more liquid nature of the pot pie, it was just a pot pie. The rockfish was perfectly cooked and the skin was as crispy as can be. Colcannon, as we found out, was mashed potatoes mixed with a leaf vegetable (presumably kale in this case) that is a half way to being a creamed "spinach". While the colcannon was something new to us, it wasn't enough to distinguish the dish from a nice piece of fish placed on top of a bed of mashed potatoes. The chowder was probably the best of the entrees. The chowder itself was creamy and rich but not so much so that it was overly sweet. The variety of shellfish and the smokiness of the haddock complimented the broth quite well and the serving was generous to a fault. Dipping an additional serving of their terrific bread into the chowder made it that much better. While the meal in itself was good. I don't think it was cooked with the refinement you would expect from such a place. Rather, it seemed like it was meal made by a sports bar reaching up rather than a fine dining restaurant putting out it's best.
I'm not sure if I would recommend visiting Virtue Feed & Grain. To me, its a restaurant with an identity crisis. It is intent on serving good ecletic food with an irish twist but still strives to be the local sports bar. This compromise in identity is shown in the menu and ultimately, while the food is good, it trickles down into the quality of the food.