Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vermilion

1120 King St.
Alexandria, VA  22314
703.684.9669
www.vermilionrestaurant.com
Vermilion on Urbanspoon

I guess I'm determined to try out every restaurant that's part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group which isn't surprising since they seem to consistent put out great food.  I've now been to the Evening Star, Rustico and Tallula.  For this week, I decided to try out Vermilion for lunch.  I wanted to go try out their food since they are hosting this really interesting outdoor dinner on a farm called the Spring Farm Dinner.  They're a big proponent of local farm raised products but before I shelled out $185 for one meal, I wanted to get a little preview first.


Vermilion can be found on King Street in Alexandria which is essentially a murderer's row of really good food. From Hank's Oyster Bar to the Majestic, there isn't a shortage of places to find an enjoyable meal.  Vermilion (for some reason I just like typing that out) has a lunch special called The CEO where you can get a starter and a main course for a discounted price and if you add a dessert, they take a bit off of that also.  Um...sold!  I've noticed that most of the NRG's restaurants offer similar specials and while they're not fast food joints (I think the proper term may be casual fine dining though I would hope any place I eat is fine dining...), I think I "combo" meal is a great idea for any restaurant since it gives more leeway to try bits of their menu.

I decided to start with the Chilled Asparagus (soup).  Soup's in parentheses since they just call it Chilled Asparagus on their menu even though its a soup, well more like a gazpacho.  Whatever, they just call it Chilled Asparagus.  I call it pretty darn good.  The mixture included a large dollop of creme fraiche in the middle along with slivered almonds, chives (they look pretty at least), and virginia ham.  When I read the virginia ham part on the menu, I was expecting maybe little thin slices that would be soggy in the soup (don't ask why, I just was).  I was pleasantly surprised to find it crispy and fried which gave it a distinct bacon taste.  The ham and almonds gave the dish some great savory crunch while little bit of bitter taste from asparagus was smoothed out by the creme fraiche.  I would suggest trying the soup first and then mixing the creme fraiche thoroughly into it.  It will give you two distinct stages of flavor for the dish which I certainly enjoyed.

For a main course, I ordered the Crisp Skin Trout.  It was two filets of trout (skin on) that had been pan roasted to the point that the skin was nice and crispy (hence the name!).  The fish were placed on a salad of shaved fennel (including the leaves!), slices of citrus (tangerines, blood orange mostly).  There were caper berries included which I regret not trying but they looked like some sort of alien plant pod and I don't like capers for the most part.  Drizzled on top was a black olive vinaigrette.  I am an unabashed fan of crispy fish skin done right and this was certainly done right.  The trout was flaky and delicious and taking a bite of the fish and skin together was such great flavor and texture contrast.  However, the salad with its mixture of citrus, fennel and olive earthiness was the star of the dish.  It provided refreshing sweetness, acidity and tartness with the citrus (especially the blood orange); and that combined with the crunch and licorice-like taste of the fennel was a great layering of flavor.

For dessert, I got the Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta.  Yeah, I love Panna Cotta.  I got it when I ate at the Majestic and sometimes I make it at home.  Sue me!.  It tastes friggin' good.  This version, however, was more than just panna cotta.  There were slices of the same citrus found in my main along the edges and on top of the panna cotta was first a lemon poppy seed shortbread cookie with a type of orange marmalade on it AND on top of that was a blood orange sorbet.  All of it was good.  Forgive the rudimentary description but I thought that summed it up quite well.  The panna cotta was light, fresh and creamy with hints of vanilla seed. I really enjoyed having the tartness of the citrus again to balance out the sweetness of the dish.  The sorbet was refreshing and the shortbread cookie with the marmalade had the crunch to give you a contrast to all the softness found in the dessert.  The combination of the cookie and marmalade was so good that I saved it for last.

The one drawback in the meal was (and I was seated upfront by the window) that the table was usually sticky.  I don't know if it wasn't cleaned or that was its natural state but everywhere you touch was sticky.  It was a little discomforting when you inadvertently touched the wood of the table instead of the place mat with your bare skin.  For the most part however, Vermilion provided  a great atmosphere and great food at a good price.  I don't know Virginia well enough to know if all it was sourced locally but they weren't exotic ingredients by any means.  I do know they were prepared very well and gives me a good feeling if I do decide to try the spring dinner.

P.S. I was bored a bit and used some photo enhancement tools in Picasa for this post.  I thought they turned out quite nicely.
 

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