Dinner before seeing “God of Carnage” at Signature Theatre in Shirlington, Virginia should be an easy choice. There are so many restaurants in the immediate vicinity. But for me, restaurant choices don’t always come easily. A suggestion on www.donrockwell.com leads me to the newly relocated and expanded Curious Grape, offering “seasonal menu of wine-focused fare.”
Drinking wine before a seeing a show is not really the best idea. My husband has a unique talent of falling asleep at the theater within the first ten minutes. This is without drinking any wine. Wine will only put him to sleep faster. But I can’t resist the allure of a new restaurant, and a teensy glass of wine won’t be so bad, so off we go to The Curious Grape.
One thing that initially arouses my curiousity is why The Curious Grape isn’t a little easier to find. It’s slightly off the beaten path, around the corner from Carlyle Grand Cafe. The restaurant name is posted high above eye level, so you’re not going to see it unless you look up. Way up. Once you enter, you are in a well-appointed wine shop, cafe, and restaurant/wine bar.
We immediately throw caution to the wind and order a bottle of Pinot Noir for our party of six. This shouldn’t cause too much damage in terms of our ability to stay focused on the show. There are four different cheese plate offerings to pair with wine. We order one that pairs with sparkling wine and one to pair with red wine,even though we’re only drinking red. I hope this doesn’t breach some kind of wine and cheese etiquette. These come with delicious jams (strawberry and pear rosemary) and fruit. Our favorite cheeses are goat gouda, and cheddar with caramelized onion. There is nothing like a cheese plate for a delightful and relaxing start to a meal.
We share a number of starters. Lightly-cured yellow tail with preserved lemon, fresh chile, cumin seed, and radish salad sounds terrific. It is a little lacking in flavor. Warm baby artichokes with spring garlic, mint, red chile, and crispy bread crumbs are enticing. We enjoy them, but a touch more salt would help to accentuate the flavors.
We appreciate the zing of roasted heirloom beets with toasted almonds, baby greens, and fresh horseradish.
One of my friends has cremini mushroom soup with toasted sunflower seeds and preserved mushrooms, which is an appealing soup with a variety of textures.
We have three pescaterians (no shellfish) in our party. The only entree options are swordfish and russet potato gnocchi, which is fine except that they are out of swordfish. Three orders of gnocci it is, although another option would be to order from the more vegetarian-friendly list of appetizers. Fortunately, the gnocci is satisfying with its combination of fresh mushrooms, snap peas, and spring garlic.
Entrees at Curious Grape are available as small plates, which I appreciate. I order a small portion of pan-roasted sea scallops with black rice, bok choy and plum wine beurre blanc, along with an additional order of the artichokes and yellow tail appetizers to share. The scallops are seared perfectly, and the dish is very good. I find that it falls just a touch short of living up to its appealing description, although when I see the photo of the dish I’m hankering to give it another try.
One of my dining companions has a well-crafted spice-roasted chicken with green onion polenta, braised kale, and tomato.
As we’re nearing completion of our entrees, we realize the additional artichokes and yellow tail never arrived. This honestly isn’t a big deal. We’ve had plenty to eat. But the management is completely apologetic. They take 10% off the bill, which is a welcome gesture. It is a small blip on what is otherwise competent service. I imagine this omission making me furious somewhere else. Maybe it’s the soothing atmosphere and the effects of some wine. I’m not phased, nor is anyone else in my party.
Dessert is a highlight. They are small $4 delights. No excuses needed for not sharing. I have a refreshing lemon mousse in a crisp cookie cup with lavender blueberry sauce. Others enjoy dark chocolate pot de crème with caramelized hazelnuts and chocolate shards.
The Curious Grape is the kind of place I would frequent if I lived close by. I certainly think it’s one of the best (if not the best) options for pre-Signature Theatre dining. It’s particularly enjoyable for wine, cheese, and desserts. The rest of the dishes have great potential. They look beautiful and have the right ingredients. They simply need a touch more seasoning to elevate them from good to great. I’ll be curious to try it again and see how things develop.
The Curious Grape, 2900 South Quincy Street, Arlington, VA
Review from Capital Cooking