To many Montgomery County dwellers, traveling to Northern Virginia to dine is akin to visiting a different country. While a passport isn’t necessary, it does require pre-planning and a willingness to travel over the American Legion Bridge just for fun. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Since traveling for food is one of my favorite activities, I am not daunted by a restaurant in Vienna, Virginia. But somehow Clarity lingers on my dining to do list for longer than it should.
Clarity opened in Vienna in Spring 2015 with a menu that’s modern and creative but varied enough to have broad appeal. Many restaurant-goers were delighted at chef/owner Jonathan Krinn’s return to the kitchen. He is the well-respected former executive chef at 2941 in Falls Church and Inox in McLean. His Clarity partner is Jason Maddens, a former Executive Chef at Central. The duo have garnered enthusiastic reviews for Clarity, including a recent nomination from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for New Restaurant of the Year.
The Clarity dining room is bright and cheery with light woods and azure accents. The open kitchen in the rear is bustling on a Saturday night. The patrons skew older and more conservative than the urban restaurants we frequent. But for my husband and I – celebrating 33 years of marriage at this Clarity dinner- this isn’t a bad thing.
The cocktail menu at Clarity tantalizes with concoctions like Tamarind Chili Margarita and 5-Spice Old Fashioned. I would appreciate more time to settle in to enjoy our drinks fully before our first course arrives. Service is warm and attentive, but the pace of our meal moves rather quickly.
Smoked arctic char-tare with red beets, yellow beets, orange slices and dollops of creme fraiche is bright and lively. There’s enough beet puree on the plate to soak up the remains with some wonderful crusty bread. One of the highlights at 2941 during the Jonathan Krinn days was the bread, made by the chef’s father, and he’s at it again at Clarity.
Seared New England sea scallops take on a tropical flair with diced pineapple. A smear of black garlic puree lines centers the dish, and a zesty trio of creamy sauces bring simultaneous sweet and heat. The flavors are rave-worthy, but the proportion of sauce to scallop is a bit overwhelming. I yearn for something to sop up the excess- more bread perhaps?
Sliced yellowfin tuna nests on cold ramen noodles splashed with tamarind vinaigrette, and topped with scallions and peanuts. It’s a flexible dish, available as an appetizer or entree. It completes a trio of dishes that demonstrate flair and finesse.
We are nearly finished with our meal when Chef Krinn, shmoozing his way around the dining room, stops by our table. He’s surprised to learn we’ve traveled from Silver Spring, and pleased we’ve chosen Clarity for our anniversary dinner. We haven’t mentioned this previously, though once we’ve spilled the beans we’re treated to glasses of champagne and a take-home menu printed with an anniversary greeting. The visit from the chef and the acknowledgement of our celebration elevates the experience.
A meal at Clarity is a good deal, with most main course dishes in the low to mid $20’s. There’s also a hamburger for $16 that gets rave reviews at the table next to us, and a ribeye for $34. A must for a return visit is the five course tasting menu for $65, which currently includes seared foie gras with berries. Chef Krinn tells us he will adapt the menu to address dietary restrictions, giving my kosher/pescetarian husband the encouragement he needs for a swift return.
I can see clearly now why “I love that place” is the refrain I hear when I mention Clarity to anyone who has dined here. I’m happy to finally join that chorus.
Clarity, 442 Maple Ave E Vienna, Virginia
Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2016, #29,
Washingtonian restaurant review by Todd Kliman
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: Double the pleasure, double the fun