Restaurant Review: Eventide

Eventide serves up inventive dishes in a vintage setting that’s packed with personality.

Too few restaurants offer the trifecta of creature comforts, competent cooking and skilled service, then go one step further with value for the dining-out dollar. But that is exactly the combination that places Eventide strides ahead of the more casual dining options in bar-loaded Clarendon. Opened in winter 2008 and owned by a trio of partners, who separately run nearby Spider Kelly’s, Clarendon Ballroom and Clarendon Grill, Eventide has ambience and contemporary American cuisine ascending three levels.

What’s more, the renovation and décor of this 10,000-square-foot former meeting hall built in 1925 for the fraternal order of Odd Fellows, is an eyeful, worthy of a restaurant tour. The casual, first-floor 60-seat bar and lounge has a rustic, earth-tone color scheme emphasized by columns of reclaimed wood and exposed ceiling joists. It’s a terrific spot for, say, a pre-theater nosh of pulled pork sliders and crisp, slender french fries, washed down with a microbrew. (In fair weather, the third-floor rooftop patio menu also offers quick dining options.) A wide hallway lined with assorted new and antique mirrors leads to a stairway (or elevator) to the second level.

There, step into drama in the 84-seat main dining room, where avant-garde meets industrial chic. Rough, terra-cotta walls soar to 18 feet, with softening accents of floor-to-ceiling royal blue ultra-suede drapes and massive, original windows framing the treetops of Clarendon. Generously spaced dining tables (made of ancient elm reclaimed from Chinese railroad ties) provide privacy and a low decibel count for conversation. Soft lighting from both an immense crystal chandelier and pendant lights sets a mellow mood. My favorite touch: The eight custom-made booths, each with seating for four and lumbar-support seatbacks, feature armrests that swing out for easy entry, flanking extra-wide, granite-topped tables.

Almost immediately, beautiful golden biscuits arrive at the table, accompanied by an herbal butter. Start with a half dozen, local, farm-raised oysters or, perhaps, the got-to-love-fat pork belly confit, served with a yummy pickled peach purée and an herb spray of Italian parsley, tarragon, chive and lemony purslane. “That’s a very Parisian presentation. Just like home,” said a European pal who joined me one evening. I tucked into a healthy-proportioned chopped salad composed of hearts of romaine lettuce, snow peas, pimento and goat cheese, finished with a pleasant, yet uncommon “green goddess” dressing. Later, the chef shared that his “goddess” is made with firm tofu, basil and watercress purée and a touch of mustard. This guy has sauce skills.

He would be Adam Barnett, whose résumé includes nearby Liberty Tavern, D.C.’s Westend Bistro and the farther afield Inn at Little Washington, where he was lead butcher as well as pastry chef. He joined the Eventide team in late April. His revamped and tightly edited menu has wiped away the opening chef’s Italian and South American influences, bringing in more French technique, which translates to sauces with greater complexity. What hasn’t changed is the efficient and gracious dining room staff—there when you need them; in the wings when you don’t.

A favorite one night was the pretty plate of succulent, farm-raised Carolina brook trout, lightly floured and roasted to obtain a crisp skin, and crunchy baby bok choy. Both were perched atop creamy jasmine rice (infused with almond milk and hints of lemongrass and preserved lemon), ringed with a sweet corn brown butter sauce. I’ll return again for the moist, boned roasted half-chicken, which comes with mustard spaetzle and a nice assortment of seasonal vegetables. Perfectly done.

The same can be said of the large cooked-to-order Long Island duck breast (enough for two), beautifully plated with wax beans, sweet hakurei turnips and a border of black garlic duck jus. Hungry? Don’t overlook the weighty grilled pork chop, served with a knockout black-eyed pea succotash. Another evening, my vegetarian guest was pleased to find two meatless entrées to choose from, settling on a candied fennel and mozzarella ravioli, layered atop a slightly salty, but fresh-tasting ratatouille.

I’m a dessert fan, but not so much in this grand room, where sweets tend to be inconsistent. I’ll take a pass on the ho-hum almond flan, dry coffee cake and the very odd and unappetizing couscous cardamom tart—a study in beige. (Note: The fine gelato offered is made by Dolcezza in Georgetown.) A far better choice is the plate of artisan cheese and a generous pour of one (or more) of the 17, mostly American wines by the glass.

There’s no need to rush. My booth is so comfortable and the atmosphere serene. Lights twinkle beyond those grand Odd Fellows windows. Still, busy Clarendon could be a world away.

Walter Nicholls is a Washington native and former staff writer for The Washington Post.

Categories: Food & Drink