When my husband asked where I’d like to go for Valentine’s Day, I told him that my only request was that he choose a restaurant that we hadn’t yet been to from the list. He chose Grapeseed American Bistro & Wine Bar, a lovely little restaurant in downtown Bethesda.
Now, I did have some reservations about reviewing a restaurant on Valentine’s – after all, these prix fixe meals tend to be vastly different from the regular menu. But Grapeseed’s philosophy is based on crafting small dishes to compliment hand-picked wines, so I figured that the Valentine’s menu would be nicely representative of their typical approach.
Speak of which, here’s the menu ($65/person; click to enlarge, if you so desire):
To accompany our meal, I chose the wine pairings ($30) and my husband had a Java Head Stout ($5). The wine throughout was delicious and very well-paired, and my husband reported that the hints of coffee flavor in his beer were great.
Our meal started with this amazing bread and tomato tapenade. It was so good that we actually had two baskets of it, and we’re not usually big bread eaters. Something about the fresh tomatoes (sweet yet slightly acidic), garlic, and oil (olive? grapeseed?) made for a really simple yet tasty dish.
For our first course, we were intrigued by both soup options, so we ordered one of each and shared halfsies (this is one of our favorite things to do, by the way). I began with the lentil soup, cilantro and grilled shrimp salad. Interestingly, the lentil soup itself tasted almost exactly the same to me as Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup (which, fortunately, I really like!). The shrimp on top were well-seasoned and a nice complement to the lentils. For this dish, my pairing was a Domaine Pichot “Le Peu de la Moriette,” a fruity chenin blanc that was almost a bit too sweet for my liking.
My husband began with the cream of celeriac soup with cumin roasted pepitas. The base was smooth and creamy and nicely spiced and the mini pumpkin seeds on top gave it a little crunch, providing a nice contrast in texture.
On our second course, there was no doubt of who was getting what. I knew that my husband would be drawn to the housemade gnocchi with hot Italian sausage, broccoli rabe and parmesan. He reported that, with perfect, doughy gnocchi, pleasingly spicy sausage and crisp broccoli rabe, the dish did not disappoint.
I had the risotto with butternut squash, sage and pistachios (I really can’t resist anything with butternut squash). It was quite tasty and well balanced, but I did have just a few pieces of risotto that were undercooked. Not surprising on a night when the kitchen is producing so many of the same plate, and I still enjoyed the dish a lot. My pairing for that dish was a La Gerla “Rosso de Montalcino,” an Italian sangiovese that was very smooth, light and velvety (perfect with a dish like risotto).
Things became truly decadent when we got to the main course. I selected the butter poached lobster with calamaretta gratin, fennel and saba. And wow, was it good. The lobster was perfectly tender and the butter flavor came through but stayed appropriately in the background. The calamaretta (Italian pasta shaped like rings of calamari, hence the name) and fennel were great, and the saba sauce was so delicious that there was nary a drop left on the plate when I was finished. All of this was paired with a Hartford Court chardonnay that was deliciously crisp and light.
Since I went for the “surf,” my husband chose the “turf,” ordering the filet mignon with oxtail ragout and horseradish mashed potatoes. His meat was perfectly cooked with a nice crust on the outside, the sauce was velvety and complex, with bits of the ragout throughout, and his mashed potatoes were so good that I may or may not have stolen several bites from across the table.
Finally, it was time for dessert. We both ordered the chocolate cremeaux with orange caramel and devil’s food crumb. While it may not win any beauty contests, it was so good that I savored every bite – the chocolate mousse-like cremeaux was just divine and the orange caramel added a slightly acidic extra dose of sweet. Plus, the devil’s food crumb kind of reminded me of the crunchies in a Carvel Ice Cream Cake, which is a very good thing. My dessert was accompanied by a glass of Hardys Whiskers Blake Tawny Port, which was really special – sweet, but also a bit tangy at the finish. I’ll be looking to buy this port in the store.
All in all, we were pleased to have had a very nice meal at Grapeseed, and would be interested in going back to try it on a “normal” night. Even with the Valentine’s rush, though, we had excellent service and were very pleased with our food.