Chris and I like to approach DC Restaurant Week similarly to the way many do, as an opportunity to try out new places on Washingtonian’s Top 100 list that we might not otherwise consider due to the expense. Vidalia has been on our to-try list for some time. In the flurry of samplings at the Best of Washington event in 2011, Vidalia’s small cups of onion soup stood out as a dish we have remembered and raved about since. The place is a DC staple, having been around for over twenty years now. Former chef R.J. Cooper earned the James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic here and now owns fellow Top 100 Rogue 24 in DC and opened hot new Gypsy Soul in the Mosaic District this summer.
When our friends David and Cayla asked us to go to Restaurant Week with them recently, Vidalia came to mind as an obvious choice. Not only is it quite pricey usually, but the menu options are extensive and offer something for everyone. I always recommend looking up Restaurant Week menus in advance to make sure the trip is worth it. Jessica Sidman of Washington City Paper’s Young & Hungry blog wrote an enlightening piece recently that covers the behind-the-scenes of Restaurant Week in DC. Though the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington screens menus before approving them, Chris and I have been disappointed a few times by limited choices and/or feeling like we did not get our money’s worth. In any case, the options at Vidalia looked good, confirming our decision on the place for our DC Summer Restaurant Week 2014 choice.
Vidalia’s is in a basement-like space with no windows. The main area is well-lit, however, and cheery. Unfortunately, we were escorted to a funny, dark side room that included only about four tables. I alternated between feeling exclusive and left out of the main dining room fun.
Luckily, the food made up for the seating. First courses at our table included the heirloom tomatoes with blue cheese and bacon, the perkshire pork posole, and the shady lane salad. I was not too interested in Chris’ pork dish at first, but tried a bit out of curiosity, and it was quite flavorful. I absolutely loved my heirloom tomatoes appetizer. It’s amazing how delicious fresh tomatoes can be, just simply adorned, this time of year. The blue cheese, bacon, and light vinaigrette made for a humble, but impactful start.
I took advantage of the “taste” size of wine being offered, and tried two different cavas and a Cote du Rhone — making my own flight to pair with the meal. Chris ordered a mint julep and David tried out the Sherman’s Necktie cocktail (Bulleit Rye, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, R&W Peach, and Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub).
I loved the shrimp ’n’ grits! Heavy on the shrimp and light on the flavorful grits, it was all I could do to refrain from gobbling up the whole thing. Note: It probably would have been impossible to do so even if I tried since it was such a hearty portion. Another choice in the group was the delicious southern fried chicken. For the table, we ordered a side to share of–guess what–baked mac ’n’ cheese! My favorite. I make homemade mac ’n’ cheese so often that snobbishly, I might prefer my own version. But I always very much enjoy the dish at restaurants too.
The desserts came out looking tiny on larger plate displays, but once we dug in, we could barely finish. My flourless dark chocolate cake was absolutely decadent, with a fudge-like richness and texture. David and Chris both enjoyed their pecan pies, while Cayla savored the caramel cake dessert.
Chris and I had Vidalia on a high pedestal after a few years of intending to try it out! We were so glad to finally visit and the upscale, Southern-inspired food was, for the most part, outstanding. As mentioned, we were not thrilled with the atmosphere in the side room. Also, while I know Vidalia is a very nice restaurant, it was too bad seeing the surcharges on the Restaurant Menu beside all the dishes that they are known for: fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, shrimp ’n’ grits, and a few others. Finally, we were disappointed that the onion soup was not offered since that has been on our minds for years. I suppose we will have to return for a drink at the bar and some soup!