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DC Dining by Don Rockwell

February 13th 2012

Maple Ave. Restaurant (Vienna) – There are so many things about Maple Ave. Restaurant that I like – it’s a true mom-n-pop, owned by Chef (and pop) Tim Ma, and GM (and mom) Joey Hernandez, a lovely young couple – and relatively new parents – who have taken a decrepit building, and turned it into something charming, not unlike Pupatella has done. Actually, more than any restaurant I can think of, this feels to me like Element in Front Royal (and if you’ve been to both, you know why). Matt and I arrived at 6 PM on a Friday evening. Following the laws of supply and demand, this teeny-tiny restaurant with Tim’s ambitious cooking seems like it’s almost always full – we were lucky to snare a table that needed to be released at 7:15. I wish the wines by the glass here were $1-2 less expensive, but the food is reasonably priced and the money needs to come from somewhere. A glass of 2009 Zaca Mesa Viognier ($9) paired very well with our first two courses: a composed Beet Salad ($8) with thinly sliced, poached beets, spiced walnuts, red wine vinaigrette, a touch of Himalayan salt, and the bond that tied it all together: Laura Chenel chèvre. The star of the meal, and the single best dish I had all week, was the Salsify Soup($8), thoughtfully divided into two small bowls for us to share. I don’t know the recipe for this soup, but I enjoyed this as much as anything I’ve had on my three visits here. A bottle of Terrapin Moo Hoo Milk Stout ($6) accompanied our next two courses which I felt were slightly weaker than the first two: Shrimp and Grits ($9) with jumbo tiger shrimp, venison blueberry sausage (!), red onions, piquillo peppers, and stone ground grits was a little out of balance with the almost chocolatey-tasting sausage (but both the shimp and the grits were good), and Steamed Mussels ($9) were PEI’s, with saffron coconut broth, thai chills, Chinese chorizo, and grilled crostini – worth ordering, but caught me at the wrong moment as I’m getting a bit musseled out (just as I was with scallops a couple of years ago). These were both perfectly fine dishes (and look at the prices), but after that titanic salsify soup, pretty much anything is going to be a letdown. For 24 hours, I had it in my mind that Maple Ave. Restaurant was going to be restaurant of the week, but after letting the joy of the moment fade, I just can’t forget what a solid showing Masala Art made during the Super Bowl – it truly could have gone either way this week, and I can’t imagine anything other than long-cooked Indian food being a candidate for such a thing on a delivery-only basis (it excludes the entire front of the house aspect which is arguably just plain wrong). Enthusiastically recommended as Very Good to Excellent, and Noteworthy for being such a cool, funky little dive mom-and-pop with the audacity to have aspirations of fine dining, as well as for being the number one ranked restaurant in the Vienna-Oakton area. I really like Maple Ave. Restaurant, and if you care about small, family-owned businesses with character and soul, then this is a restaurant that you should be supporting.

 

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