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Kinkead's Colvin Run Tavern: First Impressions

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For me this was the most eagerly awaited opening of a restaurant in the Washington area in at least the last five years. Kinkead's, arguably D. C.'s best overall restaurant and a James Beard Award winner, was opening a companion restaurant in the Virginia suburbs across from Tysons Corner Center. I first ate at Kinkead's in its opening week and have returned an averaged of five or six times a year every year since. I remember Bob Kinkead from his first D. C. restaurant, 21 Federal on L St., as well as his original in Mass. He is also responsible for some of the best seafood dishes that D. C. has ever seen ranging from authentic whole bellied clams, a true lobster roll, pepita crusted salmon, serious long simmered stock based soups and chowders, his interpretations of Asian seafood dishes and on and on and on.
Colvin Run Tavern seems to be an attempt to focus equally on meat as well as seafood with interesting inclusions such as foie gras and a roast beef "cart." For Tysons Corner and its multitude of steak houses this is a quantum leap to serious, original modern American dining. Exactly that which downtown Fairfax County is ready for and needs.
It is a handsome restaurant with a definite K Street feel to it on the site of the old Primi Piatti's just behind Tiffany's. When seated we were given a tour of the four different dining rooms, all small, with two of them featuring a majority of booths, both two seater, four seater (somewhat cramped) and open booths for three or four and room for three chairs on the far side. The central dining room was a bit darker than the others and, in our opinion, much the most atmospheric and preferred. In this restaurant-more than others-the room you sit in will make a difference. Although it is brand new we really did not like the overall ambience of the back room. But then most of Kinkead's in D. C. has never had a great ambience but the food has always more than compensated.
The wine list is very limited. Perhaps ten merlots, ten cabs, a few Italians, maybe fifteen French, probably a total of 60 to 75 red wines as a guess. The number of white would be similar. It was priced VERY REASONABLY. Canoe Ridge '98 Merlot was $45.00. I paid $65.00 two weeks ago at BluePointe in Atlanta. '98 Castella di Ama chianti was $65.00. On the other side of Tysons at Maestro it is $75.00. But to compare this wine list to, say, the Capital Grille across the road it had seemingly a fraction of the number that the steak house did. Still, the selections were excellent and with the pricing an overall plus.
There is a different standard that I apply to the Colvin Run Tavern than I do to others. It is different because there is a choice to drive ten miles into D. C. and go to the original. It is because with everything that has been established downtown and in New England there is simply a different set of expectations. When my wife and I first went to the PA Ave. restaurant we returned three or four nights later; in fact we probably were there an average of once a week for three months before we grew "use to it."
It will be a long time before we return to the Colvin Run Tavern.
Overall it is a good, perhaps very good. But, simply, it is no where near the level of his D. C. flagship. Its prices are, however with appetizers ranging from $9 to 15 and entrees mostly in the high 20's and up. With the exception of ice cream ALL desserts are $10.00.
I don't have the menu in front of me and I did not take notes so my comments will be very limited and I apologize. A scallop appetizer feature four grilled medium size scallops that, while I am certain they must have been fresh, really did not taste it. Fresh diver scallops can be a sensational dish. These were merely very good. A clam appetizer had an interesting presentation with a pot whose top, when opened, folded over to provide a bowl to put the shells in. The broth with large globs of creme fraiche was delicious. Kinkead's has always made absolutely superior soups and chowders. This was delicious with an interesting textural contrast with the warm flavorful clam broth and the creme fraiche. My guess is that this will become one of his signature first courses.
We were told that his lamb entree could be considered his signature: this was a long cooked lamb roast(?), chopped and formed, flavored with fresh rosemary and served in a mound with browned pearl onions, au jus and a kind of baked scalloped potatoes. It was good.
But neither of us were crazy about the texture. Last weekend we had kind of a lamb "osso buco" at the Greek Taverna in McLean which actually tasted similar except that it was better and about half the price. I would have preferred this as a falling apart tender cut of meat, not one which had been piled back together. The potatoes were superb. The au jus "gravy" was delicious as were the onions. Overall a very, very good dish but nothing really better than a serious home cooked pot roast. This is really comfort food, not enormously creative with unusual flavors. My guess is that the texture is what is intended to set it apart.
I believe I have had the best filet mignon of tuna anywhere on earth: North 44 on Younge St. in Toronto which is arguably Toronto's best restaurant. This is the house signature dish there and as such I order anytime I see it on the menu in a restuarant that I visit for the first time. It is kind of like my kung pao chicken test of a new restaurant. When I went to the French Laundry I was overjoyed to find it as one of the courses. (Although only three bites it was still delicious and challenged North 44's). In D. C. Citronelle features it and is superb there. Not quite as good as North 44 but close enough.
At the Colvin Run Tavern it was good. Although this was sashimi grade tuna and cooked rare as requested it just really lacked the intense flavor of the others. Piled on top of fava beans (?) it was a pleasant dish but not one that I would have expected of Kinkead's downtown. For me I thought that this might have been a chance to return to the incredible tuna that I first found in Toronto but it was not.
Oneof the features of this restaurant is the rolling, sterling silver roast beef cart. Intereesting presentation and we did not have it. But we looked. Upclose. Yes, it looked good, juicy, flavorful, it had real promise. But the Colvin Run Tavern has some real competition here: the Prime Rib on K. Street where it is really a great dish by any standards. And at the Prime Rib the cut is bigger. It could be that this will be the real true signature dish and it may be absolutely delicious, I was just surprised that the cut was not a bit bigger. It's not important that the meat fall off the plate, it just wasn't quite as thick as I might have expected. Probably an inch cut.
For dessert we didn't have what are probably the two best ones. They both required a fifteen wait and we were only told about this after all of the dishes were cleared and didn't want to wait that long. Probably we should have.
Kinkead has long had the best ice cream in D. C. and Colvin Run is no exception. His pistachio and butter pecan are absolutely superb. Creamy, intensely flavorful, just great ice cream. But the warm chocolate tarte didn't have a lot going for it. At ten dollars it was actually rather boring. It was served with pistachio ice cream as kind of a warm cake a la mode. It just wasn't the over the top dessert we might have expected.
For $175.00 there are choices in D. C. The original Kinkead's, Vidalia, Obelisk, Citronelle (maybe $50 more). This was a very, very good restaurant. But I suspect that based on the success of the original we probably expected too much. We will return but only after reading all the reviews and learning what we SHOULD have ordered. Also after giving it a period to grow and refine the preparation.
I will find it extremely reassuring if others post in response to this that they had a truly wonderful meal that was on the level of the downtown restaurant. For Fairfax County this is a badly needed restaurant offering a real alternative to the many chains that dominate the dining scene. But it has a ways to go. If I were grading this for Zagat I would have given it a 25 for food while Kinkead's gets a 27 or 28 as does Citronelle and Obelisk. Again, this is good but at the same price as the others my wife and I will make the longer drive downtown.

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  1. $29 for any app, any main and any dessert, though avoid the deep-fried rabbit with a crust only an icepick could love.