Lyon Hall in Arlington - Report
Nine Chowhounds descended on Lyon Hall in Arlington for a menu of innovative Alsatian cuisine. A lot of innovation, a lot of nibbles on the menu. It is a bit swank yet still Arlington casual. Tiny votive candles on the table and frenetic music in the background. Open only for dinner. I think you can even eat here quite late if you only need their wonderful pate (and the like) plus liquid refreshment.
Very hip place, yet they still let us in. Go figure.
The kitchen is very accomplished and we had some truly extraordinary food, mostly nibbles. In my mind, it is already a place for great dining. Full disclosure; one of us works there, and we were gifted three menu items from the kitchen.
The pate de campagne is a knockout that goes well beyond the norm. Very moist and appropriately fatty. A tremendous effort. A selection of three choucroute are on the menu, and we got two of them. Complex flavors, but close enough in taste so getting one is plenty. Rich tasting, top notch. The potato and prune dumplings have a gorgeous flavor and are a must order. Duck fat fries are thick planks, super crispy. Beet-cured arctic char is delicate, delicious, and has a supple texture.
Some of the food here is served with homemade mustards – they are dynamite creations – or in the case of the charcuterie or fruits de mer plates, pickled vegetables. They are extraordinary creations as well. The attention to detail is staggering.
The showpiece of our order was a skillet of sausages, four different styles, with a variety of other ingredients sautéed over, under, and alongside. If you dreamed of eating in a country inn in Alsace, you still could not get a gorgeous mess of food like this. Vegetarians beware.
Other items we tried were good not great. Duck prosciutto, pickled mackerel, a special apricot salad with an assertive vinaigrette, and a main course of arctic char with an unusual pumpernickel crouton on top. Delicious flavor to the sauce underneath but the fish was a bit dry.
We got a selection of five desserts as part of a sampler platter. Every one was a hit, so just go for whatever sounds good to you. The black forest cake turned out to be a riff on the flavors, not really a cake. This I adored, but if you really want a chocolate ‘fix’ you’d have to go for the chocolate praline dessert. Other desserts were banana tart tatin, a brioche of apricot, cherries, and lemon curd, and a streusel in the form of rolled wafers.
the very best thing in all the dinner was the fabulous cheese sauce on those dumplings. i was told the name of the unusual cheese used in it (latin american?), but i don't recall it, now. the sauce was perfect, light, creamy, silky-smooth. forget the dumplings; serve the sauce as a soup! ;-). no...i'm serious!
the second most fabulous thing was the chocolate work, as garnish for some desserts. the chocolate is the highest quality, silken belgian chocolate, carefully and beautifully crafted. i wish the chocolates were the star of the desserts (i.e., chocolates that aren't only garnishes). do they do a chocolate ice cream? i understand all things on the menu are made in-house, so i will bet that the ice cream is outstanding. next trip, for sure.
i agree about the char, and thought it overcooked. was that a crouton on top? i thought it was skin (but it did fall off). lol! it was a small portion, too, for the price. the greens underneath were nothing remarkable -- and undersalted.
many things needed salt, except the sausage and pate, which were well-seasoned. the sausages were sufficiently fatty (and thus juicy), and served in a bowl where spaetzle and potatoes also were sort of jumbled underneath. i liked the kielbasa the best. i'd like the different accompaniments under the sausages to be grouped, so you can adjust the amount of each you take.
the celeriac and turnip krauts tasted no better than cabbage kraut. the turnips and celeriac could be put to a higher use. do they do a celeriac in a vinaigrette? that'd be nice. as steve noted, the pickled vegetables were top-notch -- and cute (you'll see).
the appetizers (and our dessert sampler) are served on slate pieces, trendy, neat, and hard for the servers to handle. the steak knives are the high quality laguiole knives (or looked a lot like them).
the appetizer presentation was very sophisticated. the pate should not be served cold, however.
don't expect their strudel to be traditional. it is like a strudel egg roll. our sampler platter was sans ice cream, of course, but i think many of the desserts would benefit from ice cream. the strudel rolls are warm, and would be good especially with ice cream. the brioche dessert was good, reminding me of a cobbler, in feel. the lemon custard in the brioche dessert was fine, but maybe i'd like it paired with something crunchy.
the coffee with chicory in the insulated cafetiere (just like this one: http://thecookskitchen.com/browse_697 ) was very tasty and perfectly hot. even if you don't eat dinner here, this is a good place to stop in for dessert and coffee after dinner somewhere else.
down note: the bathrooms, while clean, are dark and -- over the sinks (only) -- are open into the other bathroom. yes, men and women see each other washing up. <now, how can we talk about them without a bathroom refuge?> this is a trend or idea that should be ended, imo. i want privacy. (to be fair, the stalls are totally enclosed cubicles). the hand dryer sounds like a rolls-royce turbine engine readying for take-off. no paper towels (ach!!!).
wine by the carafe was just fine. the nutella shooter tasted like light chocolate milk.
our servers were attentive and friendly.
we'll be back.
ps, special thanks to helena! bon voyage!