Just in time for Alexandria Restaurant Week, I’ve a got a Food! review that presents a bit of a mixed bag – great food contrasted by weird – not bad, just weird – service. Let me explain…
Last week, on the eight month anniversary of our marriage, Greg and I decided to splurge on dinner out. It was one of those “Chamber of Commerce” evenings that are so rare in August – warm temps with low humidity after a more normal stifling week – so we wanted to dine al fresco. Hunting Creek on King Street in Alexandria, Virginia, seemed like the perfect place with its shady, “not on the sidewalk” patio. We had been there once before in February right after they opened, but for obvious reasons, the patio wasn’t open yet!
The food in February had been tasty – certainly good enough to give the restaurant another visit. We strolled down about 6:30 in the evening and lucked out. There was a table open on the patio. In fact, there were two available tables and the friendly hostess gave us our choice. We opted for the table in the middle so we could watch people strolling by on King Street while we ate.
The menu surprised us. It had definitely expanded since our winter visit and now included some tantalizing options. Even the drink menu was intriguing. We had planned a glass of wine and maybe a little bubbly to celebrate our special day. Instead, we ordered from the specialty cocktail menu – a Rye Manhattan (served in a martini glass) and something called “Aviation.” It turns out the Aviation was a very pretty pale purple concoction of Gin, fresh lemon, Crème de Violette and a Luxardo Maraschino cherry. It was as delicious as it was pretty.
Sipping our cocktails, we perused the menu and ordered the heirloom tomatoes with corn relish to get started. This fresh, colorful dish popped with flavor. The tomatoes were vine-ripened-sweet, the corn in the relish was delightfully crisp. The flavors were perfectly paired. The food was so good we overlooked the confusion of having what seemed like an endless stream of waiters.
The hostess saw to our seating. The first uniformed server took our drinks, then another came to ask about our food order. A fourth tended to our water glasses and standard staple of bread and butter. Another gentlemen (the manager? the head waiter?) stopped by to ask about the service. It was a little unsettling.
The food waiter took our entrée order: a filet mignon for me, scallops for Greg. I ordered the four ounce filet medium rare, but it arrived overcooked. I can count on one hand the number of times I have sent food back in my life. This was one of them.
While we waited for the steak to come back, we shared Greg’s scallops. We usually split our entrees anyway, so this was perfect. The scallops, sautéed in garlic lemon butter were outstanding! We noticed a very light coating, which gave them a delightful touch of crunch before the soft bite of a perfectly cooked sea scallop. The sauce provided a brilliant accompaniment. We were just finishing them up when the properly cooked steak arrived.
It was delivered by the server we guessed was either the manager or head waiter. He apologized and offered to comp the glasses of wine we had ordered with dinner. He also delivered the previously-overlooked steak knife. One cut, right down the middle, revealed that brilliant, almost-red color of medium rare. The texture was sublime. Even if the steak was a bit on the cool side, I think the best way to cook a great cut of meat is that touch of sear over the blissful flavor of beef. The chef nailed it!
It’s hard to say no to dessert when everything else is so terrific, so we didn’t. In February we had been talked into the panna cotta, so we figured we give it another go. Panna cotta is not easy to get it right. There’s a creaminess about a good panna cotta that must be hard to achieve. I’ve never tried. I have had a LOT of panna cottas that go just beyond creamy to gelatinous. In February the panna cotta was stunningly creamy. This time it was not. There was just a touch of creaminess hidden in a gelatinous, albeit flavorful scoop.
All-in-all, Hunting Creek was well worth the stop for the food, but Old Town Alexandria has enough other options to try for a better dessert. We also recommend Hunting Creek tighten its service delivery. Again, it wasn’t that the service was bad – our needs were well met – it was just hard to figure out who was who. So much of what makes a meal a culinary adventure is the service that comes with it; Hunting Creek has enough going for it that service shouldn’t prevent it from being stellar.