What Can You Say?
Geoff Tracy's Virginia offering inspires neither love nor hate.
By Candy Sagon
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Do you know what kind of restaurant reviews are the hardest to write? The kind you're about to read. It's for Chef Geoff's Tysons Corner, a restaurant that has nothing I really love but nothing I really hate, either. It's just a big, boring meh.
The food at this fourth restaurant opened by Washington chef Geoff Tracy is like the Miley Cyrus of cooking: not much complexity. In fact, the most emotion I can muster about it is to say that it's bloody expensive for just okay food.
In Tracy's first venture into the Virginia suburbs, he has taken over the former location of Colvin Run Tavern, which closed two years ago. It's a spacious restaurant with an understated interior of ebony wood, white tablecloths and taupe and cream seats. Up front, there's a large U-shaped bar that packs them in with happy-hour and late-night specials; in back, there's an umbrella-shaded patio.
The menu is what I think of as upscale American chain, meaning it's trying hard to be all things to all people. There are mini-appetizers and regular appetizers. There are multiple burgers (beef, bison and tuna), plus pasta and pizzas. Entree salads, of course. Four different cuts of steak. Ample seafood. A decent number of choices for vegetarians.
Based on the popularity of the place, I initially had high hopes. We first tried to visit at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night without reservations and were turned away (along with several other couples). "We won't have a table available until after 8," the apologetic hostess told us. When we went online the following Tuesday to book reservations for Saturday night, our only choice was 6:15 p.m. We quickly took it.
One thing I learned in three visits here: Listen to what your server recommends. The first time we went, our server was a young woman who bluntly warned us away from the two "summer wines" being offered by the glass. "I wouldn't," she told me when I asked about them. "All my customers who ordered them sent them back." Instead, she recommended a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. (On a subsequent visit, I decided to order a glass of the summer white anyway. She was right. It was acrid and thin.)
On another visit, I asked the server to recommend one of the entree salads. "The seared tuna," he replied without hesitation. "It's the best one." And though the tuna could have used more seasoning than the tiny sprinkle of salt and pepper I could detect, he was right: The slices were nicely seared and the greens lightly dressed in a citrusy ponzu dressing, with crunchy wasabi peas for texture. A friend who ordered the barbecued shrimp salad had a much less satisfying result: decent shrimp all but obscured by big blobs of overly sweet barbecue sauce on top of greens tossed with lime dressing.
We also had two of the restaurant's best entrees, thanks to a friendly lunchtime server who steered us toward the Prince Edward Island mussels and the hanging tender steak. The big bowl of plump mussels comes in a broth of white wine, slow-cooked garlic and the heady anise flavor of fresh tarragon. The hanging tender steak -- also called hanger steak -- is the rich, flavorful cut from near the diaphragm of the steer. It was cooked perfectly. What it needed was more than the tiny drizzle of chimichurri sauce it got. A few french fries wouldn't have hurt, either, for $20.
Among the menu's snacks and regular appetizers, we tried the mini duck corn dogs with purple mustard. I liked the purple mustard. The corn dogs, about the size of my thumb, came on two skewers for $8, and if it hadn't said so on the menu, I never would have guessed duck. I would have guessed Oscar Mayer. Not that that's a bad thing, you understand, but $8 for two tiny school-lunch wieners?
Of the appetizers, we liked the wild mushroom spring rolls -- hot and crisp, with a nice, earthy mushroom flavor -- and the creamy, diet-busting hot crab-and-spinach dip. However, unless you enjoy jacking up your bill for unexceptional food, I'd avoid the $13 fried calamari.
Also in the not-really-worth-it column: the duck lettuce wraps (an overly sweet hoisin sauce on overcooked pieces of duck); day boat scallops on mushroom-asparagus risotto (bland scallops, but the risotto was pretty good); and lemon parsley crusted trout with caper butter (I've had fresher-tasting trout).
The meatball pizza we ordered for my teen daughter was, in her words, "okay." The mild meatballs didn't overwhelm the mozzarella; the crust was inoffensive. Neither thin nor thick, it sort of reminded me of pita bread. She took half of the pizza home and ate it for breakfast the next day, so how bad could it be?
Surprisingly, it's some of the basics at Chef Geoff's that need the most work. Whoever's responsible for those underseasoned, mushy sweet potato fries should be sentenced to three weeks of fry lessons at Artie's, part of the Great American Restaurants chain. And the chocolate chip cookies on the dessert menu? Pathetic. They tasted old and bleached of any flavor, save some sweetness. Order the warm cinnamon-sugar doughnuts instead.
One thing Chef Geoff's gets right: the service staff. The hostess was unfailingly friendly, the servers consistently professional and helpful.
It's just the food that is so ... boring. Or, as a friend put it after we had finished lunch, "It's okay, but there's nothing really special that would make me want to come back and spend my own money."