Editors' pick


$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

2011 Spring Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chef Frank Maragos and then-fiancee Sue Wilson were alumni of the Inn at Little Washington with big dreams when they opened Foti's six years ago in Culpeper. With him focusing on the food and her minding the dining room, the eventual husband and wife received a three-star buss in these pages.

Then, the recession hit. Diners from Washington and Fairfax stopped filling tables, the restaurant trimmed its hours and the chef swapped pork rib-eye roast for pork tenderloin on the menu. "We had to battle through a change of perceptions," recalls Frank Maragos. To appeal to a more local clientele, portions got more generous.

A healthy serving of plump shrimp and pork belly is fine by me, especially when the surf-and-turf appetizer arrives on a nest of glistening seaweed and gets a sweet-and-sour sauce that juggles garlic, ginger, allspice and rice vinegar on the tongue. Something different (and tasty) tops each in a quintet of curry-laced deviled eggs: fish roe, local ham, fried capers, smoked paprika and chives. Quail marinated with thyme and lemon juice is accompanied by crushed potatoes and grilled asparagus seasoned to let the vegetables shine; shiitakes and Gruyere in puff pastry reach out to the patron who doesn't eat meat.

Desserts are fun. Little cups of peanut butter and chocolate pot de creme set off with quarter-size tuiles are what Reese's pieces can only aspire to be, while chocolate-striped yogurt custard in a delicate pastry shell nods to the chef's Greek background.

Service is still gracious, if a bit less smooth than in the early days. Water is poured in unison, but it might splash on the table. A waiter forgets the night's special mid-sentence and awkwardly bolts to the kitchen to refresh his memory.

"We took off the linens" to make the place less formal, Maragos says. Even so, his restaurant - gently lighted and warm in brick and wood - still feels like a special occasion.