So the hotel revamped the decor, menu and name of its signature eatery. The result is the warm and welcoming Tavern 64 Regional Kitchen, which opened in June with a Southern-inspired menu featuring Virginia and Maryland ingredients, including the booze in its retro cocktails. Even the name has local roots — Reston was founded in 1964.
Decor-wise, the biggest change is in the bar area, which was enlarged and brightened from the cramped, dark, assignation-only feel it used to have. The new dining area, with its attractive wraparound wall of windows, has soft gray, weathered wood floors, taupe walls and two granite-topped communal tables accented with orange chairs.
The chef is 31-year-old Sean Glover, a West Virginia native who has been cooking at the Hyatt for six years. He helped create the regionally sourced menu, because “that kind of food is not really being offered in the Town Center,” he said.
He’s right about that. The Tavern’s menu at lunch and dinner is certainly one of the most creative in the Reston area. In particular, there are interesting small plates, soups and salads you won’t find elsewhere and a welcome variety of seasonal vegetable sides — fried Brussels sprouts, corn bread mash, collard greens — as well as vegetarian dishes and a couple of laudable vegan options.
But Tavern 64 is still fighting the battle of many hotel restaurants: a kitchen staff not quite skilled enough to pull off an appealing but ambitious menu. If Glover and his cooks want to equal experienced Town Center competitors such as Passionfish and Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food, they’re going to have to step up their game.
On the improvement to-do list are little things, such as the dry corn bread in the bread basket. And the waiter who doesn’t know the wines well enough to recommend one.
There are also bigger problems, such as consistency. The scallops and succotash are inedibly salty on one visit; the seared flounder for the fish and chips is under-salted on another. Fries are flaccid on two out of three visits, and our waiter confided to us during one dinner that the sweet potato pancake that comes with the otherwise delicious pork belly appetizer needs to be much crisper.
These are not insurmountable problems — the scallops, for example, were plump and tender, but someone was ham-fisted with the salt, probably (as the chef later told me) because it was the busiest night since the restaurant reopened and the kitchen had been slammed. Perhaps, but two nights later when I had seared scallops at Passionfish, they were perfect. That’s what Tavern 64 is going up against.
But let’s talk about what we did like, starting with the cocktails. The selection is divided into classics, royales, fizzes and aperitifs. In keeping with the overall theme, many of these have deep Southern roots, including drinks such as the Sazerac, mint julep and refreshing, slightly fizzy Bowman’s Bramble, made with Virginia Sunset Hills gin, soda water, blackberries and a splash of elderflower liqueur.