Historic Town, Worthy Addition: Tom Sietsema Reviews Trummer's on Main in Clifton
7134 Main St., Clifton
** 1/2 (out of four stars)
Sound Check: 70 decibels (Conversation is easy)
It takes about 45 minutes to get from downtown Washington to Main Street in Clifton. The drive captures beautiful houses, lush lawns and, toward the end, more twists and turns than Mark Sanford's love life. The last 60 seconds or so of the journey count among my favorites. That's when the road smooths out, the historic Virginia town announces itself, and Trummer's on Main comes into focus.
A year and a half ago, the couple behind the sign, Stefan and Victoria Trummer, decided to leave their restaurant jobs in New York and return to Victoria's home town, where they and their investors bought the former Hermitage Inn Restaurant and poured $2 million into what it is today: a very good reason to gas up the car and catch some intrigue.
Launched in July, Trummer's on Main is three floors of soothing style, starting on the ground level with a stone-walled bar and wine cellar, and climbing to a second floor with two dining rooms: the intimate and arty Loft and the larger Winter Garden, suggestive of a greenhouse, with a soaring glass ceiling and lazy circling fans. The top floor, reached via elevator, shows off the work of local artists and welcomes private parties.
Trummer's still smells new, like a car fresh from the showroom. And in these early months, the restaurant feels a bit hesitant, like a first-time party thrower. "Wine? Cocktails?" a server blurts out even before she has handed us the menus. The rolls that are brought out (continually, if you don't wave away their bearers) are warm and yeasty, easy to keep eating. The savory courses that follow are more complex than the few words used to describe them on paper.
Consider an appetizer of chilled oysters. Aside from the seafood, "avocado," "lime" and "celery water" are the menu's only hints about what you can expect. Not until the dish is presented at the table does everything make sense. The avocado, pureed with lime juice and olive oil, serves as a rich base for slivered celery, cucumbers, potatoes and those raw oysters, which become a sort of salad when tossed with sherry vinaigrette. Lime juice and juiced celery (the "water") are whipped to a froth and dappled over the assembly. The tongue has fun rolling all the flavors and textures around.
A less successful example of the menu's spare verbiage: "Rhubarb. Spinach. Grenadine." The three words support another first course billed as Vanilla Belly: pork brisket injected with vanilla paste, which is not as unappetizing as that sounds. Matchsticks of brined rhubarb and a verdant splash of pureed spinach help color the plate. So, unfortunately, does a pink fluff of whipped cream tinted with grenadine. The resulting tableau is odd, as if a dessert had mistakenly wandered onto an entree.
Clay Miller, 38, has cooked under chefs as diverse as Norman Van Aken (Norman's in Orlando), Joël Antunes (the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, in Atlanta) and Thomas Keller (of the acclaimed French Laundry in Napa Valley, where Miller was a chef de partie for 11/2 years). The executive chef at Trummer's says his intention here in the Virginia countryside is to serve "something you wouldn't get anywhere else" while also offering "food people can understand." He mostly succeeds, although some dishes could use a tweak or two.