2941 Fairview Park Dr. (near Route 50), Falls Church.
Open: for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday through Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; for brunch Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All major credit cards. Smoking in bar area only. Valet parking. Prices: lunch appetizers $5 to $9, entrees $10 to $32; dinner appetizers
$5 to $21, entrees $19 to $32; brunch buffet $26 for adults, $20 for children. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $90 per person.
A lake in Falls Church? It's the first of many unexpected sights I encounter on the way to 2941. This fledgling restaurant, surrounded by trees and nestled into one side of a sleek office building, overlooks what turns out to be Fairview Lake.
As I surrender my keys to the parking valet, I'm struck by how inviting even the exterior is. Flanking tall glass doors are pools of illuminated water, one outside, another within the foyer (and animated with live fish). Windows stretching skyward -- do they ever end? -- capture a modern dining room that bids visitors welcome with tangerine-colored linens, honeyed wood, flickering hearths and a glam U-shaped bar, its marble counter a swirl of caramel and white. The restaurant's generic name might give customers a fix on its location, but hardly suits a place that merits its own photo spread in Architectural Digest.
2941 opened to almost no fanfare in November, though the project had long been on the drawing board and was originally scheduled to open a year ago. A partnership of chef Jonathan Krinn, a Bethesda
native, and his first cooking teacher, Pascal Dionot of Maryland's L'Academie de Cuisine, plus two investors, the project had been on Krinn's mind for five years.
The restaurant is also a bit of a family affair. "The chef's dad makes our bread twice a day," a waiter says as he places a basket with half a dozen different varieties on the table. "Tonight we have Parmesan, sage, apricot, fennel, pumpernickel, a plain baguette . . ." Made by Mal Krinn, who has studied baking with masters here and abroad, the breads are so fine you're apt to fill up on them before you receive your first course.
Try to show some restraint, though, because what follows might be some of the best food of the season. A veteran of two distinguished New York restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Union Pacific, Krinn has a knack for taking what we've come to expect in upscale restaurants -- luxury ingredients, smart presentations -- and making them feel fresh and different. In one of many clever introductions, slices of tuna are glazed with soy sauce, sake, sesame oil and ginger, and presented like lollipops, along with glistening tuna tartare bound with a delicate ginger mayonnaise. As overexposed as it is these days, calamari becomes novel when Krinn brushes the ringlets and some zucchini slices with a tempuralike batter and offers them with a couple of teasing dipping sauces. These hot seafood puffs are so light they practically levitate. The chef's foie gras may well be the area's finest; sprinkled with crushed pistachios when I tried it, the fragile lobe tasted like silk fused with liver. Its almost-liquid interior tempted me to enjoy it with a spoon.
More adventures lie beyond the first page of the menu. Fresh scallops, a main course, show up scored and caramelized. Wreathed in mushrooms that taste rich with cream but have not a drop of it, they look like white blossoms. And wild rockfish reminds me how wide the gulf is between wild and farm-raised. 2941's extraordinarily flavorful version comes flecked with bright herbs and sits in a broth, invigorated with olives and tomato, that dances nicely between light and bold.
"We serve our meats as duos," a waiter explains, pointing out that an entree of grilled steak comes with braised beef cheeks, and Wiener schnitzel shares its plate with veal tenderloin. That golden schnitzel, closer to a souffle than a piece of meat, could compete with anything Austria has to offer (the secret involves fresh bread crumbs, high heat, a knob of butter and perfect timing). Between the savory courses come tiny palate cleansers that actually stimulate the appetite, such as blood orange "soup" poured around a thimbleful of sparkling lemon sorbet. Two cool bites and it's gone, though the memory of it lingers.
Only rarely does the kitchen miss. Otherwise fine sable fish is tripped up by a sweet pablum of pureed parsnips. There's also a tendency, on busy nights in particular, to oversalt some dishes. As for the dining room, I have yet to see co-owner Dionot break a smile as he watches over his domain throughout the evening, and the background music is better suited to an elevator in a discount department store than a room of such relaxed grandeur. Yet those seem like easy wrinkles to iron out.
Krinn is his own pastry chef; like so much that comes before them, desserts are pure and pretty creations. My favorites include a custard subtly flavored with pumpkin and maple, and a glorious rice pudding set off with a wafery cover of meringue and a garnish of warm diced, roasted fruit. The custard comes with a light slice of honey cake, the pudding with some refreshing lime panna cotta and pineapple sorbet.
The fun continues even after you set down your dessert spoon. Just before the bill, a parade of treats makes its way to your table: chocolate-covered almonds, tiny house-made marshmallows, and apothecary jars filled with . . . cotton candy! Forget the stuff you might remember from trips to the fair; Krinn's fluff, which changes flavors from visit to visit, keeps hands dipping into the tall glass jars for yet another pinch. Concord grape, green apple and lime all resonate with true fruitiness -- and leave diners laughing.
Come to think of it, I've done a lot of smiling at 2941. I love the way the slender lights reflect, much like plumes of fireworks, in the big windows. I applaud the intelligent wine list and the elegant flatware -- among the details here that whisper "we care." But most of all, I'm thrilled to see a chef feeding us so well so early in the game. Raising standards for an entire dining scene has rarely looked so effortless.
After a concert they attended finished a few minutes late one recent Saturday, Reston readers John and Jo Anna Morgan called Gerard's Place in downtown Washington, where they had reserved a table for 9 p.m., to let the restaurant know they would be there by 9:20. (The restaurant typically seats guests until 9:30.) "I was told by a rude maitre d' that the kitchen was closed," recounts Jo Anna Morgan. When I phoned to get the restaurant's side of the story, chef-owner Gerard Pangaud apologized. "If they had called me personally, I would have taken them," he said -- then laughed in agreement when I pointed out how unlikely it would be for a customer to reach a chef on the phone on a Saturday night. Pangaud added, "I was victimized by an employee who wanted to go home early." Even so, an unwritten rule in the restaurant world says that guests and hosts alike get 15 minutes extra to honor their reservations -- and a bit more if the customer has the manners to call ahead and explain.
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