Veronique's, on the second floor of the Gateway Marriott in Crystal City, wants to impress you with its food, service and setting -- and is not shy about charging you for the effort. Indeed, this is a place someone might take you to lunch -- this review is restricted to the lunch menu -- to make an impression.
When it comes to service and decor, Veronique's can be impressive. The waiters are always available, courteous, and well-informed about the menu's offerings. Nonetheless, some of the service production may be overblown. The soup was dispensed pretentiously at the table from a silver pitcher, and the large, silver-domed lids covering the entrees seemed to be contrived.
The setting is dramatic, but reminiscent of other plant-filled atrium dining rooms. A wall of smoked glass, visible from outside, gives a wide-angle view of the clouds and an occasional crane building the next Crystal City skyscraper. Painted wooden beams and chrome, gazebo-like structures overhead create a garden-like atmosphere. Various types of seating, from straight-backed or upholstered chairs to loveseats, and mirrors give a feeling of comfortable elegance.
As for the food, the kitchen shows flair and imagination but its portions, with some exceptions, tend to be modest and their prices high. Good service and elegant surroundings don't come cheaply.
One way to ease the expense is the daily luncheon specials for $11.95, which include a choice of soup or salad, and tea or coffee. A couple of interesting specials recently have been the shad roe with lump crab meat and a trio of tenderloins -- lamb, beef and buffalo -- over grilled vegetables.
In addition, the chef touts a "daily selection," which on one occasion was an exceptionally good version of broiled lamb chops. The flavor of the three perfectly done chops was complemented by a madeira-laced brown sauce with truffles and foie gras. The strips of carrots and turnips and whole green beans, however, were not uniformly fresh or as carefully prepared as the lamb. Also included on the plate was a generous portion of cheddary scalloped potatoes, making this one of the heartier offerings.
A lighter entree, the swordfish aux trois beurres, showed care in the grilling of the swordfish steak which, because it was thin, easily could have been overdone. But the anchovy, herb and smoked salmon butters added a seasoned glaze that was less enchanting than the fancy name would imply.
A sauce with more presence, the brandy-flavored light cream sauce served with the veal Avignon, sported three varieties of mushrooms on top. The two rather small medallions of veal were flavorful, but slightly grainy. The vegetable assortment on these two plates was again inconsistent. The carrots looked and tasted old and dry, while the green beans were fresh and had been nicely cooked to a faint crunchiness. The white asparagus and small, new potato added more variety than flavor.
On the other hand, a thick bed of julienne zucchini topped with shellfish was perfectly cooked al dente. The two other notable things about this dish were the exquisitely tender bay scallops and the bright colors that made you reach for your sunglasses. The day-glo colors came courtesy of a saffron yellow cream sauce that intensified the green of the zucchini and the coral of the shrimp and lobster pieces. The pale scallops were turned bright yellow and a red-orange crayfish was used to garnish the plate.
The yellow-orange color turned up again in the delicious broth of a light, creamy lobster bisque with flavorful chunks of lobster. The bisque is one of two soups offered daily on the short, expensive list of appetizers. A shrimp cocktail goes for $7.50.
Unless you order a luncheon special, which includes a salad, you might be tempted by the salade internationale. This salad includes artistically arranged leaves of endive and romaine, sprinkled with a delicate, strawberry vinegar dressing. A spinach salad, however, had little to recommend it other than size.
In the middle of the dining room is a dessert island: a table with mirrored pedestals to show off the fancy work of the pastry chef. Two of our choices were superb: the chocolate cheesecake was wonderfully cheesy and not too sweet, and the chocolate mousse was dense and rich. The Irish cake, however, had an unpleasant, slippery frosting and the apple tart was so-so. Ice cream and fruit also are available.
Veronique's, with its expensive appointments and polished staff, aspires to be a stylish, upscale restaurant with superior food. While it succeeds in some ways, it does not yet consistently reach the heights for which it aims.