Meet Michael Biddick. He’s a former tech CEO who developed a passion for the cuisines of France and Spain and got interested enough in wine to write a book last year called “43 Wine Regions.” More recently, and with the support of three other families nearby, the onetime cybersecurity expert channeled his interests into an attractive new restaurant and wine bar in Vienna.
Welcome to Blend 111, a name that’s supposed to underscore its address and tell you that three countries are involved. (Biddick’s wife and several investors are from Venezuela, represented on the menu by a baked empanada and arepas.) The restaurant, located at 111 Church St. and aiming to be sustainable, opened in May. The idea, says Biddick, the primary owner, was to “take different cultures and put them together.”
First impression: nice space. Blend 111 opens with an airy bar with touches of blue that practically demands you belly up to it. Beyond, the brick-walled dining room displays paintings of women created by a Venezuelan artist, sleek seating and a view of Abby McManigle in the exhibition kitchen. Before coming to Northern Virginia, she served as an executive chef at several wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Second impression: nice drinks. Watermelon juice spiked with tequila and ancho chile liquor (ask for the Picantarita) is welcome relief from the heat of summer.
After that, though, things get harder to swallow. The pale, underbaked olive rolls go unfinished at our table, and the dense beef-and-pork meatballs are pushed around their plate, a disappointment. When we’re asked for a temperature for duck breast and halibut, we leave it in the chef’s hands, hoping for something rosy and moist, respectively, and receiving entrees that are tough and arid, respectively. Roasted potatoes and spring peas do their best to distract you from the sorry fish they support.
Shrimp ceviche tastes as though it came from a different kitchen. That’s a compliment. Sliced seafood strewn with microgreens and delivered with a lime half and crisp olive oil crackers encourages me to book a second dinner. So do the desserts. Coconut flan accessorized with plump cherries and meringue-capped lemon curd keep forks and spoons busy.
Round 2: We’re grazing on fluffy-centered panisse frites served with a cool and herbaceous Green Goddess dip — good so far — but also anemic grilled quail paired with a black and cloying plate mate of charred onion jam. I get that the chef wants to take advantage of summer’s bounty. (Her accompaniments change like Lady Gaga’s from meal to meal.) But some of her ever-different compositions come across as just, well, stuff on a plate. Consider the salad of orange, yellow and purple carrots, some cooked more thoroughly than others, dappled with goat cheese, garnished with flowers and finding room for cherries and shaved fennel.
Everyone in the dining room seems new to their jobs, as if they were playing restaurant instead of working in one. Attendants are pleasant enough, but they don’t sense when it’s okay, for instance, to interrupt a conversation. Biddick shares the same habit, but at least he has a little story to tell you about the biodynamic red wine he’s pouring, from Bodega Joaquín Fernández in Ronda, Spain: The producer maintains on his estate a bee colony, from which he collects beeswax for sealing his bottles instead of foil. Finca Los Frutales, highlighting syrah and merlot, pairs well with the hanger steak, its edges crusty from the grill.
The restaurant is very much a work in progress. Its heart seems to be in the right place, but for a better blend to happen, good intentions require better execution.
111 Church St., Vienna. 703-232-1640. blend111.com. Dinner entrees, $19 to $32.