The restaurant inside the Hotel Indigo in Old Town Alexandria wasn’t fully dressed when it opened its doors (to lodgers only) in April, nor even when we dropped in in mid-July. By the time you read this, however, the waterfront dining room called Hummingbird, from Restaurant Eve owners Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong, is expected to have scored a raw bar. And August should get even fancier with cocktail tables and mirrored bar cabinets, the latter allowing for a river view even if a diner’s back is to the Potomac.
Similarly, Hummingbird’s debut menu is a brief list of crowd pleasers, heavy on seafood, that’s expected to grow along with the design. But even now, there are sufficient reasons to reserve a table in the tidy, light-filled, blue-and-pewter dining room.
One of them is a rope of braised octopus, delicately smoky from a charcoal grill and dappled with enhancements including chimichurri, capers and olives. The octopus is tender without being mushy, a real prize. Crab cakes are as devotees like them, mostly jumbo-lump crab with just enough binding — mayonnaise, bread crumbs, Dijon mustard — to help them keep their shape. A tuft of frisée set off with pickled onions is just the contrast you want for the sweet seafood. A bountiful clam (mussel and lobster) bake packs in andouille, corn and potatoes, along with a raft of toasted bread for soaking up the shellfish broth. Imagine yourself at a beach picnic, sans sand.
On the simpler side is whole grilled red snapper, its snowy interior flattered with four sauces, a collection of little flasks that includes a terrific Thai chile lime number.
The kitchen, attended to by Jorge Chicas, the former chef de cuisine at BLT Steak, considers non-seafood eaters with a pleasing hamburger, using meat from Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative, and a roast chicken that benefits from a brine of orange and star anise. Both dishes are presented with exemplary double-fried french fries that everyone feels free to liberate from recipients’ plates.
Service is genial enough, if inattentive. Drinks might make their way to a table one at a time, and just when you need something, the waiter averts his eyes and walks off. He’s quick to produce the dessert menu, though, and the people’s choice award goes to a plate of cookies and milk. Peanut butter is a standout, while the bar with fig inside it gives Newtons something to envy.
Meshelle Armstrong refers to the look of the 120-seat restaurant as “coastal warehouse chic,” a description supported by the lofty feel and copper weather vanes in the shape of sailboats, roosters, motorcycles and even hummingbirds.
The co-owner also came up with the restaurant’s fluttery name, which gets a shout-out on the dessert list with a moist banana-pineapple cake hinting of rum. “We like the way it sounds,” says her husband of Hummingbird.
Music to the ears, a diner discovers, is also easy to dispatch.
220 S. Union St. 703-566-1355. hummingbirdva.net . Entrees, $14 to $27.