The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2016 Spring Dining Guide.
The city’s best churros — hot, crisp, fluffy in the center — are where you least expect to find them. Yet no meal made me sadder this year than my last visit to Vidalia, the once-proud bastion of Southern cooking in the city. The plunge in quality isn’t immediately apparent; Vidalia’s suited waiters are as polished as they come, and isn’t it fun to have your Manhattan fired up at the table? (Literally, with a flame and smoke.) The cornbread is as fine as ever, too. Otherwise, last summer’s departure of longtime chef de cuisine Hamilton Johnson has left a meteor-size hole that his replacement isn’t filling. She-crab soup tastes like not much more than hot cream poured over some seafood bites. (“Poor crab,” says my companion.) Once a splurge, sweetbreads and waffles sandwiching tough asparagus are a bust atop their cloying bacon “fondue.” Whoever tends to the grill knows what he’s doing, though. Both the pork chop (with dense hush puppies) and the lamb porterhouse (with a pretty swipe of zucchini puree) show that someone is paying attention. Alas, the collard greens seem to be competing with the chess pie for sweetness. Did we catch Vidalia on a bad day? A prior meal in winter left me shaking my head, too. I used to overlook the fact that the dining room is underground and windowless; the cooking had my full attention. Now I can’t get the tinny elevator music drifting from the bar out of my head.
→1990 M St. NW. 202-659-1990. vidaliadc.com.
Open: Dinner Monday through Saturday.
Prices: Entrees $30 to $58, prix fixe $68 to $78.
Sound check: 67 decibels / Conversation is easy.
Previously (2014): 3 stars