July saw the opening of Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks, part of a 24,000-square-foot structure in Vienna that embraces Patsy’s American and a second branch of Best Buns Bread Company. “I’m still getting used to it,” Norton says. His 16th restaurant is not just the most personal to date, it’s the ritziest. We’re talking pink Himalayan sea salt on mahogany tables, pedigreed wagyu beef on the menu and a wine list that includes the principal’s favorite by-the-glass splurge, Domaine Drouhin Roserock pinot noir.
“It’s definitely upscale for us,” says Norton, who considers the project “something the market would appreciate.”
Randy’s might be fancy by the standards of GAR, but it’s served with plenty of light touches. The owners opted for welcoming colors in the 120-seat dining room, and commissioned a Maine artist, John Gable, to create five entertaining paintings. Greeting customers in the foyer is a portrait of the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. And yes, that’s Michelle Obama beaming alongside a mint-clutching George W. Bush in the dining room, which also features a painting Norton calls “Three Iconic Women.” The framed fantasy shows Patsy Norton huddling with Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. (Someone tipped the former president off to his likeness at Randy’s. Turns out No. 43 invited Gable to a painter-to-painter powwow at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.)
Culinary project manager Tim Norton says the menu brings together “food my father loves.” So there are oysters on the half shell, lobster bisque shot through with sherry and a chopped salad so big and beautiful, you hate to knock down the basil-laced, buttermilk-dressed high-rise of lettuce, bacon, tomato, julienned carrot and aged blue cheese.
Everything I’ve sampled from the water is a dish worth repeating. A quartet of seared scallops arrives on a field of gently crisp sweet corn and diced andouille treated to pickled ramp butter, and if it’s Tuesday, spring for the daily special of lobster risotto, the sweetness of the lobster balanced with the tang of sun-dried tomatoes.
With his father’s sensitivity to gluten in mind, Tim Norton and team came up with a crab-and-lobster cake bound with shrimp mousse instead of bread. Similarly, the bisque is thickened with pureed rice rather than a roux. One of the few dishes the owner can’t eat, alas, is the pesto-dappled fried calamari that shares its plate with grilled artichokes and a smoky tomato sauce. (It’s a lot of appetizer, by the way.)
No beefs with the steaks. The nicely marbled prime rib-eye comes in the color you want and the french fries go fast thanks to a hot bath in duck fat. (Randy’s is the only restaurant in the company to use the pricey oil.) Pavlova lets diners end the night on a relatively light note. The meringue-based confection, one of several pleasures from pastry chef Tressa Wiles, gets the tropical treatment with passion fruit coulis and Meyer lemon curd.
Good service is as tied to Great American Restaurants as spinach is to Popeye. Why, then, is our waiter upselling as we’re mulling entrees (“Wagyu is an experience,” he tried to steer us) and checking in on us with the dreaded question “Is everything phenomenal?” Managers act like helicopter parents, over-patrolling the dining room. Please, everybody, settle down!
The newcomer incorporates ideas from some of the owner’s favorite restaurants. The green mohair booths are a page taken from Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown Washington, and the steak knife plunged into a berg of chocolate cake is a “wow” Norton says he encountered at Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse in Chicago. (The dramatic presentation has a practical purpose: the knife keeps the tall dessert — plenty for four to share — upright as it’s ferried from kitchen to table.)
Don’t two restaurants under one roof compete with each other? While they’re joined by common restrooms and private dining spaces, Patsy’s and Randy’s offer different price points and culinary experiences, Norton says.
Ever the good host, GAR gives guests using the private dining rooms the chance to taste both establishments. Patrons can select from a Patsy’s list, a Randy’s menu, or a third option: hits from the pair.
8051 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-552-5110. randysprime.com. Dinner entrees, $32 to $84.