Vie de Viridian
n. Veronese green. b. adj. Of or pertaining to this colour.
The four-week old Viridian finally received a long overdue visit from the Kitchenette. Make that four weeks and fifty minutes overdue. Before we go anywhere, let's talk about getting there. Vegan-friendly maybe, but parking-friendly is not in 14th Street's vocabulary. Even on a Tuesday evening, the Logan Circle neighborhood was packed. Not a parking space in sight within a four-block radius.
What happened next is almost too wrong to post-- a walk of shame from the P Street Whole Foods. Yes, we were not customers, but we parked there. The "2 Hour Customer Only" warning signs were intimidating. So was the secruity guard wearing a Whole Foods hat, glaring at cars as they parked in the lot at prime dinner time. To be honest, I was scared. Already feeling like a criminal, I avoided eye contact with him at all costs-- there's no way I could let him recognize what I consider an unforgettable face. Once I crossed the street to Studio Theatre, I knew I was safe.
We flashed one of those "don't ask" looks to the Viridian hostess. But first we stood out front, questioning if this warehouse-looking space was the right place. The sea-foam green paint and metallic sign whispering "Viridian," was so minimalist, we literally missed it four times while driving. Here we were in front of the place, and still squinting to find a clue.
"Parking problems?" the hostess asked. After making sure we didn't settle for the shady, abandoned lot next door (she insinuated a scandalous history), she asked where we finally parked. Ha, like we were going to reveal our secret. My dinner date (and cherished old soul) giggled devilishly and with that, we were at our table making up for lost time.
The urban photography covering the stark, white walls were snapshots a photojournalist would take-- each long print depicted raw emotions in black, white and sepia tones. The cardboard menus (straight from a storage box) somehow matched the theme-- everything was sleek and posh, but real. Each menu (in this case, single sheet of cardstock) was affixed to the cardboard by a fancy black rubberband. Yet again, stylish but functional.
Talk about making up for lost time, our starters were there before my date could even return from the bathroom. The amuse bouche-- a sign of a first-class eatery-- was a triangular bite of portabello mushroom topped with roasted onions and stabbed with a silver toothpick. Only to be coupled with yet another artisan freebie-- bread and wait, that's not butter.
Rosemary focaccia and whole-grain bread (nice texture and slightly sweet) were accessorized with a white bean puree and walnut pesto. Let's just say, I was still munching on both well after dessert was an issue. The white bean paste was warm and smooth, and a nice comfort food to revisit in between tastes.
Viridian cares about details. Kinda like my three-accessory rule before I leave the house-- each plate had a multi-dimensional appeal. My Beet and Horseradish Salad ($6) included hunks of both golden and red beets to serve as the salad's ruffage, topped with horseradish shoestrings. (Not enough to clear the sinuses, but enough to get my attention)
As a beets enthusiast, I'm always excited to see the underdog root veggie hit the mainstream. They remind me of the last kid to get picked for dodgeball, but they always turn around and surprise the jocks (the tomatoes and lettuce heads of the world) with a game-saving catch. Served with a tangy dressing, this salad was that catch.
On to main entrees. The "salmon trout" was confusing in print. No details about the hermaphroditic fish. Just "salmon trout."
Was this like a hyphenated last name? The product of an old college fling under the sea? Or had the fusion restaurant craze penetrated marine life? Can't a girl just order some fish these days! I may sound upset, but the intrigue had me aroused.
According to our server Emmako, the "pinky flesh" gives the nickname "salmon trout," but the fish itself is trout and not salmon, not the other way around. A brand-new menu item, she explained how challenging it is to serve fish these days. After New Orleans, it has become really hard to buy fresh, sustainable fish. The trout just came in a few nights ago from Oregon. Another organic product to add to the list.
(Side Note: The wine list is written en francais.)
As a sharing duo, we ordered the Squash Tart for the second entree.
A layer of winter squashes (including acorn and spaghetti squash) topped with nuts and feta cheese filled the tasty vegan crust, and finished with chantrelle mushrooms. (The same garnish 1789 uses in their trademark pumpkin ravioli)
Vidrian had me yet again intrigued, this time with the spunky tart. Once again, they were sleek and posh, but real. Squash is a real food. The pilgrims ate it for crying out loud. But Viridian made squash sexy. (They also served a Squash Soup ($6) under the Starters)
Garnished with salty green olives, my freakish Salmon Trout still wore its scaly, skin back. If they dropped the "trout" part, I never would have questioned. Long and slim, and as salmon-reminiscent as non-salmon fishes come, the "trout" still remains a mystery.
The restaurant's space was equally strange. Perhaps Viridian was a bank in another lifetime? Turns out it was an automobile showroom at one point and upstairs sits the owner's art galleries, where much of the photography on the walls originates.
All of this came as a surprise to me, as none of the reviews have captured Viridian's mystique. Listing just the address and phone number, the website defines minimalism at its best. And the reviews left out every eccentricity that had me enamored. No one ever mentioned the cardboard menus.
Dessert was entirely vegan-friendly, except for the cheese platter. Each $7 dish had appeal:
Warm Gingerbread with Cranberry compote
Apple Tart with Fruit salad and Dairyless Creme Fraiche
Chocolate Cake with a poached pear
And the house favorite (the restaurant's first dessert), Carrot Cake.
Emmako gave us the cold-hard facts-- the chocolate cake is dry. Blame it on the lack of butter or eggs, but regardless, dry is dry. Her face lit up when describing the apple tart; but "the creme fraiche tastes like sour cream." She promised to replace it with a scoop of chocolate or coconut sorbet instead.
The Warm Gingerbread was served at an in-house private party a few nights ago, and numerous compliments later, was promoted to menu status. Emmako made a face, "but that cranberry compote is way too tart." Apparently the original white chocolate garnish was better, and this cranberry "just ruins it."
Wow. Talk about brutal honesty. Emmako and her convincing disclaimers took control. She liked the Carrot Cake best, and we didn't waste any time ordering it.
Coconut sorbet and finely chopped carrots topped the triangular-shaped cake, alongside a carrot puree and vegan whipped cream. The cake had me considering veganhood if I could eat this all day. And somehow the Apple Tart's crust was flakey (a product of butter). Once again, Viridian worked its dairy-less magic.
Usually the fruit salad takes a backseat to just about anything-- apples brown tragically, textures become soggy, people opt for the non fat-free desserts. But picture crisp, diced apples, kumquats and pomengranate seeds swimming in a light calvados (apple liqueur) and try to tell me that is a disappointment.
Lost in an epicurean translation (I just read the Harper's Bazaar with Kate Winslet that morning), we looked at the time--only a few minutes before 10pm! Would the car survive rude glares from real Whole Foods customers?
Just as we signed on the dotted line, ready to flee, another artisan freebie came our way. Chocolate ginger biscotti topped with a fresh espresso cream. The car could wait. How did a vegan espresso cream taste that good? And how did Viridian have so many free perks? It was like a backwards amuse bouche right before our eyes.
Leaving surprisingly full from a vegan place, we sprinted the two blocks to the car, only to find another well-dressed twenty-something shamefully approaching Whole Foods. Immediately, the three of us were allies, banging on glass windows, begging cashiers to grant us pity.
We already had our story mapped out--the organic shopping spree called for a Starbucks visit across the street. Believable, right? But they shook their heads as if to say, "it's time for you to pay." One angelic security guard poked his head out and pointed to a side garage door.
There the hatchback sat, bravely in an empty parking lot. Something tells me we weren't the first Viridian customers to get away with this crime.
This is a public apology to my dearest Whole Foods, please don't give me bad samples karma. I really am sorry.