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Recap: Dinner at the Curious Grape

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Because I was cruising around in my flashy red Camaro convertible, I had access to the great unknown—that great inaccessible swath of territory in the D.C. metro area that is impossible or merely too difficult to visit without wheels. Whether it is Great Falls Park, Sugarloaf Mountain, or Shirlington Village, there is no place Cori Sue and her Camaro couldn’t go.

So, I hopped in the car with my boyfriend—my gay boyfriend, Josh. Josh loves good wine and food almost as much as he loves attending gay country western line dancing retreats—and that would be a lot.

We headed to The Curious Grape, a gourmet wine and cheese shop in Shirlington Village, Virginia, that recently expanded to a full-blown restaurant. I knew very little of the curious grape—and I was absolutely blown away by the experience.

The menu is focused on the wine—with hard-to-find list selections like Cremant. You read the menu horizontally: the left-hand column has the food, then the selected wine flavor profiles and, then, recommended pairings (with 3-4 choices per dish).

The menu offers up cheese plates catered to either sparkling, white, rose, or red wine. The desserts also allow you to choose an appropriate glass. You can order half, full or bottles of the vino. The whole menu is like an activity, allowing you to choose your own adventure.

The food is fresh, natural and focused on pairing distinct flavor profiles that will rock your socks off. Seriously, I eat at a new restaurant bi-weekly, and I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed by a dining experience.

As Josh is the oenophile, so he selected our beverages. He is also here to wax poetic about the vino and cuisine in italics.

Because it was a Wednesday—and one should always celebrate on a Wednesday—we began with two glasses of sparkling wine: Cremant for Josh and a sparkling rosé for me. The accompanying cheese selection, which included Grana Padano (a salty, piquant, hard cow’s milk cheese), Fromage d’Affinois (a buttery, creamy cow’s milk cheese) and a Goat Gouda (a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese) was quick to arrive soon after.

From Josh: The Cremant was a perfect pairing for the cheese selection. The goat gouda paired with the dried tangerine and Cremant really brought the tasty nature of the wine out. Anywhere with Cremant by the glass I am a fan of. The cheeses paired well together, the creamy fromage d’affinois contrasting so well with the goat gouda, which was easily the standout cheese on the plate.

For our starters, we selected two dishes: (1) the roasted heirloom beets with toasted almonds, baby greens, grape must and fresh horseradish, and (2) the lightly cured Yellowtail with preserved lemon, fresh chile, cumin seed and radish salad. Josh opted for an Australian rosé and I had the Gruner Vetliner (2011 Steininger) from Kamptal, Austria.

Josh: What a lovely course. Light, beautifully prepared small plates with pizzazz and flair. The beets were perfect, with the appropriate crunch and softness combo so difficult to execute.  Like a child figuring out the easiest way to manage a plate, cutting the yellowtail into segments and wrapping them in the watermelon radish got the job done.

The wine, can we talk about the wine? Shoot for the Austrian rosé, so light in color one could almost miss that it was a rose at all. Its light citrus and mild sweetness paired superbly with the yellowtail and the beets. Without the sometimes over-tart nature of French rosés or the ever-present sweetness of American rosés, the Austrian climate instead is able to truly pair with the food as opposed to overpowering such delicate appetizers as yellowtail or falling behind the earthy beets.

Cori Sue’s Gruner Veltliner was another strong choice. Its minerality and mild citrus provided a different palate completely to compare to the appetizers. It reined in the earthy beets where the rosé ran with them, and emphasized more of the chili and cumin with the yellowtail where the rose seemed to play more with the fish and citrus nature. I could go on, but I’m no professional food critic.

For our main course, we had the (1) russet potato gnocchi with sugar snap peas, porcini mushrooms, pea shoot pesto and pine nuts, (2) the pan roasted sea scallops with black rice, bok choy and plum wine beurre blanc, (3) lemongrass shrimp with roasted peanuts, Thai basil, rice noodles, cucumber and tamarind vinaigrette. In our wine glasses we had the Barbera, 2009 Michele Chiarlo “Le Orme” from Piedmont, Italy and the Malbec, 2010 Tikal Natural, made with organic grapes from Mendoza, Argentina.

Josh: Keeping it vegetarian in honor of the lovely Ms. Morris, dinner was three half portions of some delicious dishes. Starting tip, make sure those shrimp get some of that tamarind vinaigrette. Props to Suzanne (half of the couple that owns Curious Grape) for her wine list. I was skeptical of seeing a Barbera listed as a lighter red, but she had this one pegged. I love Barbera, it’s one of my favorites from Italy.

Considering what we were ordering, I was concerned I would throw off some of the finer elements of the dishes with what can be a very powerful wine. Not to worry, the Barbera was more than up to the match, all without muscling the food aside.

The gnocchi could most easily be compared to home fries, if home fries melted in your mouth. Its accompanying sides brought sweet, earthy, herby decadence to the gnocchi. Imagine little dwarves pulling these from a mossy pond. No, imagine it. It happened. With the Barbera paired, I was quite happy.

For the seafood, I had a glass of Gruner Veltliner that Cori Sue had so enjoyed. I don’t doubt that I could have kept up with the Barbera, but the medium weight and minerality of the Gruner seemed a natural fit and it was a good call. Points to the Chef for executing the scallops to perfection, just right in the middle.

The shrimp, with their cute little heads still attached, lead you naturally to the middle of the plate. Make sure to get to the outside though, because that vinaigrette brings all the flavors together.

For dessert, Josh selected the mango strudel with chai-spiced caramel and toasted coconut ice cream while I immediately jumped upon goat cheese and mascarpone cheesecake with honey caramel oranges and pistachio crust

Josh: Delicious desserts, and though smaller than many dessert monstrosities trotted out around DC, still a good size. I loved the mango strudel with the ice cream. Part of me wanted to dip it like an egg roll (wanted to/actually did, ehhhh).

The caramel was tricky to incorporate at the table, but worth it when you did. I might add some salt to that caramel. I tried it with some lovely ice wine, which though very sweet managed to avoid the trap of being syrupy. Thank goodness for that.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure there is much better than a goat cheese cheesecake—and it was paired perfectly with unique flavor profiles of crumbled pistachios and orange slices. The moist, crumbly cheesecake melted in your mouth while the pistachio added a salty earthy crunch. Heaven.

Thankfully, we were rolled out—and driven home by a friend—fully full, buzzed and content. By hook or by crook, I’ll be back to The Curious Grape for another memorable meal. And you should head there, too.

The Curious Grape
2900 South Quincy Street
Arlington, V.A.

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