EatBar, Clarendon, VA

EatBar was so good when it first opened. And it was good for a long time, too.

But despite a ridiculous amount of talent in the kitchen, the restaurant has been in a corporate-induced tailspin for quite a while now. Not only is the menu simplified and dumbed down, but the food simply isn’t as special as it used to be.

It’s nice that EatBar offers three by-the-glass pour sizes (3, 6, and 10 ounces). A 10-ounce beaker (literally, a beaker, complete with milliliter markings) of 2008 Couly Dutheil Chinon “Les Gravières” ($16) was surprisingly pruney and full-bodied for a Cab Franc, especially one from Chinon (Chinons have a natural tendency be stalky and asparagus-like which is an extremely attractive component, at least to me). Of note: the wine was served at a perfect temperature (thank you, EatBar, thank you!)

An EatBurger ($12), with Roseda Farms dry-aged beef, brioche bun, and fries, was intensely boring – a drab, dense patty on a semi-dry bun, the fries crispy on the outside, mashed-potatoey on the inside, and very ordinary considering the fresh cut. Oddly, it came with some sort of relish flecked “special sauce,” and I couldn’t figure out whether it was meant for the fries or the burger; it went with neither, although with the burger it indeed had something of a Big Mac effect.

Our server was brand new and extremely nice – the highlight of the meal – but the service itself was very spotty. Twice, a busser tried to clear my plate before my young dining companion was finished which, while commonplace, is a service error that has no place in any restaurant. The burgers came with fries, although I somehow missed that when I ordered, so I ordered two extra cones of fries alongside, and was not corrected (given the large amount of fries that come with the burger, this should have been a no-brainer; I felt guilty sending the cones back (this was largely my own fault), but I did anyway).

In keeping with how EatBar has been in general on the majority of my recent visits, dessert was “good but not special” (Buzz Bakery, which supplies many of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s restaurants with breads and certain dessert components, tends also to be “good but not special” which explains things). New on the menu was the Warm Banana Bread ($6) with spiced rum Anglaise, candied walnuts, and sour cream ice cream. It was … good, but not special. Our kindly server actually comped this, unexpectedly. “Why?” I asked (we hadn’t complained about a thing, and we finished all our food). He then mentioned the plate-clearing attempts, and said “good things happen to good people.” He, himself, is a good person for having done this.

At this point, I’ve downgraded EatBar in the Virginia Dining Guide (available only to participating members), and I don’t see much that the talented kitchen staff can do to help this struggling shadow of its former self; changes will need to come from Ground Control. Can you hear me, Major Tom?

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