A friend of mine and I went out for a beautiful drive Sunday afternoon on this splendid 80-degree day, touring the mansions of Potomac (we decided *not* to go downtown to DC during this Cherry Blossom Festival weekend), and ended up over at White’s Ferry. She’s a visitor, and was delighted by the old-fashioned charm of White’s Ferry – it had been several years since I’d been on it myself, and I’d forgotten just how much *fun* it is if you don’t have to wait too long to get on (I wonder if there’s a website anywhere that shows up-to-the-minute wait times – if so, would someone please start a White’s Ferry thread in the Visiting Washington, DC forum, and include the website information there? I think White’s Ferry is a fine tourist attraction, and merits its own thread).
We approached the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets (another topic that merits its own thread in the Visiting Washington, DC forum). and had a decision to make, it being around 3:30 PM: should we head left, and hit the Udvar-Hazy Center (another topic that merits its own thread in the Visiting Washington, DC forum (I’ll shut up now)), or should we attempt an early dinner at Grandale Farm? It was *the* perfect day *and* we had time to make that our destination, and indeed, we chose the pleasures of the table over aeronautics and space flight (I mean, wouldn’t everybody?)
Seeing the entrance to Grandale was like seeing an old friend, even though I’d only been once before – it it was anything like I remembered it being, we would have a splendid meal, with competent kitchen work, and perhaps even get to dine on the patio (at this odd hour, it seemed like a reasonable bet). We also called to see if we needed a reservation (it’s open straight through the afternoons on Sundays, with no break between lunch (or brunch) and dinner. Do note that this is *not* a B&B; it’s a working farm that happens to have a restaurant attached to it, so don’t come hoping to snare a room, although there are numerous charming B&B’s nearby, so you’re certainly thinking on the right track.
Well, just like an old friend, Grandale was still there for us, but as old friends often do, it had changed radically – not necessarily for the worse, but it is a very different beast now than it was just two short months ago: The changes were implemented on Mar 1, 2016. Many things are the same, a few are better, and a few are worse. Chef Author Clark (not a typo) has been cooking here for the past ten years.
First of all, the restaurant is no longer called “Grandale Farm” – the name is now “Grandale Vintner’s Table.” In addition to the restaurant, there is now an elaborate, tourist-friendly, tasting room in a separate building – mere steps away from the restaurant – that would make for a very pleasant weekend outing. There are more-and-more of these sprouting up in Virginia, and with the right spirit, this could make for a fun lead-in for dinner at the restaurant – there’s a very pleasant patio/picnic area out back as well, and a light-snack menu is offered in the tasting room (which I assume is prepared in the kitchen, and walked over on an as-needed basis. I didn’t take note of many prices, since I was merely interested in an overview, and since they serve primarily their own wines – as well as a dozen-or-so well-selected craft beers, my take-away was that this might be an enjoyable experience, although I really have no idea what it costs – all of their own wines, sold under the “868” label, are in the mid-$20s per bottle (the winery is called 868 Estate Vineyards – in all honesty, the last time I was here, about four years ago, I didn’t even know they made wines). Since I told them I’d be dining next door, they were happy to give me free sample pours of what I was seeking: something dry and white, or perhaps pink, with good acidity to stand up to our meal, but also light and pleasant enough to enjoy on an 80-degree sunny day sitting on the patio. They had just run out of the Sauvignon Blanc (which I was told might have been the best choice), the Riesling was fermented with too much residual sugar remaining, and the Viognier was the better choice than the Roussanne due to its florality in the bouquet coupled with equal perceived acidity as the Roussanne, although either could have worked – the Viognier it would be. Many Viogniers, even ones from Granddaddy Rhône Valley, are a bit too much for me after one glass; this one was a perfect food wine, and could last through an entire meal as it was fermented completely dry.
One lesson I learned from my previous visit here was: stick with produce, but, it being mid April, pickings are slim, and my server’s advice was to stay local – the greens, the pork, the goat cheese, and a few other things. We built together a meal to share around what seemed like the wisest choices. The menu here is very different than it was before – it’s more expensive, has a more “scattershot” feel, and plays into the “share plates” tactic which is quickly becoming a local trend in many places – Grandale Vintner’s Table only had two items in this category, which they say are for “2-4 people,” but we bypassed both.
After having gotten our perfectly served Viognier ($25), and having had our questions about “local and seasonal” answered, we were ready to order, and asked our serve to bring everything whenever it was ready, and that we’d share everything. We ordered three items that complimented each other reasonably well, and went with the wine wonderfully.
The Mesclun Salad ($10) features a plate of greens “brought to them by a local couple about once a week,” our server told us. It was accented, lightly, with candied pecan, strawberry, and goat cheese, and mercifully *very* lightly dressed – barely dressed – with a champagne vinaigrette, allowing the greens to remain front-and-center on the stage. We both agreed that the only thing we would have changed about the salad was to have tripled the amount of strawberry (I think there was only one, cut into slices) and goat cheese (there was only one dab of goat cheese, about the size of a grape) – even if they need to charge a couple dollars more for the salad, it would benefit from both of these; otherwise, this was a wonderful showcase of fresh greens dressed with a light hand, and is something you should try if you’re here.
The one gripe I have with Soup du Jour ($6 for a bowl) is that it seems to be different every time I order it. On this visit, it was a chicken-tortilla soup “with white bean,” but it should have been “with corn,” as there were only about ten beans in the entire bowl, but there were dozens of corn kernels. This was a thin, somewhat dilute broth that would have benefited from more seasoning, even just some black pepper – it had a slight kick to it (and there was a small amount of dried red powder at the bottom of the bowl), but overall, it was merely a decent, innocuous soup that had an adequate amount of ingredients in the bowl – there were some in every single bite – but with a broth that was just a bit too thin and bland.
Local Pork Confit ($30) with pumpkin apple butter cornbread, broccolini, and what was termed a “blueberry Asian BBQ” was pleasant enough, with strips of pork confit, but it really pushed the price point at $30 – you get more pork on your average pulled-pork sandwich than you got on this composed plate, which came with a square of barely average cornbread, the entire plate garnished with the pumpkin apple butter, and the blueberry sauce which clearly contained mesquite (and that was the only “Asian” thing about it). The flavors knit together very well, and we happily finished not only the entree, but all three things – the one thing that saved this meal was the cost of the Viognier: $25 for an entire bottle of good, enjoyable table wine kept the price of the meal in the $70s before tip, the patio was beautiful – especially the background – and the service enthusiastic and pleasant.
Yelping for Truffles
Oh dear, and then came dessert. We said we were pretty full, and had about an hour drive to get back, but we’d like to at least look at the dessert menu. Our server replied that there were three desserts being offered, and she could just recite them. The first two were typical desserts (I don’t remember exactly what they were – maybe a cheesecake, and a flourless, gluten-free, molten chocolate cake) at typical dessert prices (I don’t remember what they were, but they were within the norm), but it was the third thing that made our jaws drop. “And then we’re also offering a free dessert for people who are active on Yelp or Trip Advisor,” our server said. “Chocolate truffles. A box of two – I could give you each one so you’d have four total.” She didn’t come straight out and insist that a review was written, but I told her I’d be happy to review the restaurant, and that the truffles weren’t necessary, much to her surprise – I get the impression she’d never before heard that reply.
“Are you sure you don’t want them?” she said “No, it’s fine – but thank you anyway,” we replied.