To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, we went last night to Vidalia in Washington DC, on the recommendation of food and wine journalists (and husband and wife duo) Nicholas Lander and Jancis Robinson. Their high-quality observations meant we weren’t disappointed – with regard to the wine or the food.
Having just stepped off a long-haul flight from Surlytown (aka Paris), the characteristically friendly American welcome was something we were most grateful for. Having informed them in advance that it would be our wedding anniversary, they also took great pains to address this, wishing us a Happy Anniversary verbally, writing it on our dessert plate in chocolate, and presenting us at the end of our meal with the menu (also inscribed with Happy Anniversary) in a scroll tied with silver ribbon. Even if they were only doing this in the hope of attracting a larger tip, it was definitely appreciated – in France you tend to get nowhere near this level of attention, even when you are paying this sort of money (around €55 per person).
Seating was comfortable and afforded a good view of the impressive glass wall feature and of the restaurant’s clientele. The only thing that looked a little scruffy by comparison was the tired ceiling tiles – but this hardly affects the enjoyment of one’s meal. This, by the way, consisted of ‘half portions’ of crabcakes and shrimp and grits for me (read: perfectly sized portions for a Brit). This Southern food proved an excellent ‘by-proxy’ way of alleviating my Florida-itis, with the shrimps being brilliantly cooked and combining well with the creamy grits. Equally, the crab cakes held their shape without being like rubber balls, and were well-balanced thanks to intense chilli and fresh peas. The veal sweetbreads and waffles, followed by the Low Country Frogmore Stew (containing red snapper, clams, shrimp, crab and smoked sausage, in a shellfish broth), were both equally well-received on the other side of the table, with the starter being marginally preferred. However, the shellfish broth also got an honourable mention, along with the freshness of the ingredients.
Sticking with the American theme, we eschewed the European wines from the wine list, both selecting wines from Oregon (a Pinot Gris for me and a Riesling for my husband). The Pinot Gris was intensely fruity and flavourful, while the Riesling had tropical rather than mineral aspects, making it lovely and unusual. However, the only criticism we had was that we weren’t shown the bottles before having the wine poured in front of us, as is conventional so that you can see what you’ve purchased – the wine was poured behind the scenes and then the glasses brought in to us ready.
Having seen other diners being brought sumptuous desserts as we ate, we couldn’t resist the lure of the extensive pudding menu and plumped for Vidalia’s mini doughnuts, which came with a selection of dipping sauces (wild berry, passionfruit, and caramel). The doughnuts were worthy of devouring on their own thanks to their crisp sugariness, but if we had to choose a favourite dipping sauce, it was undoubtedly the passionfruit, whose sharpness cut through the sugary doughnuts beautifully.
Being jetlagged and wanting to sleep, we declined coffee and settled the bill, which came to $140 for the two of us, including a tip ($127 without). It’s possible that you could get food this good in Paris for this money – but would you get the same warm welcome and attentive service? I severely doubt it.
Vidalia, 1990 M Street NW, Washington DC 20036
+1 202 659 1990