FOOD: Checking Out American Tap Room
BY Kathleen Nixon
September 14, 2012
Falls Church Times Staff
A challenge with eating in Clarendon – which is a short drive from the City of Falls Church- is that it is such a meat market these days (remember the slower times when Whole Foods was a Sears?) is that the food is “iffy” and the bars are always crowded. You have no shortage of places to grab a burger, a good beer and watch the crowd. Yes, there are a few restaurants in that area that are favorites, but after frequent tries at many of these places, I come away continually disappointed.
Throughout the Farmers Market Chef program, I get the chance to meet a variety of chefs. Each of the times Steve Mannino has demonstrated, he has not disappointed and I was looking forward to trying out his new place. Really “places” as Steve took over as Executive Chef for the growing number of American Tap Rooms throughout the area.
We put the restaurant through its steps by inviting a large group of foodies, wine lovers and beer aficionados. What started out as a small gathering, quickly grew with additional intriguing guests with discerning palates. While waiting for our guests, we were fascinated by a bar snack of Caramel Bacon Popcorn with Toasted Cashews. This is made fresh to order and the caramel was still warm when the popcorn was served. My dentist may not like what this did to my teeth, but I loved what it did to my palate. It was a nice accompaniment on a warm (hot) evening to my Prosecco. The beers we tried went the gamut but the winner clearly was the Duvel Belgian Stron Pale Ale. “Don’t be fooled by Duvel’s robe of light blonde colorings, this beer packs a double whammy with 8.5% alcohol boasting delicate and round, fruity flavors, but swells into a powerful ale with elegant hops and a hint of spice”, says Christianna Sargent. And she loved how this went with the party mix. Another guest had the American Tap Room Ale which is a semi-dark, amber highlights give way to a big, billowy white head. Brewed for the restaurant by Heavy Seas Brewing, of Baltimore, Maryland. He said that it was completely refreshing followed by a dollop of American hops. These are just two of the many beers on tap that should satisfy any beer lover.
The set up of the restaurant allows for a nice crowd to build in the bar area to watch the many TVs, but does not interfere with the dining experience. The bar area has its own outside area, as does the restaurant, as does the private bar in the back ( which is more quiet) and there is still another outdoor seating area again for another section of the restaurant. With the nice weather finally upon us, there are many choices of places to sit outside.
Many folks don’t comment about the seating in a restaurant. I am not talking about the layout of the room, but the actual chairs that you sit on. While the super comfy chairs around the table may bring to mind a conference table, they do provide a nice back drop to an enjoyable meal. Another nice touch is the lighted menus. Not that any of us were willing to admit that we can’t see a menu, but there is a crossroad between ambiance and seeing a menu. The menu is lighted from behind, so you could enjoy the restaurant and still see the menu.
For starters we had the Slider Trio, Deviled Eggs and Bavarian Pretzels. The trio was Carolina Pulled Pork, Beef with sharp cheddar and Jerk Chicken. All were good, but the Jerk Chicken was a little dry and would have benefited from a sauce. The Deviled Eggs were served on a bed of barbecue potato chips which added a nice salt spice to complement the smoothness of the eggs. The pretzels were good especially with the dips that we ordered: Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Ale, but my favorite starter is the Fried Pickles that I had on another visit. The fry batter for the pickles has a nutty character that is offset by the tart and crunch of the pickle. Thousand Island dressing added a nice finishing touch.
For entrees our crowd chose a smattering of dishes: a tuna special with Mango Ginger and Mint Yogurt Sauce, Shrimp & Grits, Jumbo Sea Scallops, and Grilled Ribeye Steak. The tuna special was nicely balanced and the rib eye was very good and made better by its sauce. The Shrimp & Grits won quite a few “yums” and I was delighted by my scallops with their creamed corn which added just the right sweetness to complement the richness of the scallops. On another visit, I had the burger with caramelized onions, aged cheddar on a sweet potato roll. The burger was piled too high to eat comfortably and the burger had too much “char” taste from the grill.
For dessert there were many wonderful choices but we narrowed it down to two: the Gluten-free Lava Cake, which was one of the best Lava Cakes we had ever had, and the Irish Car Bomb which was Guinness ice cream, Baileys with Whiskey and a touch of Sea Salt. There was not much sharing of this dessert, so I gathered it was quite delicious.
For our wine selection, Christianna chose the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, 2011, which was light, crisp and all around bliss when paired with ATR’s fried pickles and homemade pretzels. The bright acidity and tropical fruit flavors of papaya, grapefruit and pineapple slip right over the fried appetizers. The touch of grassy notes classic of Sauvignon Blanc blend harmoniously with the deviled eggs topped with salty potato chips. For the red wine drinkers, we had the Freemark Abbey, Cabernet Sauvignon, from Napa Valley, 2008, which was a decadent pairing to serve up with a Grilled Ribeye. As Christianna had the steak, she further commented that “ATR doesn’t mess around when it comes to steak. The seared flavor of steak cooked over flame accentuates the robust fruit flavors of this classic Freemark Abbey Cabernet. So supple in the mouth, backed with body of ripe currants, mocha chocolate, and vanilla bean, this Cabernet literally melts into sweet succulence after that bite of juicy, tender steak.”
The evening was great fun with wonderful friends made better by great food, beverages and atmosphere. I look forward to going to the American Tap Room again.
American Tap Room
3101 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington VA 22201
By Kathleen Nixon
September 14, 2012