For our anniversary dinner, John and I decided to try Bazin’s On Church, which is a new establishment that opened in the Town of Vienna a couple of months ago. We happened upon the place last month when we visited our favorite ice-cream spot, Nielsen’s, which is about a block away. Since we’re always on the lookout for non-chain, Vienna-based businesses to patronize, and because the decor looked pretty neat, we made reservations for the 15th.
From the menu outside, we saw that it was going to be on the expensive side: entrees ranged from $18 to $26, with dinner salads treated as appetizers. No matter. It was our anniversary and we were ready to splurge a bit. In the weeks between sighting the restaurant and actually going there, we were heartened to see that the place seemed to be doing a bang-up business.
We had an 8:30 reservation on Monday the 15th – a bit later than we would have liked, but I had an early-evening commitment in DC. We arrived a few minutes early, dressed up for our evening out. The first “uh-oh” was observing that, in spite of the upscale prices, the very young hostess was wearing jeans. The second “uh-oh” was that, although many of the tables were empty, none of them were ready for guests. We had to wait about five minutes while our table was prepared for us. Since the restaurant’s staff had the reservation for us on the books – an off hour on what appeared to be a slowish night – I don’t see why the table hadn’t been prepped in advance.
The third “uh-oh” was the noise. Bazin’s decor is very appealing (see the accompanying photo), but it has no surfaces to absorb sound, and consequently, even with the place less than half-full, it was extremely noisy. The kitchen opens out into the dining space, there is a large television in the bar area, and what with the high ceilings, exposed beams, large windows and wood floor, sound bounces all over the place.
Can I add a personal beef here? I don’t care how expensive it may be or if it’s tuned to The Food Network with the sound turned down – a TV in a restaurant lowers the tone of the place. If I want to watch TV while I’m eating, I can do that at home. I don’t want to see one when I’m dropping fifty bucks per person on a meal. Yes, the TV at Bazin’s is in the bar area, but the bar area opens straight out into the dining area and the TV is BIG. It’s hard to keep it out of your peripheral vision. Consequently, Emeril was an uninvited guest at our table throughout the meal.
Once we were seated, we were greeted promptly by a nice young waitress, dressed with a bit more polish than the hostess. She brought us water in cute little round glasses and came back promptly when we were ready to order. I was a bit disappointed in the menu – it hadn’t changed much since the evening we’d read the one posted outside the restaurant. I also look forward to whatever the evening’s specials are – I like the idea that the chef might have had an inspiration based on a spectacular buy or whatever was freshest from their vendors – but there were no specials. I’m no wine expert but the wine list seemed fairly expansive and reasonably priced. We ordered a mid-range French pinot noir and an appetizer of jerk chicken springrolls to share. John decided on the filet mignon; I plumped for the braised veal. Off went our server with the order; back she came with the wine and the glasses. Opening it was a struggle for her, and ultimately she broke the cork off in the bottle. She asked timidly if we’d like a new bottle and I said indeed we would. The second cork came out without incident. Our appetizer arrived shortly thereafter. The two spring rolls were served with a lemony sauce, but there were no serving implements for either the rolls or the sauce. The rolls themselves were tasteless. I expect some kick from jerk chicken but these had none. We could tell that the ingredients were fresh, but the seasoning was simply unadventurous, and the lemon sauce pleasant but unremarkable. Not a great start.
The remains of the appetizer were cleared off and a basket of bread and a pretty pat of butter took its place. However, there were no bread plates, so we were in a bit of quandary about where to put our buttery knives. Our entrees arrived shortly thereafter so the knives had someplace to park.
My veal was terrific – fork tender, in a lovely brown gravy. I was less pleased with the accompanying vegetables. The menu had said that the meat would be partnered with potato gnocci, which I was anticipating with some pleasure. Instead, I found the veal pillowed on a mound of plain ol’ whipped potatoes – fluffy and tasteless. No explanation for the substitution was given. Along with the potatoes were chopped asparagus and leeks. They weren’t bad – they were barely cooked so they had a lot of crunch – but because the meat was so soft, the crunchy leeks and asparagus were the overwhelming texture on the plate. John’s filet was fine, but it was topped with a thin white sauce which we found out later was a white truffle sauce. It was bland and faintly salty and added nothing to the dish. His meat was accompanied by a delicious potato-onion hash and steamed baby patty-pan squash. He doesn’t care for squash so I ate them. They were lightly cooked and faintly bitter – not bad but nothing special.
With dessert, we were on more solid ground. John had a good creme brulee and I opted for blackberry crisp, which was great – big plump berries, delightful crust and a good vanilla ice cream on top. The bill came to slightly over $100 for the two of us.
Would we go back to Bazin’s? I don’t know. We can get the noise and bustle at any of the Great American Restaurant stores (Coastal Flats, Carlyle, Sweetwater, Artie’s), we can get ambience and pleasant service at Natta Thai, and there are dozens of other dining establishments where we’ve eaten well, gotten great service and enjoyed ourselves for a lot less money. Bazin’s wasn’t bad, but it’s got some work to do before we’d choose it again.