Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Barton Seaver's blue winner, Blue Ridge

Mixed, is a polite way of describing the reviews of famed DC chef Barton Seaver. Restaurateurs Eli Hengst and Jared Rager (Capitol Hill's Sonoma) together with Seaver opened Blue Ridge this summer in the very neighborhood oriented Glover Park. The concept of Blue Ridge is farm-to-table dining, which he will expand upon later with the slated opening of Diamond District on the bustling 14th Street/U Street Corridor. Diamond District takes Seaver's concept of sustainability one step further by installing a fish market with a restaurant. Not one to isolate food lovers with tighter bank accounts, Diamond District's fish market will accept food stamps as payment.
Much controversy has arisen by Seaver's latest praise coming from Esquire Magazine. Esquire recently announced Seaver has been named 2009 Chef of the Year, and named Seaver's restaurant Blue Ridge as one of the best restaurants of 2009. The official spread can be seen in the upcoming November issue of Esquire Magazine. Esquire's critic John Mariani praised, "masterful creations...aged country ham, a perfect chicken potpie with hot rosemary-flecked biscuits, and sweet-potato fritters with honey mustard."

The announcement has come as quite a shock to many. On the one hand, Seaver has a loyal fan base here in our nation's capitol and many have enjoyed watching him grow as a chef, from his tenure at Cafe Saint Ex to Hook and now to his spread of sustainable dining at Blue Ridge. On the other hand, Blue Ridge has been met with an interesting array of reviews; some rave (as was John Mariani from Esquire) and some not so much (Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema gave Blue Ridge an one-and-a-half stars out of four) causing many to rebuke the title of Barton Seaver as chef of the year.
Indeed, many people's palettes are turned off by Seaver's ambitious menu, such as his flagship grilled calamari- a smoky piece of fresh calamari with the skin intact to retain the smoky flavor, accompanied by a shockingly light and fresh basil-walnut frisee. The menu as a whole, drawing inspiration from the mountains to which it is named for. A mix of southern cuisine and mid-Atlantic fare. Blue Ridge is committed to sustainable practices, therefore gathering ingredients from local farmers and fishermen. Blue Ridge's menu-quite appropriately- is heavily seafood oriented; from Rappahanock oysters to fried catfish to smoked bluefish. Above all, Blue Ridge is well priced for the intricacy of the menu (no entree exceeds 21 dollars.) The menu is accompanied by an appealing wine menu, including over 30 organic wines and over 10 local Virginia or Maryland wines. The wines are very well priced, with only a handful over 50 dollars.

My advice; when it comes to Blue Ridge you must make your mind up for yourself. Many have great experiences and find Seaver's touch just right for their dining experiences, while others find that Seaver's concoctions are not for them. No matter if one loathes or loves their dining experience at Blue Ridge, the restaurant is highly conceptual and reflective of the innovative mind of chef Barton Seaver. Seaver is determined to change the way Washingtonians eat, making national headlines along the way.

Personally, I find Seaver's vision for Blue Ridge to be inspired, innovative yet warm and comforting. The menu challenges one's perception of classic favorites while still pleasing both mind and body. I highly, highly recommend Blue Ridge.
Blue Ridge is located at 2340 Wisconsin Avenue NW Washington, D.C.
and is open for lunch; Monday through Friday 11:30-2:30 brunch Saturday&Sunday 11-2:30
dinner; Monday through Thursday 5:30-10 Friday&Saturday 5:30-10:30 and Sunday 5:30-9.

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