- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Eve, the temptress of Creation. In Alexandria, Eve has been tempting diners for three months, and it’s easy to see why. The restaurant Eve is located in a lovely old house on South Pitt Street in the heart of Old Town, a sophisticated addition to Alexandria’s dining possibilities.

Owners Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong named the restaurant for their 5-year old daughter. He is also the chef, and she runs the front of the house. Neither apples nor fig leaves are featured, but there’s no shortage of temptations.

On the street side, the attractive and comfortable bar is a good place to wait for a table or just to sit and have a drink. The bar has its own menu of light dishes.

The back of the restaurant, facing the garden, is divided into two areas — the bistro and the tasting room.

Despite the name, the bistro is not an informal room, but elegant and warm, flooded with light in the daytime and warmly lighted at night.

The tasting room is a touch more formal, but it is a pleasure to sit in either. A brick fireplace separates and opens onto both rooms; in winter, this will guarantee warmth and good cheer.

Both rooms face a patio, where meals will be served beginning next month. Beyond the patio lies a lovely garden, which the Armstrongs intend to use as a venue for private parties and weddings. The first wedding scheduled in the garden will take place in the fall; the couple became engaged at Restaurant Eve when he presented her with a ring cleverly hidden in a spun-sugar box created by the restaurant’s pastry chef, Niel Piferoen.

In the tasting room, a diner chooses either a five-course meal for $65, plus beverages, tax and gratuity, or a nine-course repast for $90. Each course of the $65 menu offers three or more choices. There’s a lot of food in the two menus, but portions are small, leaving room for dessert.

A recent dinner began with several tiny treats from the chef, including a fabulous roasted corn soup. The soup sometimes appears on the bistro menu, too; it is a splendid combination of cream, butter and corn. Asparagus soup is equally to die for. First courses (creation) on the tasting menu include a delectable lobster creme brulee with asparagus, a delicate, somewhat lighter, savory version of the usual rich (and sweet) dessert.

A seared diver scallop wrapped in pastry with a touch of foie gras was equally delicious, though the scallop could have been cooked a minute or two less. It was on the verge of becoming tough.

Second courses are called “ocean” and include a perfect piece of salmon with golden beets and a bit of bacon. A vegetarian offering is composed of gnocchi with oven-dried tomatoes and a touch of arugula.

Fish was followed by “earth and sky.” The duck breast was a little tough, as duck can be, but the flavor was fine, as was the accompanying mix of fava beans and cipollini onions. The other choices were venison or wild mushrooms in pastry. When a diner asked for a substitute in this category, our waitress cheerfully produced a rib-eye steak from the bistro menu, cooked exactly as ordered. Bravo.

Next come slivers of cheese, each accompanied by an unusual side dish: A local blue cheese is paired with stinging-nettle soup, an earthy yet delicate concoction reflecting herbs and the soul of summer. A superb little apricot tartlet enhances a ripe slice of French Brie de Meaux.

The meal ends with a choice of five desserts, including, at the moment, a sampling of peaches (peach compote, fresh peaches, peach ice cream and peach foam) and a funnel cake, which resembles a large doughnut.

The nine-course degustation menu consists of many of the same dishes as the five-course menu, but without choices in each category; each course is decided by the chef.

In the bistro, everything is a la carte at both lunch and dinner. The menu is not a repetition of the tasting-room menus, though some items are available in both places. Each appetizer and entree is a complex dish, showing off the chef’s talents, although to the diner it may appear simple and unfussy. The chef knows his beans, fava and otherwise.

An appetizer of seared loin of lamb with dried tomatoes and arugula is a masterpiece. Half a dozen small slices of lamb loin, rare and superbly tender, are arranged prettily on a rectangular white dish, enhanced by the tomatoes, some garlic and basil and a little mound of arugula. It’s available at lunch and dinner, and it’s a stunner.

House-cured salmon, a crab cake with remoulade sauce, rabbit terrine with a wild-mushroom salad and oxtail ravioli with leeks are other creative starters.

Entrees are equally diverse, including braised veal short ribs with polenta and rapini, bouillabaisse, salt-baked prawns, pan-roasted sweetbreads with morels and asparagus or rockfish with braised leeks.

The luncheon menu includes most of the same appetizers and entrees, the latter slightly less dear, as well as luncheon salads and a sandwich or two. Salads include a rib-eye salad with French beans and mushrooms and a seared scallop salad with tomato, garlic and greens. An excellent salade du jour is of chicken over mixed greens.

The wine list is well-conceived, including several vintages by the glass, under the sure hand of general manager and sommelier Todd Thrasher.

The service is knowledgeable, attentive and cordial. Everyone is willing to make the diner feel comfortable and well taken care of. Restaurant Eve is a temptation not to be resisted.

RESTAURANT: Restaurant Eve, 110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703/706-0450

HOURS: Lunch (only in the bistro) 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Bistro appetizers, $6.75 to $12.50 (lunch), $6.75 to $13.50 (dinner); entrees, $16 to $19 (lunch), $19 to $24 (dinner); tasting room prix fixes menus $65 and $90

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: Street parking and parking lot ($2) across the street

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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