- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The wide, sweeping expanse of the Potomac River, with the Washington Monument and the Capitol in miniature on the distant skyline and the lights of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport twinkling on the dark surface of the water, is what the diner sees first. It’s a magic-lantern scene, especially at night with the planes skimming the surface of the river, as if just a few feet beyond the salt and pepper shakers on your table, making their final approach for landing.

Indigo Landing is the new restaurant of the Star Restaurant Group (Zola and Red Sage), having recently replaced the longtime Potowmack Landing on Daingerfield Island between the airport and Alexandria. Unlike Rodney, this Daingerfield gets lots of respect at the little marina off the George Washington Memorial Parkway bike path.

The restaurant has the pleasant suggestion of a large barn with a high ceiling and glass walls facing the water. For fair-weather dining, or just sipping something cool, there’s a deck for taking in a breeze and the view. The decor is simple: gray-green walls, rattan separating the large bar area from the dining room, comfortable chairs, bare wooden tables.

The food, under the auspices of chef Bryan Moscatello is Southern Low Country cooking, inspired by the cuisine of Charleston, S.C. The menu is ambitious and some of the dishes live up to the enticing menu. Some, but not all.

Dinner starts with a basket of little warm yeast rolls topped with a sprinkling of sea salt, devoured at once and quickly replaced by another basket, this time containing all sorts of rolls, some on the sweet side and some savory. A great beginning.

Country-fried quail is very good among the appetizers: a small bird is deep-fried with a nice crunchy exterior surrounding the moist and slightly gamey semi-deboned flesh. Although the dish is somewhat over-salted — a failing of many of the dishes, both starters and main courses at Indigo Landing (as well as a lot of other places) — it’s a good appetizer and the meat and diced vegetables surrounding it are a fine blend of flavors.

Oyster Cobb salad is chopped lettuce with a few deep-fried oysters on top. It’s not a true Cobb salad; several ingredients are AWOL. But the combination is good, the oysters plump and juicy.

The butter lettuce salad is a few large leaves with a tiny mound of blue cheese in the center; the promised pecans and sweet potato dressing are almost nonexistent, but the lettuce is fresh and crisp and the cheese goes well with the leaves.

Fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade lack the creamy richness the dish requires. The tomato slices are on the tough side and the paucity of halved shrimp leaves something to be desired. The remoulade is good, but there could be more of it.

Other starters to choose from are crispy chicken livers with sweet potato pickles, corn bread-dusted crab cake, oyster pie, pepper-crusted pork belly with watermelon and ramp salad and she-crab soup.

Although Indigo Landing is primarily a fish restaurant, the pecan-crusted pork loin is a wonderful, rich dish with a crunchy nutty crust, served with semi-crisp slices of seared okra and a small bowl of sweet corn spoon bread. It’s a perfect Southern combination and one of the restaurant’s outstanding main courses.

A fillet of black bass, supposedly with a crisp skin, arrived overcooked, with a covering of skin that had never been crisp. The accompanying succotash of diced bacon, lima beans, corn, tomato and crab was fresh but oddly bland. Other fish offerings include sweet corn glazed rockfish, drum fish with cabbage slaw, grilled black grouper, poached sea trout and fried skate (apparently the “in” fish this season), as well as shrimp and grits. Fish can also be simply grilled.

Aside from the pork, Low Country duck bog (a mix of duck leg, sausage and foie gras), roast chicken, and steak complete the inventory of meat dishes. The chicken is the dark meat of the leg and thigh, the breast, according to our waiter, having been reserved for chicken salad.

A mignon of hanger steak, thick and tender, is excellent and full of flavor. Served with grated hash brown potatoes, a grilled onion and red-eye gravy, the dish is a real winner.

A list of side dishes (priced at $7 each) offers good options to add to the main courses, or to combine for a vegetable plate. Collard greens are smoky and tart; macaroni and cheese is comforting, even if the cheddar is bland; the cheese grits with flecks of country ham are deliciously creamy. Foie-gras hush puppies with peach buttermilk dipping sauce make an unconventional take on a conventional Southern dish.

Desserts include a sweet potato cheesecake, the best part of which was the description on the menu. The flavor was delicate to the point of having disappeared.

Indigo Landing has just begun serving lunch, but its Sunday brunch has become an attraction for the hikers and bikers along the Mount Vernon Trail.

The Low Country champagne brunch ($30 per adult and $15 for children under 12) includes a soup and salad station, breakfast and omelet station, a carving station, and a fish fry station. Brunch includes malted vanilla waffles, chicken pot pie, eggs Benedict, an asparagus, onion and mushroom omelet and a variety of desserts.

Service is courteous, professional and efficient; the wine list is interesting and the view cannot be surpassed. Bikes are available at the adjoining marina to explore the 18 miles of the trail, following the river from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

RESTAURANT: Indigo Landing, 1 Marina Drive, Alexandria (on Daingerfield Island between National Airport and Alexandria), 703/548-0001

HOURS: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner, 5 to 11 p.m. daily; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

PRICES: Starters $7 to $10; main courses $17 to $24; desserts $7

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Ample parking adjacent to the restaurant

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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