- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Wood-grilled this, wood-grilled that. The cooking method certainly is in vogue among Washington area restaurants.

As with all trends, the quality ranges from the good to the bad and the ugly; too often these wood-grilling joints fit the latter categories, but Overwood is an exception. This year-old wood-fired American kitchen in Alexandria’s Old Town masters wood grilling and definitely is worthwhile.

The restaurant is in a 19th-century building that used to be a bakery and later a wholesale grocery. The interior is nicely but simply designed, with exposed brick, stainless steel details and black-and-white photos on the walls.

The lighting is warm as it bounces off the reddish brick. The dining rooms are cozy despite their size — the restaurant seats 175 guests in four rooms and has a large, popular bar, which offers a dozen beers on tap, including Bell’s Amber Ale, Anchor Steam and Stella Artois.

For the very thirsty, the restaurant offers several large beers: 22.9-ounce bottles of Asahi Super Dry, Brother Thelonious and Stone Porter, among others. The wine menu is adequate and includes an easy-to-use feature: Wines are listed from lighter to heavier, making it easy to pair them with various dishes.

One of the reasons Overwood works so well is that executive chef Boubker “Rami” Errami makes sure the ingredients are fresh and the preparation methods solid before subjecting his fare to the fire. He also takes old favorites and enhances them by adding unexpected flavor, color and presentation twists.

Take the beef, veal and pork meatloaf. This standby is greatly enhanced by the veal, and the accompanying unpeeled garlic mashed red potatoes are chunky and rich. The grilled asparagus is just right. The slightly acidic pomodoro sauce perfectly complements this fairly mild meat-and-potato dish.

The presentation, too, is unpredictable and delightful. The slice of meatloaf is finished on the grill and looks like a steak. It’s the top of a three-layer bed of the red pomodoro on the bottom and the yellow mashed potatoes in the middle, with a few stalks of green asparagus on top. Simple but attractive.

Fried green tomatoes is another homey dish made interesting and tasty with a few simple touches. A stack of a half-dozen crispy fried tomato slices is topped with spicy-sweet orange piquillo cheese. The creamy but biting cheese is a perfect match for the crispy tomatoes.

You don’t expect this kind of attention to detail and creative presentation at a wood-fired restaurant, where it’s more common to find things cheesed and overgreased.

Another good starter is the red and gold beet salad with superfresh arugula, pine nuts and goat cheese. It’s lightly dressed in lemon and olive oil. This dish has become as common as chocolate cake on many menus, but when it’s right — as it is here — it’s worth ordering because the perfectly oven-roasted beets and the goat cheese are an almost unbeatable combo.

We also liked the 12-ounce spice-rubbed New York strip steak. It was prepared as ordered and nicely seasoned.

Among the several seafood choices on the menu are the popular Norwegian salmon (fresh from Bergen, Norway) and the seared sea scallops with basmati rice, roasted corn relish and a creamy lobster sauce.

Worth mentioning, too, are the tasty sides, such as macaroni and cheese (made with Gruyere) and the okra-and-corn succotash.

The half-dozen all-American desserts include a 4-inch-high key lime pie and an equally tall oh-so-yummy Elvis pie: an Oreo cookie crust filled with a layer of fresh banana, crunchy peanut butter and fresh whipped cream, all drizzled with banana coulis and shaved Belgian chocolate.

Our waiter warned us that the desserts are meals in themselves, but we, of course, did not follow his advice to order one to share. He also spoke intelligently about the dishes and drinks and treated us to a round of Pabst Blue Ribbon — in honor of the Green Bay Packers’ Brett Favre, who that day announced his retirement.

Overwood is a great addition to Old Town. It’s unpretentious and offers great fare at a fair price.

RESTAURANT: Overwood, 220 N. Lee St., Alexandria; 703/535-3340

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, with brunch served until 3 p.m.

PRICES: First courses $4.95 to $8.50 (lunch), $5.50 to $9.50 (dinner); main courses $8.95 to $19.95 (lunch), $9.25 to $25.95 (dinner); desserts $5.95 to $7.95; Sunday brunch: $18.95 per person; $9.95 for children 11 and younger

CREDIT CARDS: Major cards

PARKING: Limited street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: King Street on the Yellow and Blue lines is about a mile away.

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