The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia embody a wilderness bounty of plants, trees and animals, many of them good to eat. Blue Ridge, the new restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue just above Georgetown, has as its “mission,” according to the chef: “to integrate sustainable practices … from sourcing local ingredients, to supporting local watermen; we seek to do business in ways that benefit our entire community.”
That’s nice and green, but there’s nothing in the mission statement about pleasing the hungry customer, who is somewhat shortchanged in the righteous execution of “sustainability.” There’s an excess of environmental correctness at the expense of culinary art, for what comes out of the kitchen is uneven, with many dishes underseasoned.
Upon being seated at one of the handsome wood tables in the dining room, a diner is served a small paper bag of dry popcorn. Cute, but not as satisfying as a good piece of bread with butter. Blue Ridge doesn’t serve bread, even if a customer asks for it.
The menu is divided into snacks, appetizers, meat, cheese, sides and entrees; portions are all of small-plate size.
Snacks and appetizers include such diverse offerings as radishes with butter, a smoked trout spread, a crispy grits cake, broiled oysters and Shenandoah beets. The meats, with the exception of chicken liver mousse, are all pork.
Sweet-potato fritters are very tasty — little round balls of cheesy, pureed potatoes in a crunchy-crispy crust, served hot and accompanied by a nice honey-mustard sauce.
Deviled eggs — two eggs, halved — are ordinary and easily better at home. Grilled calamari, on the other hand, is tender, fresh and delicious, although the accompanying pesto overpowers the dish.
“Bev’s 14-month long-leg ham” is a lovely mild prosciuttolike cured ham, but the small portion of thinly sliced ham is burdened by too much fat. Oh, for a slice of good bread to go with the ham.
Creamy corn soup is outstanding. Fresh corn gives the soup a sweet base; a topping of house-made creme fraiche adds a bit of tang; and a single barely poached oyster is a pleasant surprise.
A special entree recently was a rack of pork ribs, served with cucumber salad and potato salad. The ribs had been smoked over applewood rather than hickory and were tender but tame — and hard to eat, as the kitchen had not separated them into singles, but served them as doubles.
Pork meatloaf is tasty, if not unusual. The smallish portion is served in a little iron skillet. The meat is topped with what the menu describes as “smokey tomato sauce,” but it tastes like ketchup. The meatloaf rests on a bed of potatoes mashed with a hint of garlic.
Entrees from the sea include a grilled fish of the day; sea bass with green beans; grilled trout with peas and carrots; and a smoked bluefish Caesar salad. The fried-green-tomato BLT sounds like a good idea but misses the mark. These fried green tomatoes are not juicy, the strands of frisee are no substitute for iceberg lettuce, and the cream-cheese-pimento spread is meager and bland.
Desserts are limited to ice creams, floats and house-made pies. We tried the strawberry-rhubarb pie resembling a delicious cobbler - warm, slightly tart and full of the flavors of summer.
Blue Ridge is an informal, attractive place despite the high volume of noise and overly loud country-rock music. The walls are decorated with eye-catching quilts; the waitresses wear homey plaid shirts. The staff is friendly and accommodating, if somewhat forgetful. The patio in back is inviting, with a gurgling fountain, trees, shrubs and sometimes a moon.
The wine list includes several pleasant Virginia reds and whites. Prices are reasonable for food and drink.
The kitchen is under the direction of executive chef Barton Seaver, who delighted us with his cooking at Cafe St. Ex and at Hook. Fish is his forte, but Blue Ridge has not yet brought out the best of his talents. However, the restaurant is young, and changes are being made daily.
RESTAURANT: Blue Ridge, 2340 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202/333-4004
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and until 9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
PRICES: Snacks, appetizers, meats, sides $3 to $11; entrees $10 to $23; desserts $6
PARKING: Street parking
ACCESS: Not wheelchair accessible