Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lyon Hall (Clarendon, Arlington, VA)

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Apparently reservations at good restaurants are tough to get for Valentine's Day around here, unless you make them a month or two ahead of time.  So, I was lucky to snag one just a couple weeks in advance at Lyon Hall, a self-described brasserie in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington.  This was already one of the dozen or so restaurants whose websites I had bookmarked to remind me I wanted to try them, so with its convenience to my apartment (at least on nights that there are not 40mph sustained winds) and availability of a well timed reservation, it was perfect.  Or, at least until I realized the Duke game was on.  But I digress.

Lyon Hall has two levels, with a long bar (with two TVs tuned to, of course, the Duke game), a couple dozen tables and a few high tops in the entry area on the ground floor, and another dozen or so tables upstairs.  It was nicely lit, not dark but not bright, though shortly after we arrived the manager turned the lights down a little upstairs (where we sat) which made it dark enough that the guy next to us was using his table's candle to read the menu, though I personally had no problem.

We started off with a special appetizer, the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a small piece of foie seared lightly and served atop an apple tart, with apple butter and hazelnuts.  It was very tasty, and my girlfriend had never had foie before, so it was kind of an obvious choice for me, but I wish the dish had focused more on the liver itself.  The tart was a little too sweet (though the piece of apple atop it was actually not, and paired perfectly with the meat), as was the apple butter, so they overwhelmed the foie a bit when I tried to pile everything together into one bite.  Hazelnuts were a perfect choice, however, as they provided a crisp contrast with the buttery mouth-feel of the foie gras, and everything was cooked properly.

We were also provided with a small basket of a few different types of bread and some whipped butter; none of the breads were particularly special, but I really love when restaurants give you whipped butter instead of cubed, because it is just so damned easy to spread.

For our entrees, I went classic with the Grilled Filet Mignon, while Jess had the Pork Schnitzel, plus a side of Pommes Frites to split which was superfluous, as we were both pretty stuffed just from our own meals.  My filet was served medium rare, and was quite good, with a tremendous crust (described in the menu as a Roquefort crust, though I did not get a lot of  that flavor) that added a great textural contrast while also providing that great flavor only gained from a proper Maillard reaction.  The baked pieces of sweet potato were delicious, and the broccolini were perfect, with none of the bitterness that I often object to when they are served.  Everything worked well together, and while it was nothing new or inventive, it was a good piece of meat and well cooked vegetables, and that is something that never gets old.

Jess's schnitzel, also a classic in its native Germany, was perfectly crispy, maybe slightly overdone but not so much as to render it objectionable, and the spaetzle was amazingly good.  Roasted butternut squash spaetzle is definitely not traditional, but damn, it worked, and worked beautifully, especially when eaten with the accompanying pomegranate and the (much more traditional) red cabbage, something I really need to learn to make.

The fries were good, very crispy and also rather traditional, served with a garlic aioli, a bearnaise, and Heinz ketchup.  The first two sauces were...meh.  Heinz ketchup, however "boring" it may be, really is perfect with French fries, and I do count myself among the many people who associate the taste of ketchup with Heinz, and only Heinz, so I always appreciate when a restaurant goes simple like that.

Despite being stuffed (we took home the majority of the enormous pile of fries and a couple small pieces of schnitzel; good lunch for me today), we had the Sherry Posset, a custard-like dish served with a quenelle of lemon sherbet and carrot cake crumbles.  It was creamy, light, delicious and a perfect finish to the meal.

Service all in all was fine, and the guy who led us to our table and served our wine (Mas de la Barben's l'Improviste Blanc, a Roussanne/Vermentino blend, for a reasonable markup of just about 120%, very low compared to the absurdity of many other restaurants) was great, as was one of the other waiters who stopped by to refill our glasses and all of the guys who actually brought our food and bused our dishes.  Our actual waitress, on the other hand, was only okay, pushing the higher priced items a little too hard (seriously, a $43 ribeye is a little insane, even as a Valentine's Day special, on a menu where the highest priced normal item is the $29 filet that I was already asking after) and a little brusque the few times we actually saw her.  She was also not particularly present through much of the meal, and we did not see her for about ten minutes after saying we just needed a minute or two to look over the menu one last time, though in her defense I saw her downstairs as well, so apparently she had tables on both floors.  It was not a deal breaker, and since everyone else was so friendly, I'll chalk it up to a bad day on a busy night.

All in all, a good meal, reasonably priced wine list, good beer list, and $1 oysters all day Mondays makes this a good option in the area that I will definitely be back to.  That said, for the money, I think there are better options in the area, but it was certainly not a flop, and I can see why the restaurant is popular.  As a side note, the restaurant is in the same group as Liberty Tavern, which I have not been to yet, and Northside Social, my favorite wine bar in the area, that also has by far the best coffee and pastries in the area, and the menus at all three are planned by the same executive chef.  I will get around to reviewing Northside Social at some point soon as well.

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