Anyone who has not heard of Food and Wine magazines 2006 Top Young Chef and Old Towns favorite son Chef Cathal (pronounced Ca-hall) Armstrong must have been in prison for the past six years.
Armstrongs face has graced the pages of local and national magazines so often that we expected to see him saying Mass Tuesday at Nationals Stadium with the Pope.
With the opening of his and beautiful wife Micheles Restaurant Eve in 2004, it brought back elegant dining that had been missing from Old Town for a multitude of years (Remember The Wayfarers which occupied the same place 20 years ago).
When we were asked to review Eve because of Armstrongs Irish roots and the coming St. Patricks Day Holiday, we thought wed never get a reservation, bookings are two months out for evening dining. Instead we chose the Chefs Lickity Splits afternoon lounge menu to share with readers.
Eve offers a terrific value for a quick gourmet lunch for diners who choose to eat in the bar area. We have eaten in the dining room for both lunch and dinner and in the lounge area for dinner, but this was one of our first experiences sampling the Lickity-Split lunch items.
There is sofa seating (the low coffee tables make it a little difficult to balance your plates), so sitting at the bar is the better option. You can choose two items from the standard lounge menu, or select items from the daily lunch specials, for $13.50. You can select a salad and dessert, soup and salad, sandwich and drink or any other combination that you would like.
If you were to purchase two of these items in the dining room it would cost about $25- $30.
We each chose different items so that we could sample at least four. The green salad with smoked trout was excellent and an ample portion. The dressing was light and allowed the main ingredients to shine. The trout was moist and cooked to perfection.
We also chose the poached bouchot mussels with lamb merguez. The curry sauce was a little too thick and rich for one of us; prefering more of a broth but the quality of the mussels and the flavor of the sauce was exceptional. The other of us preferred the thicker sauce to wearing a thinner one as he often does with Chef Armstrongs unbeatable Bouillabaisse served in the dining room.
We enjoyed wonderful rustic housemade bread with our first course. The bread is consistently excellent at Restaurant Eve, the selection varies, and the Kerry butter is served at the proper temperature for spreading, which too often in fine dining establishments is not the case.
For our next course we selected the mushroom risotto but were presented the turnip soup. It was quickly wisked away, the error caught by our bartender. The beef short rib sandwich special was delivered at the same time and we shared that while waiting for the second course. We agreed that the beef short ribs had been cooked too long; Typically braised until tender this meat seemed overcooked resembling a mushy hash that was short on flavor. The crispy house made potato chips were the highlight of this dish.
The mushroom risotto had a delectable wild mushroom flavor with a rich brown sauce that teased the senses. Short on mushrooms but creamy and delectable, the arborio rice was cooked beautifully rolling in the plate like little pearls in a sea of sauce and reggiano parmiggiano. Some Italian chefs have struggled their entire lives to make such a fine risotto and this Irish Chef has mastered it! Like the sirens song it tempted us to lick the plate!
The other thing that makes it such a pleasure to dine at the bar at Eve is you are almost always certain to run into an old friend or make a new one. We will certainly return, and at this price at least once a week!
Charley Varipapa and Barbara Bartoware are notable Old Town Bon Vivants (number 3 and 4).