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Monroe's, The Abraham Family's Neighborhood Italian-American on Commonwealth Avenue in Del Ray - Closed Dec 24, 2015

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I was surprised to dig into the Del Ray guide and not see a thread on Monroes. I recall it being one the first actual dining spots of the last 15 or so year rebirth of the neighborhood. It was opened by the Abraham family, formerly associated with the Vienna Inn. Its woodburning pizza oven and neighborhood vibe caught on fast and local Del Ray loyalty has sustained it this many years. A family connection to Monroes spawned the now-late Del Merei grill on Mount Vernon. I've only stopped here a handful of times over the years but always enjoyed the family atmosphere and well-prepared pasta's, fish, pizza's and general comfort food. Though I'm not a regular, Monroes won my heart during a big blizzard, gosh, has to be 13 years ago, when I was soldiering home to my then-pregnant wife desperate for a place that was open and had some takeout for me to bring to her. I was turned down flat at the open-but-empty Evening Star ("we only do takeout at lunchtime") and lurched in my mini-van to Monroes. The smiling welcome (and perfect snowbound-carryout meal) earned my eternal (though sporadic) friendship in the same way as my "spurning" by Evening Star has earned eternal dirty looks whenever I drive down Mount Vernon (I hold grudges). So when I was scrolling through Open Table listings in Alexandria for a spur-of-the-moment Saturday dinner, I was pleased to see my old friend and, thanks to technology, I was booked before I gave it a second thought. Our table for five (son, wife and good friends) awaited us in the midst of a packed dining room. Service was friendly and low-key. Nice variety of wines by the glass, with a Barbera and a Vernaccia the "specials" at a (these days) refreshing $7. I had a fairly simple arugula and pear salad and the lamb tenderloin w/port wine sauce appetizer, both lovely, and sampled my wife's mussels au gratin and my son's vegetarian pasta (and lusted from across the table at my friend Bob's Linguine with Shrimp and Mushrooms). All shared the Monroe's Bread (pizza dough with kosher salt, rosemary, basil and parmesan with VERY intense pesto for dipping), which disappeared in no time. Very lively very "neighborhood-ish" vibe but not too loud for conversation. Really just the ticket for a chilly early winter's night. Nice to check back in with an old friend.

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We live about a mile and a half from Monroe's, and last night we took advantage of the gorgeous weather to walk to dinner. In our experience, Monroe's has always been good, but last night it was excellent. They always have a couple of Italian wines on special, and I tried the soave, a wine that I would never pick up in the store for fear of overwhelming sweetness. It was fruity and well-balanced - a nice wine for dinner. Mr. lperry had the escolar with mango sauce and pronounced it perfectly cooked and delicious. He even remarked that great attention had been given to the sides - scalloped potatoes and green beans with mushrooms. I had the vegetable pizza. The crust was thin, flavorful, and very crisp, and the toppings were fresh and delicious. Service was friendly and attentive. A lovely meal at a nice neighborhood establishment. On the walk home we both remarked that we should go to Monroe's more frequently.

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...A lovely meal at a nice neighborhood establishment. On the walk home we both remarked that we should go to Monroe's more frequently.

Yes. This.

Stopped into Monroe’s tonight, our inaugural visit.

First impression: Booths! Adorable two-top retreats lined an entire windowed wall, part of a cozy, inviting, dining area. We noted the large volume of red wine bottles atop each booth and along the perimeter.

We immediately visualized how those bottles must have looked during the recent earthquake. Smashing!

I also realized the wine bottles were part of what made Monroe’s acoustically compelling. Perhaps it’s the effect of all the liquid in shiny orbs absorbing the clank of forks and conversations. Or perhaps it was my mere joy at being treated so graciously, although slightly underdressed and clearly not one of the many regulars. Counting Crows, Gnarlys Barkley, and the like gently wafted down from unobtrusive speakers. Monroe’s is one of the rare, gracious dining environments where one can talk without shouting, and relax without wincing, on a Friday night.

Lighting also gets an A+. We sat at the bar, enjoying a waning sunset, strings of small, white lights peeping from just outside each window. An exceptionally unobtrusive yet service-minded bartender tended to our unspoken needs. Yards IPA and a handful of other draft beers beckoned, along with a decent selection of mindfully displayed wines and spirits. Arched wood paneling and open mirrors increased the sense of space. Red bar napkins continued the soft, muting effect--white bar napkins are a visual shocker, although far too many restaurants fail to understand this.

Warm Italian bread, served with light as air, herb-whipped butter, started the dining experience. Fried zucchini ($6), from the impressively extensive daily specials menu, followed. Pan-seared breading crunched while goat cheese whisper-kissed intensely tomato dipping sauce, a well-executed, late summer treat. Clams casino ($7), from the standard menu, seemed far less successful in it’s confusing consistency, stuffed clams in a white cream sauce served over baby spinach and arugula.

Offending every animal rights activist in the National Capital Region, we identified veal as the theme for main dishes. Minced veal and spinach cannelloni ($14) melted in our mouths with euphoria-evoking pasta crepes in a masterful white sauce. Freshly grated Parmesan offered by the bartender further piqued flavor. The unerring triumph was pan-seared calf liver, rich with applewood smoked bacon and dijon masala wine sauce, from the daily specials menu ($16). Organ meat fans, order this, and savor every bite coupled with scalloped potatoes and visually appealing green bean medley. That’s do as we say, not as we do, of course, because we neglected our vegetable due to such focused attention on the liver and potato pairing magic.

Pistachio crème brulee ($6), a massive serving for such a rich finish, startled us with intensely nutty flavor and fluff-delicate custard. Served room temperature, another triumph. The bartender noted that skin-on pistachio paste was to credit for the pleasantly green hue and hinting-at-amaretto undertones. Marzipan fans will swoon at this comforting choice from the daily specials menu.

I was delighted to read above that this venue is owned by the family affiliated with the Vienna Inn, especially with this summer’s encounter with an owner citing another family link at Fat Crabs Rib Company in Corolla, NC.

Return visits will have other stories to share.

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Bummer. Heard rumors a while back but never seemed to materialize. Wife and I go there about once every month, its where we had our first 'official' date. Wonder if this is where Eric Reid might open his replacement for DRP 2216. Same family, I believe the Abraham's daughter was Eric's partner in crime at Del Merei Grille. Food for thought.

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It doesn't seem that Eric Reid is headed there. Although several of his Alums from Del Marei are moving in.

Tim Irwin from Evening Star and Eventide and Jeremy Barbour from Del Merei are partners with a yet to be stated chef.

It's called Common Table and will focus of fare fron Charleston.

Del Ray Patch newspaper reports that the same designer who did Founding Farmers is in charge of the update to the space.

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