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Destruya

Clarity "Freestyle American Bistro" in Vienna - Chef de Cuisine Nick Palermo Comes from Barrel & Crow

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So it seems Bonaroti might be getting something other than a Potbelly within skipping distance of it.  I noticed this place taking over what used to be the storefront/restaurant of Wolftrap Catering, and it seems to have a nice concept in mind - even if the location might be lethal:

Clarity Vienna Facebook Page

@clarityvienna on Twitter

The pedigree is certainly something to raise an eyebrow at, being owned by Jonathan Krinn, formerly of the 2941 Restaurant, and Jason Maddens, formerly of the Central Michel Richard in DC.  Just from looks alone this appears to be something different from a simple Maple Ave. Restaurant clone, but there's no information on the menu or cuisine past guessing what a 'freestyle American bistro' would serve.

Also, no one's posted about it yet from what I can see, so I figured I'd get the ball rolling.

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Just from looks alone this appears to be something different from a simple Maple Ave. Restaurant clone,

Just to clear up any ambiguity, you're talking about Maple Ave. Restaurant clone, not Maple Ave. Restaurant clone, right?

The difference between syntax and semantics: I can tell what you're saying, but a Martian couldn't, especially since you capitalized Restaurant.

Don't I sound like TheHersch? ^_^

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Definitely Maple Ave. Restaurant, definitely, definitely.

Also 246 toothpicks.  246.  Definitely, definitely 246.

I meant it in the sense of another high-brow eatery that belies its external looks.

Again, word of mouth is going to have to be *amazing* on this place, because 1) there's not a tremendous amount of parking, especially during Bonaroti's operating hours, and 2) it's not readily viewable from the street like Maple Ave. is.

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Definitely Maple Ave. Restaurant, definitely, definitely.

Also 246 toothpicks.  246.  Definitely, definitely 246.

Again, word of mouth is going to have to be *amazing* on this place, because 1) there's not a tremendous amount of parking, especially during Bonaroti's operating hours, and 2) it's not readily viewable from the street like Maple Ave. is.

You drove me to the search engine.

It is *amazing* how different the demographics are between Vienna and Tysons Corner (recalling Inox) - right up the street, and a different world entirely.

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You drove me to the search engine.

It is *amazing* how different the demographics are between Vienna and Tysons Corner (recalling Inox) - right up the street, and a different world entirely.

The demographics in Vienna are changing rapidly.  People are buying up plots, knocking down the original houses, and putting up $1.5m+ mini-mansions, especially near the Town Hall, behind Amphora (which have always been there), and on the roads paralleling and connecting to Church St.  The *town* of Vienna's becoming slowly McLean'ed.

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Many people sold out in Vienna and mega mansions replaced those older homes. Just drive down Park Street NE away from Chain Bridge Road and you can see at least 10 huge homes. I agree with Destruya that Vienna is slowly becoming McLean'ed.

I still think Church Street has a lot of potential for turnover and new restaurants to come in there.

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I've found that a fair number of the people moving into these huge houses are house-poor, unfortunately. I'm constantly amazed that the original houses (full disclosure: I live in one) are sold at full price, which is around $550K, then knocked down and sold at a profit for $1.3 million. Incredible. Back to the subject at hand, I'm looking forward to Clarity. I hope they also include "normal" food so I can go with my lovely bride.

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I've found that a fair number of the people moving into these huge houses are house-poor, unfortunately. I'm constantly amazed that the original houses (full disclosure: I live in one) are sold at full price, which is around $550K, then knocked down and sold at a profit for $1.3 million. Incredible. Back to the subject at hand, I'm looking forward to Clarity. I hope they also include "normal" food so I can go with my lovely bride.

Last year, someone bought Sen. Edward Kennedy's home in McLean for $9.5 million to use as a *tear-down*.

I'd heard a similar story about ten years ago, also for a home on Chain Bridge Road in McLean overlooking the Potomac - it was some prince from an OPEC nation.

About 15 years ago, I was playing tennis on the court next to Sen. Kennedy. Two comments: 1) Damn he was slow, and 2) Damn he was competitive.

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I have lived on the outskirts of Vienna (i.e. Vienna mailing address, but not the "Town") for almost 30 years.  As suggested above, the demographics have changed drastically within the past five years.  I feel there is a pent-up demand for better dining venues, as evidenced at least by the huge success that Pazzo Pomodoro has experienced (despite the general panning of the place on this website).  If I had a few hundred thousand to spare and any restaurant experience at all, I might try to pull off something like Clarity is attempting.

Trust me, if it is good food at a good value, it won't matter that it does not have frontage on Maple Avenue.  There is money in Vienna now that has not been there in, basically, forever.  While there are indeed those that are house-poor, as Dr. Xmus notes, there are also tons of lawyers/lobbyists populating the town. (not that this is necessarily a good thing, unless you are an aspiring restaurateur)  The only thing keeping these folks back from being regulars at nicer restaurants is that many spend 99% of their time, and a good bit of their disposable income, on pushing their kids into travel sports, advanced ballet, or whatever.

BTW, I will use this opportunity to ask whether Jason Maddens was also the guy who launched Bungalow Lakehouse a while back.  The name sounds familiar, and if he does something close to replicating the original menu from there, they will likely do well in Vienna.

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So it looks like they're getting closer to opening this place, but I think they're going to miss their target of "February 2015."

VRXAU2K.jpg

One would also think that they'd have teased a menu by now.  If anything, I think this space shows that this is going to be less of a restaurant and more of a "bar with food" - at least until it's warm enough for them to take advantage of their patio.

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So it looks like they're getting closer to opening this place, but I think they're going to miss their target of "February 2015."

....

One would also think that they'd have teased a menu by now. If anything, I think this space shows that this is going to be less of a restaurant and more of a "bar with food" - at least until it's warm enough for them to take advantage of their patio.

 Though very unscientific and thus thoroughly unreliable, only one new open has beat its "target" in the greater DC area in the past twenty years and that's Wagshal's new "Pitmasters Back Alley" BBQ joint. :-)

This thread is encouraging to read from the dining perspective. I don't know Vienna that well but think I may have "discovered" Caffe Amouri on this website a few years ago. Or, was at least a fast follower.

Edited to read:

Link here:

http://www.donrockwell.com/index.php?/topic/15959-caffe-amouri-independent-coffee-shop-in-old-town-vienna-107-church-street-ne/

Any updates on Amouri to post there? Haven't been in a long while,

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So this place is finally open: http://www.clarityvienna.com/

Seats 70, plus 12 in a private dining room.

Semi-finished space, too large an image to embed:

Facing Back http://i.imgur.com/aQKOGjc.jpg

Facing Front http://i.imgur.com/ZPBh2S7.jpg

Thank you, Destruya!

Jonathan or Jason, if there's anything I should or shouldn't say, please let me know ASAP. Our readers *want* you to get off to a good start, so please sign in and let us know when to come, what to order, what not to order, etc. We're here to support you.

(Same with you, RJ, the more specifics you can tell us about when to come, what to order, what not to order, etc., the more people will come and support both Gypsy Soul and Rogue 24 - we *want* you to succeed!)

Dare I say, "You too, Michael?"

This is going to *very quickly* become the #1 restaurant in Vienna, if all goes according to expectations.

Congratulations!

Don

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That dinner menu looks a bit uninspired considering the talent in the kitchen.  Maybe starting slow and building up to something more exciting?

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So we dined at Clarity last night. Bottom line is that it's a solid win for Vienna, or anywhere for that matter. I made a reservation online through Yelp the other day. Simple to do and Yelp confirmed my reservation both via email and text. We got there a few minutes before 6 and the place was about 1/3 full. In the reservation I just mentioned it was our second anniversary and everyone from the hostess to our waiter to the manager, Tom, came by to wish us a happy anniversary. Nice touch.

Their water service is either still or sparkling. I was surprised to see we weren't charged for sparkling when we chose that, but maybe they give away one bottle per person. After we were done with that they refilled us with still, which clearly wasn't tap, another nice touch.

Our waiter, Ivan, was very attentive and friendly, coming by within minutes to greet us and take drink orders. For appetizers, I had the octopus and my wife had the tempura shrimp. The tempura shrimp were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. They were hot and crisp without a lot of residual oil. The dipping sauce was fairly bland and really didn't do much for the shrimp. The octopus was a good sized portion for an appetizer, slightly charred, tender, and resting on a bed of eggplant and bok choy. It was very good. I'd order this again.

For main courses, I had the 14oz pork blade chop and my wife had the snapper. The pork was excellent. It was seared nicely on the outside and the middle was probably close to medium. I'm happy to see someone not cooking pork to within an inch of its life. This came with some roasted brussell sprouts and a horseradish cream. The horseradish cream didn't really have much of a horseradish flavor, so that could be kicked up a little to complement the pork better, but all in all, a solid dish. I also ordered a bottomless side of duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes. They were fantastic, although I was too stuffed to go for seconds. My wife's snapper was nice as well and not overdone at all. The tomato relish under it was good as well.

We decided to splurge for dessert and get the crepe stack and two french press coffees. Getting that took quite a bit longer than expected, but by this time the restaurant was packed with only one table empty. They said it's been like that every night since they opened a week and a half ago.

Dessert was fine. Nothing outstanding, but really, it was crepes. The bill came to $100 even for two bar drinks, 2 appetizers, 2 mains, one dessert, and two coffees before tax and tip.

Since the menu changes daily, I'm planning on making Clarity a regular in my not-as-frequently-as-I'd-like dining out rotation.

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I am a bit surprised that there are not at least a couple more reviews of Clarity to this point.

My wife and I went late last night (9:15), which was her second time and my third.  My additional time was also a late Saturday when she was out of town and I sat at the bar.  Our first time was a couple of days after they had opened.  Pretty crowded each time, even in the late hours.  Last night in particular, there seemed to be quite a few people at the bar simply to have drinks.

Being a big burger fan, I have found myself unable to order anything off the menu other than that.  It is of the two-patty variety, in color resembling medium-well to well-done, but not overcooked and plenty juicy.  (the first night we were there, our waitress told me it was "Five Guys" style, in that it was two thinner patties rather than one larger patty--hopefully they have disabused her of using that descriptor, because that is where the similarity ends).  Tom Sietsema's recent quick review said that it is served on a potato roll, but it seemed to me to be more of a brioche bun (can it be both?), with some herbs sprinkled on top.  In addition to the beef having a good beefy flavor (dry aged), the confit tomato, a garlic aioli spread, and the white cheddar cheese make for a compelling taste combination.  The burger comes with a choice of one side, and, being a traditionalist, I have order the "Pencil Fried Potatoes" with sriracha ketchup each time.  I am pleased to report that they have finally figured out how to properly fry these.  The first time, it was a limp pile of sogginess.  Last night, they were what you would expect them to be.  The ketchup has a little kick, without being overwhelmingly spicy.  A quick menu note--the $12 burger has now become a $15 burger (it might be slightly larger, as I could not finish it last night), but still fairly priced in my opinion.  The price hike may actually be the cause of me trying other entrees in subsequent visits--it was a steal at $12!  I am guessing that this was something they figured out.

On our first visit, we split the "Brussel Sprouts, Marcona Almonds" appetizer, which I think had the "medjool dates", but definitely did have dried blueberries (the size of BBs, but packing quite a punch) and bibb lettuce.  It was more of a salad than the menu made it seem, but it is something I would definitely order again.  The brussel sprouts were peeled into leaves and the trademark bitterness was very muted.  The marcona almonds were toasted (or something) such that they were less oily, and had a nice crunch.  My wife, on that visit, had the Crisp Red Snapper with red pepper relish, which she liked quite a bit, as did Biotech's wife in the above review.

Last night, my wife had the grilled yellowfin tuna appetizer and a side of "charred greens" (which, looking at the online menu, used to be called "charred broccoli rabe).  It was still the broccoli rabe, but they probably genericized the name of the dish to allow for variation.  Very nice char taste, maybe a little too heavy on the garlic in spots (online menu says "garlic chips", which appears to be accurate, and they sort of clumped in the nooks and crannies of some of the pieces of rabe)  The tuna appetizer was five decent slices of rare tuna underlying a pistachio pesto (online menu says macadamia nuts).  I am not a seafood eater, so I did not try it, but my wife said that it was very good.  She also said that she did not detect any cilantro, despite that being listed as a component.  A fairly substantial portion for an appetizer.

On the beverage front, my wife found a sauvignon blanc that suited her tastes, at $8 by the glass.  They have four beer taps and several beers in the bottle.  (can you tell by now that we generally do not do cocktails?) The tap selections are well thought out, if not skewing (appropriately) to the lighter side.  Currently the lineup is 3Stars (DC) Peppercorn Saison, Evolution (Salisbury, MD) Lot No. 6 (double IPA, but not an enormous hop bomb), Old Bust Head (Vint Hill, Va.) Chukker Czech Pilsner (the only OBH beer that I have liked), and Port City (VA) Optimal Wit.  This lineup has been the same* from opening, possibly it will change toward the dark side when the cooler weather arrives in several months.  Prices on the 3Stars and OBH Chukker have gone up to the upper end of what one should pay for those beers (actually, in the case of Chukker, now at $8/pint, beyond the upper end).

Overall, given that we are only 10 minutes away from this place, we will have it in our regular rotation.  It is a very nice, modern setting (albeit in an aging strip mall) which is not common in Vienna.  Tom Sietsema can do better than I in describing the décor.

Also, they have an outdoor seating patio in front of the restaurant, which is not yet open (as in, no furniture currently present), which might be a nice place if they put up umbrellas or some covering so that one is not looking up at the signage for the neighboring "gold and jewelry exchange" a/k/a pawn shop.  There is a maybe 5 or 6 foot tall painted cinderblock wall (currently barren, hopefully somehow decorated once the patio is operational) surrounding the three sides extending away from the front of the restaurant.   This outdoor seating aspect might be a little like trying to make lemonade when handed lemons.

Finally, contrary to Destruya's comment above, there is a considerable amount of parking, both in their regular lot (albeit we have been there on the late side of the dining hours), and in a neighboring lot that exits to Church Street, which services a small office complex during the day.  Clarity has seemingly struck a deal to allow that to by used as restaurant parking come evening, in that there is a sign announcing "Restaurant Parking", which is also mentioned on their website.

*The 3Stars peppercorn saison has been on the tap list since opening, but when I ordered it on my first visit, out came a deeply brown-colored beer in a glass.  Before it hit the table, I told our waitress that that was not what I ordered.  She assured me it was, but went and got Nico, an accomplished sommelier who is also apparently the overall beverage director, who "assured" me that this was the peppercorn saison, because that is what the label on the keg said.  We had a good-natured exchange, with me noting that I had had this beer less than a week earlier at Nats Park, and had had it on a number of other occasions.  I offered to taste it, if he wanted me to see if that would change my mind.  I did, it didn't--it was definitely the 3Stars Pandemic Porter, no surprise to me.  Since I like that beer also, I said that I would keep it, but recommended that he get this situation in order.  Being that it was the third day that they had been open, I also asked if I was the first person to order the saison, and he said "no", and that no one had reported a discrepancy.  I can't imagine (maybe I could if this were more of a hipsterish place) who would have ordered a saison and drank a porter without even knowing the difference.  Honestly, I am a little surprised that Nico was not able to discern this just from the color difference.  Sometime between that first and my second visit, the saison was put on tap.

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I find the mistake with the beer to be fascinating.  It seems hard to believe that a restaurant run by such veterans would make a mistake like this.  Understanding this type of error cannot really be made with wine, it seems to indicate a lack of understanding (lack of care?) regarding the beer list.  I can't think of a time I've been given the wrong draft beer at any establishment in the area for as long as I can remember. 

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I guess the reason that I mentioned it is that I thought it fascinating as well.

At the risk of making this thread about beer instead of really good food in an area that has been sorely lacking in the same, I think it was a small misstep that will not be repeated.  Nico, who Tom Sietsema mentioned had been a sommelier at CityZen, was seemingly tagged to oversee beer as well as wine, and probably does not know beer all that well. I don't fault him, if that is the case (maybe I did in my post, to an extent), as I cannot fathom how difficult it is to keep up with the wine business, which is an order or two of magnitude more complex than is the world of craft beer.

Clarity is definitely not a beer-centric place, but they clearly recognize that a tap list of Bud Light and Heineken is not going to cut it.  I chalk the experience up to them getting some great advice from someone as to what to put on their four tap lines, focusing on local beers (which I generally applaud), and being the victim of having been shipped a keg that was incorrectly labeled.  I am just enough of a beer geek to have recognized the error.  I am not such a beer geek or foodie that I was trying to "pair" a particular beer with what I was ordering to eat, so was happy to ultimately have the beer that I was served.  Thinking back, they did not have the Evolution Lot No.6 on the menu that first night, so I initially thought that they had mispoured the porter instead of the saison that I had ordered, with me thinking that the saison was available on a different line.

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*The 3Stars peppercorn saison has been on the tap list since opening, but when I ordered it on my first visit, out came a deeply brown-colored beer in a glass.  Before it hit the table, I told our waitress that that was not what I ordered.  She assured me it was, but went and got Nico, an accomplished sommelier who is also apparently the overall beverage director, who "assured" me that this was the peppercorn saison, because that is what the label on the keg said.  We had a good-natured exchange, with me noting that I had had this beer less than a week earlier at Nats Park, and had had it on a number of other occasions.  I offered to taste it, if he wanted me to see if that would change my mind.  I did, it didn't--it was definitely the 3Stars Pandemic Porter, no surprise to me.  Since I like that beer also, I said that I would keep it, but recommended that he get this situation in order.  Being that it was the third day that they had been open, I also asked if I was the first person to order the saison, and he said "no", and that no one had reported a discrepancy.  I can't imagine (maybe I could if this were more of a hipsterish place) who would have ordered a saison and drank a porter without even knowing the difference.  Honestly, I am a little surprised that Nico was not able to discern this just from the color difference.  Sometime between that first and my second visit, the saison was put on tap.

I find the mistake with the beer to be fascinating.  It seems hard to believe that a restaurant run by such veterans would make a mistake like this.  Understanding this type of error cannot really be made with wine, it seems to indicate a lack of understanding (lack of care?) regarding the beer list.  I can't think of a time I've been given the wrong draft beer at any establishment in the area for as long as I can remember. 

As someone who knows a lot about beer, but who is not an expert, I can tell you that everyone (above a certain level) knows what a porter is, but many fewer people know what a saison is, and would not recognize one if poured. If it were the other way around (labeled porter, poured saison), he would have known.

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We are moving to Oakton and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed our meal (at the chefs counter) and look forward to spending more time here. The smoke beef brisket was the best brisket(outside of texas) i have ever had. The space is a bit odd and there are a couple other weird nuances, but hopefully Jonathan and Jason can make a go of it and Vienna can support a solid foodie spot without having to drive into the city. 

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At an absolute minimum, this is not only the best restaurant in all of Northern Virginia right now but also the equal of Red Hen the year it opened.  That year it won the RAMMY as best new restaurant in D. C.  This is 2941 and Inox at their best:  Clarity is superb!  And, an extremely comfortable room.  It will be one of the best, if not the best, new restaurants in the entire D. C. area for 2015.  It is that good.

Several dishes were Great Dishes (crab gazpacho (best gazpacho I have ever had), lamb with creme fraiche) And a very real bargain-serious-it is down a nondescript side street in Vienna.  For all the world you could be in midtown Manhattan when you walk in the door and count ten behind the open kitchen counter.  This is sited as a neighborhood restaurant that could be worth a night or two each week from locals as well as an Uber ride from four in the City who want to put together a blowout ten-twelve course experience to test Jonathan Krinn and the area's best.

175+ covers on Tuesday already, more on every other day.  A well worthy three stars from Tom. It is known and pursued.   I honestly think worthy of a Beard nomination and an award.

Thank you, Chef Krinn.

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Shhh, Joe! :P

Clarity is clearly drawing clientele from well beyond Vienna already.  My wife and I enjoyed it when we could call (using their text-based call ahead seating system) just before leaving the house, and be seated 15-20 minutes later (mostly non-prime time), basically the length of our drive.  We tried that last Thursday, and did not even get a return text.

Everything that we have had there has been stellar.  I think that maybe one of the differences between what they are doing now and what was going on with 2941, and possibly Inox (which I never went to), is that you can certainly splurge and make it a fairly expensive evening, but you can also treat it like a restaurant you can go to weekly without fretting too much about how much you are spending to eat out.  As I think Tom S. mentioned, those nightly meat specials might use what the finest restaurants would consider to be lesser cuts, but they pull them off with aplomb.

I, too, was impressed by the level of staffing, both in the kitchen, and in the FOH.  Hopefully that is sustainable.  Expectedly, service was a little spotty at first, but has improved considerably.

I have not been there in almost two weeks, and had not seen the crab gazpacho on the menu.  I will definitely order it the next time around.

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Based on all the love this place is getting in this thread and the "Best of Northern Virginia" thread, my wife and I are going tonight.

Does anyone have thoughts about the best seating options?

Is the outdoor patio nice or is right next to a highway? (it's going to be nice night)

Are the bar seats a better option if you like to watch the chefs? (we do)

Or is the place to be in "normal" seats?

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At this time of year, the first question is always inside vs outside? When we went, the patio looked nice (it's not right near Maple Ave) but it was too hot, so we chose a regular table inside. But the seats near the kitchen would be fun if you like to watch the chefs.

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