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Brine, Rappahannock River Oysters' Seafood Farm-to-Table Restaurant in Merrifield - Closed Jan 11, 2020


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I'm the first, really? Maybe my post can moved down below the positives which will be coming. I'll start with the fact that I'm not an oyster or a clam kinda guy, so take the review with that grain of (sea) salt.

My mom was in town, so Mrs DrXmus and I made a reservation through Open Table for 6P last Friday night. Brine had been open for a little over a week, I think. Every time option was available, so I assumed the place hadn't been slammed yet with people interested in the new food joint in the Mosaic area. The seats were about 1/4-1/3 occupied inside and about 1/6 occupied outside. There are about 10-15 outdoor small tables. We were seated quickly by very nice hosts. Complaint number one, IT'S CRAZY LOUD INSIDE!! Note that I said the place was about 1/3 full. I got readings of 87-90 dB on my Decibels app on my phone. Two days later in Fairfax, we happened onto the parade of motorcycles heading into DC for Rolling Thunder. We were 20 feet away from the bikes and my app was reading 90-93dB. I saw absolutely no move to deaden sound in the restaurant. Admittedly, this is a soapbox issue for me, but the noise will keep me away from Brine and its noisy ilk.

The beer list is very good. It draws from mostly local breweries, which is always nice to see.

We wondered aloud whether Brine would serve bread. I expounded about how bread service is going the way of the Dodo and other things I've learned on this board. About 10 minutes after ordering we received a metal bucket containing 5-6 freshly baked, soft yeasty rolls brushed with butter. They were delicious and much-appreciated. Good job Brine. As a knock, though, they were quite late in arriving to the table and one of the runners (who admitted it was her first day when there was some confusion about a side dish) took the bucket away with a roll still inside toward the end of our meal! This is like taking away my beer glass when I still have a swallow or two remaining! Server foul!

We didn't get apps, but as you can assume, there are a number of raw shellfish options for your choosing and some shrimp. We were disappointed the menu isn't what's posted on their web site. Alas, no fish and chips. Personally, I think this should be a staple on the menu. My mom had a crab cake on a little bed of greens. Her take is that it was "OK" and my Baltimorean wife's take was "it's not good". My take is that it was a single, medium-sized crab cake for $16 with no side dish. Oh, so about the sides, they're extra, although the asparagus we got was quite a large order - plenty for two, too much for one, but not quite enough for 3. Mrs DrXmus had a dish which was called something like "seared scallops with something greens and something or other mushrooms".  Because of the description, she didn't get a side dish. It turns out the non-scallop things were garnish only and she should've gotten a side. I had a special of rotisserie roasted croaker, 3 oysters and 3 clams. The oysters were fine. The clams were bitter (are they normally?), small and had to be mutilated to get tiny pieces out of the shell to eat. The croaker was cooked well, but Jesus was it unpleasant to eat. I thought I was doing pretty well separating bone from meat, but let's just say I'm better at other things than this. By the third and final croaker, I was disgusted and frustrated and just wanted to quit. Now, I'm happy to admit I may have ordered the wrong thing and I would've been able to enjoy something else, but I didn't enjoy this dish in the least. In fact, I got tired of the oily/herby drizzle during the meal, too. I had some small mouthfuls of what I thought was all fish that was a high percentage of bone that I ended up spitting into my napkin, which I feel terrible about but after swallowing and chewing many bones already, I started to freak out that I would end up in the hospital with some bizarre croaker rib intestinal perforation. I eventually gave up after 2.5 croakers. As the raven says, nevermore.

No dessert for us, so I can't comment. It was getting louder as the seats filled and I was just done with eating. I trust they'll work out the kinks in service and table-busing (there were other minor problems with the busing), but as for the menu and food and ambiance, I'm not inspired to return.

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Typically Croaker is a fish best served smoked so that the bones have dissolved and therefore easier to eat. As well deep fried croaker is a common dish served down in the Northern Neck where this fish is a plentiful. Give Brine time to make the needed adjustments as I have found they, the company, are good listeners to both good and bad reports.

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Give Brine time to make the needed adjustments as I have found they, the company, are good listeners to both good and bad reports.

One thing I wish to point out to people is the plural in the website name: brinerestaurantS.com. It's relatively easy to open one good restaurant if you pay enough opening talent (refer to Againn - does anyone remember how amazing Againn was when it opened? Does anyone remember Againn right now? How about Kushi? The Gibson? Range? Bandolero?), but it becomes essentially impossible once you start opening additional locations, or dumping the highly paid opening team, and so I advise everyone to beware about potential future dilution, and to enjoy this first location while you still can. Note also that their sister restaurants, rocksaltrestaurantS.com, already have two locations.

Sorry for the cynicism, but experience has taught me to be wary with a near-100% confidence level, and absent a statement from the owner saying, "We're not going to open a second restaurant, and we intend to have this opening crew in place for a long, long time," I believe I can see this one coming a mile away; for now, I'm initializing Brine in Italic in the Dining Guide, but I'll be monitoring it just as closely as I did Ovvio Osteria, which is now on their "xth" chef, and has been downgraded.

If there's one thing I'm determined to be remembered for, it's going to be as the person who coined the phrase, "Review Season," and also as the person who put an end to its existence.

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I dined with my sister at Brine yesterday evening. Echoing what DrXmus said up above, when the place was brand-new, the main feature of this restaurant is unbearable noise. I was never gladder to leave a restaurant than when I finally staggered out of Brine, ears ringing. The food was good (reasonably priced and expertly shucked raw oysters, bucatini with clams, carpaccio of yellowfin tuna with "puffed tendon"), we had a nice, very gently priced bottle of cava, service was mostly friendly and efficient, although communication with our server was difficult, what with all the shouting it required. The bread, what I would call Parker House rolls, was nice, but again echoing DrXmus, kind of randomly delivered to our table more than half-way through our meal. I can state fairly confidently that I will never return to this restaurant unless I learn that they've taken measures to curb the noise, which I doubt they will. The place appears to be calculated to maximize noise, what with the very high ceilings and unrelieved hard surfaces of everything in the dining room. The place was more or less mobbed, so I guess the locals must like it.

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The place appears to be calculated to maximize noise, what with the very high ceilings and unrelieved hard surfaces of everything in the dining room. The place was more or less mobbed, so I guess the locals must like it.

Herschel, the noisiest restaurant I've ever set foot in, surpassing even Graffiato, in which you had to literally scream at the bartender who was standing three feet in front of you - and even then, be able to lip-read to decipher his response:

graffiato-industry-takeover-night.jpg <--- a point of shame

was Avec in Chicago:

avec-630x420.jpg <--- a recipe for disaster

Avec, aside from being beautiful (and I grant that it is a fine-looking exercise in polished wood), sounds *exactly* like you describe in your quoted text, except for one thing: the ceilings were the opposite of "very high"; they were, in fact, very low, which I believe left the sound waves nowhere to flee, and amplified the decibels. While the food was good - really good - I was sitting at one of the communal tables on the right, quite literally tète-í -tète with my dining companion, and in a full restaurant (we had to wait outside for thirty minutes to get in), we ended up quite literally screaming at the top of our lungs, despite being less than four feet apart, and from what I remember (I'm trying not to exaggerate here because there's no need to), we literally could not even hear the other's voice. It was like you were watching a movie of your friend screaming something at you, and the volume had been muted while the crowd in the theater was roaring. This naturally led to both of us leaning in towards the center, and the one who was listening turning their head sideways, offering up their ear to be screamed into. That was the only hope of having a conversation, and it entirely ruined the meal because we're both very slow, methodical diners who take our time - this resulted in many moments of complete silence while we backed off to take a bite from our plates (both of which were pushed into the center, literally touching each other, as we were sharing everything). If I remember correctly, we got two appetizers, two entrees, and then skipped dessert because we didn't want to suffer through this any longer. As we walked down the street after dinner, we had both experienced some (temporary) hearing loss, and that's where the story must end because I cannot remember if it continued into the next day or not (this might be in the Chicago thread). It was the loudest public space I can ever remember being in, possibly surpassing even some college beer joints which were specifically designed to maximize the number of drunks, walking around with glasses and pitchers of beer (Wednesday night at Bullwinkle's (Clemson, SC) was "Slurp and Burp" night with 10-cent drafts in plastic cups, and the noise was such that it took several seconds for people to figure out which song had just begun playing in order to place your beers down (at your own risk), or more usually, simply dance while holding them - the dance floor was the only spot in the restaurant that where (using a similar head-turning method as in Avec, offering up your ear to be screamed into, in order to get the first name of the person you just asked to dance; unless the person was really good looking, a last name generally wasn't worth the effort, but the entire bar was sloppy drunk so nobody seemed to mind and damn, was it cheap). Anyway, having gone off-track, Avec was probably not quite as loud as Bullwinkle's, which I can't find any pictures of, but you can get the idea by looking at this picture of Kansas University's Jayhawk Cafe:

photo%25202.JPG <--- a point of pride

but I remember it - twenty-five years apart - as being pretty close. Still off-track, my point was the the lower ceiling seemed to trap and bounce the sound waves off the ceiling at various angles, so you had literally dozens of shouts hitting your ear drums at all sorts of various angles. Tom Sietsema's decibel rating seemed like a publicity stunt, albeit one with some promise, when it first debuted, but given that it takes up only a few words, and that there's most likely an app for an iPhone which measures these things fairly accurately, I see nothing wrong, and plenty right, with including the decibels in your restaurant reviews (people should feel free to do so here), and kudos and credit must be given to Tom for taking the lead on this trailblazing idea: a once-novel idea with long-term merit that is nowadays desperately needed. Back to Bullwinkles, Clemson students would often go there to "warm up" before football games which took place at the notorious "Death Valley" (read this article) - I can't remember if Clemson's football stadium was *the* loudest in the country, but it was always on Top 10 lists, and the fans, nicknamed "the 12th man," would *always* roar, cheer, and take it as a source of immense, sadistic pleasure and pride when the referees were forced to call a personal foul for excessive noise - noise so loud that the opposing quarterback was unable to call an audible because his players had no chance to hear him. 

Well, I just got off-track even further ... or did I?

I did read in an Architectural Journal about an idea so simple that it's hard to believe nobody had thought of it before now: literally, a push-button system that changes the inside of the building from being maximum loud to having those qualities muted - the button causes a series of events to occur that include things such as thick wool padding lowering itself down previously bare-concrete walls, speakers flipped into producing canceling noise which neutralizes the sound in the building, a ceiling lowering a series of insulated structures which absorb, rather than repel, sound waves. Apparently, this one-touch, "Push and Speak" system can be quite expensive and complex, especially since it hasn't even been invented (I'm lying my ass off, you see), but wouldn't it be nice if our multi-million-dollar restaurants spent a couple hundred-thousand extra on just such a thing? Well, personally, I'd rather have the couple hundred thousand bucks, and travel like a fiend.

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 The food was good (reasonably priced and expertly shucked raw oysters, bucatini with clams, carpaccio of yellowfin tuna with "puffed tendon"), we had a nice, very gently priced bottle of cava, service was mostly friendly and efficient, although communication with our server was difficult, what with all the shouting it required.

What did you think of the plankton bucatini flavor-wise?  I've never had plankton pasta before and I thought it gave the pasta a strange sourness.  Has anyone else had plankton pasta elsewhere?  I thought it was pretty unique, but maybe it's part of a trend that I'm unaware of.

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Having only eaten at Brine once (so far), opening week, after reading all the reviews above decided to say something nice about it.  We've eaten at all four of the RR Rivers restaurants, the best one being Merroir, in Topping, VA, on the shores of the Rappahannock River.  We love their oysters.  We love the crab cakes. We love love the oyster chowder.  My husband loves the clams.

That said, most of the time we stick to the basics and don't venture very far out on the menu.  Which is what we did when we ate at Brine, although did try the ceviche (good) and the charcuterie (pretty good).

I don't think the issue is having more than one location.  I think they may be punching above their weight.  They're trying to pull off very sophisticated dishes, but really, Merroir is about their style.  Grilled Caesar salad, "stuffin muffin" (oyster stuffing), shrimp and grits, angels on horseback.  Southern comfort seafood.

Stick to the basics and you'll be fine.  Like me, you mave have a great time. If you've never heard of it or had it (looking at you, Dr. Xmus), ask first or don't try it.  (BTW, no non-Baltimore crabcake is ever going to satisfy a Baltimorean.  Bet your mother-in-law makes the best ones at home.)

Avoid the noise, go early.

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What did you think of the plankton bucatini flavor-wise?  I've never had plankton pasta before and I thought it gave the pasta a strange sourness.  Has anyone else had plankton pasta elsewhere?  I thought it was pretty unique, but maybe it's part of a trend that I'm unaware of.

I didn't remember the plankton part, and now that I think of it, I couldn't swear that that word was on the menu entry, although it's certainly on the menu they have online. The most assertive flavor of the dish we had was black pepper, which isn't mentioned on the menu -- not a problem, since I love black pepper. The main flaw of the dish to me was the paucity of guanciale in it.

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Brine is now open for lunch during the week (as of last week, I think). There's no lunch menu posted on the website (but it's not that different from the dinner menu), but the lunch hours are definitely there, and the Facebook page has comments about lunch service beginning.

We needed a treat so went for lunch today. It was pretty empty just before noon, and only a few small parties came in while we were there. Therefore, the noise level was not bad.

We shared the steamed shrimp, which were 10 large shrimp coated in crab boil, and very delicious.  I had the burger without a bun, medium-rare, with grilled corn on the cob instead of fries (gluten-free). Don't remember what cheese was on top but the burger itself was one of the best I've had in a while--nice beefy flavor, perfectly grilled (wood fire?), perfectly salted, and enough fat to keep the patty together. It rivals (maybe passes) the beef burger at Choices by Shawn as my all-time favorite (no, I haven't had Frank Ruta's or Dino's). It came with a little fresh cabbage slaw, the sauce tasting like remoulade to me. The corn was a little more cooked than I prefer, but very tasty and nicely seasoned.

My husband had the fish and chips.  He said he wanted more, which is a good sign. The battered coating on the fish was crisp, and the fish itself was nicely cooked.

We will go again, and we are both likely to order those dishes again at some point.

I hope that this place isn't so "off the beaten path" that it loses money on its lunch service.

Oh, and they have a happy hour offer of half-price Rappahannock oysters between 3 and 6:30 pm Mon-Thurs (?). We're going to go for that, too.

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I took this picture in a popular BBQ joint outside Elkton, VA. Why is this such an anathema to NoVA restaurants? Of course, this has nothing to do with Brine, but I bet there'd be a lively conversation if a new thread were made dedicated to noise in restaurants.

Edit: imagine yourself standing on your head. Apparently, the uploading process flipped my picture upside down. Damned internet pipes.

post-6926-0-24568000-1436926132_thumb.jp

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The first time we ate at Brine for dinner, a couple of weeks after they opened, our server volunteered that the room was a lot noisier than they had expected it to be.

I dunno, wouldn't the architect or designer have given the owners some idea of the noise level this hard design would produce?

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Lunch this past Sunday was a "Mosaic Platter" (6 oysters, 6 clams, 6 Carolina shrimp, ceviche) to share, and a pair of Fish & Chips kids meals for the younger guys.  Between a half-dozen and a dozen tables were occupied, plus a couple more outside, so the noise level inside was not a problem.

The highlight of the seafood platter were the oysters: soft, succulent, and perfectly shucked.  The clams were Olde Salt clams were on the small side, but definitely briny and delicious.  The Carolina Shrimp, however, were the opposite: huge, but relatively bland.

The kids fish & chips meals were another highlight -- irresistible to the adults as well as the kids.  Perfectly battered and fried, wonderful texture and taste, and served with malt vinegar and a cup of piping hot and delicious fries.  Definitely "adult food" that appeals to the younger set, and reasonably priced at $5 per meal as well.  My only suggestion for Brine would be to pair the malt vinegar with another dip for the fries as part of the kids meal -- if not ketchup, perhaps the cocktail sauce.

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Husband was begging to go back, and Don's post above stimulated me to say, "sure, why not?"

My opinion hasn't improved but it hasn't gotten worse.

Got there at six on a Saturday, out by 7:15 p.m. In the interim, it went from less than half full to mostly full, and the noise level went up accordingly. Speaking objectively, I would describe the decibel level as "brutal." Not actually a problem for me. After raising two sons, I can tune out a lot of noise, but if you can't do that, well, you've been warned. It would take a lot of wall hangings and whatnot to dampen this down. The hard chairs don't help.

Food. It's July and deep in my heart eating oysters in July is just wrong. In my old home town of New Orleans, the Acme Oysrer bar would close for the summer. But the oysters were fine. Excellent. We asked for a dozen each, got only one dozen, perhaps dur to decibel level, although we always have a hard time explaining to waitstaff that we want a dozen (or more) each. Why, I don't know.

Surely the decible level contributed to the only other snafu. Husband ordered yellowtail carpaccio, waiter thought he said gaspacho. Carpaccio, gazpacho, easy mistake? The gave him the gazpacho and then the carpaccio, and the manager came by to apologize. Gazpacho puréed, tasty but obviously not carpaccio. He liked both. I thought the carpaccio filets were excessively large but he was pleased.

He also managed to eat almost all my crab chowder when I wasn't looking. I passed the bowl to him for a taste, and when I looked up, he was scraping the bowl with his spoon.

My crab cake was a typical Maryland style crab cake. It was fine. The menu mentioned lump crabmeat, and there was probably a mention of lump crabmeat in the crabcake, but pretty much all shreds of back meat. Some filler but not a lot. Old bay. The usual. Neither here nor there.

Charcuterie also hit and miss. Ham surryano and duck rillette hits, pate a miss.

Side of grilled corn, WTF? Modern type sugar sweet corn, nicely grilled, slathered in crema and fresh cheese, except for the unepected sweetness of the corn, well executed. The WTF moment came from the wedges of lime on the side, doused with the crema. If you're going to pick up a crema doused wedge of lime and squeeze that juice on your corn, you're a something or other person than I am.

Radish salad, WTF, as well. For $7 for a radish salad, I expect, well, radishes. Most of the plate was big chunks, I mean a couple inches square, of a very pretty purple "radish" that after eating, I swear was a turnip. It was very hard, and had a thick skin. The only way to eat it was by gnawing it. The taste was pretty ok, but that big of a hunk of hard vegetable should have been sliced thinly.

I dunno, Brine.

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I'll write a review of my meal at Brine, but I don't feel like writing tonight, and I want to at least issue a brief warning (which I will delete) to people thinking of dining there this weekend:

Go *now*. Because it will never be any better than it is, and right now, the food is fabulous. And I mean effing fabulous! More later, but when (not if; *when*) you go, think "produce and fish."

I was out at a forever-changed Tysons Corner, near the Greensboro Metro Stop, on late Friday afternoon, and knew this was one of my best chances to get to Brine, just a short hop down Gallows Road.

I pulled up a seat at the bar, and unwound with a pint of Three Notch'd "Hydraulion" Irish Red ($6), an antidote towards overhopped IPAs that so fiendishly plague this poor, naive country of maltless primitives, then began my meal with a Radish Salad ($6), about eight different large chunks of (presumably heirloom-type) radishes, oyster aioli (which is something I'm not familiar with, but it was very good), chive blossom, and Maldon salt. These were largely as Ilaine describes below, except that I really enjoyed them. Yes, they were extremely hard, but instead of gnawing them, I merely cut them in half with my knife (even that was something of a challenge). I really enjoyed this dish, and the texture didn't bother me so much as it fascinated me - with the dipping aioli, I thought it made for a wonderful appetizer on a hot afternoon, and gave me enough confidence in the produce here, to go a step deeper with the rest of my meal.

For my main course, I asked for two things brought out together: Crispy Redbor Kale ($8) which, like the Radish Salad, was from the "Sharing Size" section of the menu, and from the "Simple Fish" section of the menu, Croaker ($16), choosing Preserved Lemon Aioli as my sauce, despite knowing that there might be some redundancy with the sauce that came with the Radish Salad. Together, I picked a combination of dishes that were so good, I simply couldn't believe what I was eating. Let me also mention that I was asked if I wanted some bread, and I said, 'Sure, a couple pieces,' mainly to give a it a try. What arrived was a tin pail of Parker House Rolls, made to order, and while not Zieboldian, these were about the second-best Parker House Rolls I've seen in this city of imitators - they were just about perfect, and so good that I was dumbfounded - so good that I had to control myself in order to distribute them throughout the meal rather than instantly gobbling them down. Although they went well with every single dish as a swab, they were best eaten alone because anything you added to them, detracted from them.

The Crispy Redbor Kale salad was a masterpiece: a mound of crispy Kale (think of the Palaak Chaat at Rasika), atop something called "Grated Tomato," with olive oil and "zucchini pickles" which were negligible. This dish was Kale on Tomatoes, and looked exactly like some sort of Japanese Seaweed on an impossibly large pool of Tobiko or Ikura, but the pinkish base was, in fact, grated tomato, most likely sweetened with a bit of simple syrup, and served cold as a salad. The texture of the kale was precisely that fall-apart texture you find at Rasika with their Palaak Chaat - this dish was heaven, and even better with my simply grilled Croaker - one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of fish I can remember having in a long time. The croaker was served atop a little bed of stems (I'm sorry, I was unable to identify them), and the lemon aioli was really just a couple of blots - the fish itself was the star of the show, and these two items in combination had me walking away from my dinner, knowing that I had stumbled upon a restaurant with such great potential that I had to wait until I was well-rested to write the review. All three things, even the tough-to-cut radishes, were at a level of quality you just don't see. When I was eating my kale and croaker, I was daydreaming, typing in messages on my cellphone, pretty much anything to distract myself, but like what happens to me sometimes at Corduroy, these dishes were so perfect that they forced me into the moment. I sat there, silently staring at what was in front of me, just in awe of what I was experiencing. Brine, despite its enormous size, on this evening, was at a level of greatness that I rarely see.

Husband was begging to go back, and Don's post above stimulated me to say, "sure, why not?"

My opinion hasn't improved but it hasn't gotten worse.

Got there at six on a Saturday, out by 7:15 p.m. In the interim, it went from less than half full to mostly full, and the noise level went up accordingly. Speaking objectively, I would describe the decibel level as "brutal." Not actually a problem for me. After raising two sons, I can tune out a lot of noise, but if you can't do that, well, you've been warned. It would take a lot of wall hangings and whatnot to dampen this down. The hard chairs don't help.

Food. It's July and deep in my heart eating oysters in July is just wrong. In my old home town of New Orleans, the Acme Oysrer bar would close for the summer. But the oysters were fine. Excellent. We asked for a dozen each, got only one dozen, perhaps dur to decibel level, although we always have a hard time explaining to waitstaff that we want a dozen (or more) each. Why, I don't know.

Surely the decible level contributed to the only other snafu. Husband ordered yellowtail carpaccio, waiter thought he said gaspacho. Carpaccio, gazpacho, easy mistake? The gave him the gazpacho and then the carpaccio, and the manager came by to apologize. Gazpacho puréed, tasty but obviously not carpaccio. He liked both. I thought the carpaccio filets were excessively large but he was pleased.

He also managed to eat almost all my crab chowder when I wasn't looking. I passed the bowl to him for a taste, and when I looked up, he was scraping the bowl with his spoon.

My crab cake was a typical Maryland style crab cake. It was fine. The menu mentioned lump crabmeat, and there was probably a mention of lump crabmeat in the crabcake, but pretty much all shreds of back meat. Some filler but not a lot. Old bay. The usual. Neither here nor there.

Charcuterie also hit and miss. Ham surryano and duck rillette hits, pate a miss.

Side of grilled corn, WTF? Modern type sugar sweet corn, nicely grilled, slathered in crema and fresh cheese, except for the unepected sweetness of the corn, well executed. The WTF moment came from the wedges of lime on the side, doused with the crema. If you're going to pick up a crema doused wedge of lime and squeeze that juice on your corn, you're a something or other person than I am.

Radish salad, WTF, as well. For $7 for a radish salad, I expect, well, radishes. Most of the plate was big chunks, I mean a couple inches square, of a very pretty purple "radish" that after eating, I swear was a turnip. It was very hard, and had a thick skin. The only way to eat it was by gnawing it. The taste was pretty ok, but that big of a hunk of hard vegetable should have been sliced thinly.

I dunno, Brine.

Two nights later I was back with my young dining companion, having raved to him about this incredible new restaurant in the Mosaic development. I had read Ilaine's review, and although I had 100% confidence that "I was right" with my opinion of my first visit, I'm also experienced enough, and know that Ilaine is experienced enough, to know that "she wasn't wrong" with her opinion. Something was amiss.

My son and I were seated at a two-top in the middle of the restaurant, and perused the menu for awhile. Although I urged him to get a mocktail (this is the place for one), he stuck with water as he so often does (and good for him), whereas I stuck with the proven Three Notch'd "Hydraulion" Irish Red ($6). My only instructions for him were that we had to get the Crispy Redbor Kale ($8) because he simply wasn't going to believe how good kale could be, and what "grated tomato" was like. Other than that, we tore the menu apart (not literally), getting samples of many different things: from the "Raw Bar" section, a Chilled Carolina Shrimp Cocktail ($13 for 6); from the "Sharing Size" section, the Kale, and then Squash Blossoms ($9) with scallop and swordfish mousseline, and charred scallion, the Beef Tartare ($16) with caperberry, rye crostini, two dots of horseradish, and a dusting of black vegetable ash; and from the "Simple Fish" section, the Mahi-Mahi ($18), which a lady was having next to me on my first visit, and was raving about - it was obvious just looking at it that it was every bit the equal of my Croaker. My expectations were high, and I told him that his expectations should be high, too. I asked our server - who was simultaneously aloof, and chatty - if we could have a rush on an order of Parker House Rolls (I know my son well enough to sense the dreaded EYOSS looming (Eighteen-Year-Old Starvation Syndrome), even though he's always too polite to say anything, even to me (damn it, I've been trying to change this to no avail)). The server acknowledged this, but warned us that they're cooked to order (great!), and that they take 5-6 minutes. No problem!

And once again, I ended up apologizing to my son after the meal for pumping up his expectations. As so often happens, I'll go to a restaurant, rave about it to someone, then take them there, and end up explaining that "it really *was* fantastic - please believe me!" My son is savvy enough (and familiar enough with his pop) to know I'm right, but others whom I don't know so well, aren't, and so there have been numerous occasions when my bonafides have undoubtedly been questioned - this meal would have been no exception.

I could go start-to-finish, and explain why every single thing was a disappointment, relative to my first visit, but instead I'll simply say that the *worst* thing I had on my first visit (the radish salad, I suppose) was better than the *best* thing I had on my second visit (the Shrimp Cocktail, I would guess). I asked my son - who has a critic's palate - to name his favorites, in order, and he pointed to the Shrimp Cocktail, the Beef Tartare (that's the 18-year-old in him), the Mahi-Mahi, the Squash Blossoms, and the Crispy Redbor Kale. The Parker House rolls clearly came from the same recipe, and although I watched him bite into one and nod his seal of approval, he didn't swoon like I was sure he would; I picked one up and immediately *felt* why - the execution was botched. The tops of the rolls were thicker and harder, the mie drier, and the flavor not what it was before. This was symptomatic of the entire meal, and the only other common dish - the Crispy Redbor Kale - was so genuinely disappointing, that Brine dropped multiple notches in my mental notebook. The kale wasn't even crispy - it was just leaves of kale, and instead of disintegrating when you bit it, you had to chew them like a salad. The grated tomato was much pinker and more watery, although the simple syrup (or sugar, or whatever sweetener they use) was there in abundance. I had no interest in the Beef Tartare, and since my son liked it, I gave it all to him after taking one small bite of everything, and the Mahi-Mahi was nothing like the one I saw on my first night. The Squash Blossoms, so incredibly appetizing when our server was enthusiastically describing them, were bitter, oily, and nothing special at all. And that reminds me: Our server spent a great deal of time describing "specials" that were written on the menu exactly as he described them, the squash blossoms being but one example. Also, he asked us if we were familiar with the menu - I told him I was, but my son wasn't, and then looked down at the table so he'd describe things to my son. I wish he would have spent more time looking at my son (who is an adult) instead of to the man with his head down, not wanting to be looked at. He was a nice man, but not a particularly skilled server - the Parker House rolls took a bit longer to arrive than they should have, and there was confusion when I ordered a second beer, as another server got to me first after seeing my glass was empty; a couple minutes later, our server came and asked if I wanted another. Nothing was so bad on the service front, but the troops could use a little more training, and I just had this gnawing feeling that the friendliness wasn't quite as genuine as it seemed.

After my first visit, I ranked Brine in Italic, and even ranked it ahead of Gypsy Soul as the #1 restaurant in Merrifield. Not so. While it still merits an Italic rating, it is now well behind Gypsy Soul in the Merrifield neighborhood, and if Chris Watson hadn't left Ovvio Osteria, it would be well behind them, too. As it stands, based on the strength of my first visit alone, Brine is ranked as the #2 restaurant in Merrifield, and let me tell you: That isn't saying much. Potential? Oh yeah. But I knew even after my first visit that it would be nearly impossible to sustain such an extraordinary level of quality in a restaurant that's this large - one thing Brine has going for it is a relatively small menu, and I urge them to keep it that way so that things can stay manageable. This will be a very popular restaurant, and the crowds will come - this review will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows, but not enough to affect the masses of people that will be frequenting Brine. After my first visit, as I was walking back to my car, a very friendly person was outside Sisters, the restaurant right next door to Brine, politely but aggressively asking if I'd like a carryout menu. Clearly, they know that they have some competition on their hands with Brine. Maybe so, but on my next visit to this building - which may not be for awhile - Sisters is going to get a fair shake from me. John Critchley, if you're reading this (and I know you are), please *teach*. If you were there Friday early evening, but absent Sunday evening, then you are the key person that this restaurant is hinging upon. Teach your staff, and teach them well - they need it, trust me. If you were running the kitchen early Friday evening, then you are one hell of a Chef de Cuisine, but you know that you can't work every hour of every day - it is absolutely imperative that the off-night kitchen is able to emulate, or at least approximate, the A-team; otherwise, how can we rely on Brine as a first-rate restaurant, which is exactly what it has the capability to be?

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Don: this and your Full Kee review are precisely why I think you're the best food writer in DC. And in fact, never have I read someone more interested in helping both the reader and the restaurant. There's no schadenfreude in tearing a place apart, like you see in so many others. No desire to show off an encyclopedic knowledge of culinary marginalia. You're not even doing it for profit! You're just here to help (and in the process, entertain).

I can see this in the way you order, seeking out items that you suspect will let the restaurant shine. You go farther than pass that on to the reader, instead telling us how to best apportion each bite. That's a near-obsessive level of detail, but it's also extremely helpful. I can see that in how you choose to write these up. It'd be so easy to just blast one-off impressions (e.g., Yelp, Sietsema's Wedensday pieces, etc) but you know when that's irresponsible and do as you did above and seek further data not just from yourself but people you trust (e.g., young dining companion, Illaine).

And, again, you don't even get paid for it. I don't know how you do it man. But I'm glad you do.

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Don: this and your Full Kee review are precisely why I think you're the best food writer in DC. And in fact, never have I read someone more interested in helping both the reader and the restaurant. There's no schadenfreude in tearing a place apart, like you see in so many others. No desire to show off an encyclopedic knowledge of culinary marginalia. You're not even doing it for profit! You're just here to help (and in the process, entertain).

I can see this in the way you order, seeking out items that you suspect will let the restaurant shine. You go farther than pass that on to the reader, instead telling us how to best apportion each bite. That's a near-obsessive level of detail, but it's also extremely helpful. I can see that in how you choose to write these up. It'd be so easy to just blast one-off impressions (e.g., Yelp, Sietsema's Wedensday pieces, etc) but you know when that's irresponsible and do as you did above and seek further data not just from yourself but people you trust (e.g., young dining companion, Illaine).

And, again, you don't even get paid for it. I don't know how you do it man. But I'm glad you do.

[Jason, I accept your compliment with humility and gratitude. Thank you very much! I do have dreams for this website, you know, but becoming filthy rich isn't one of them. If that turns out to be a by-product of my efforts, then so be it, but I don't need mega-money to be happy. I told myself when I was in my mid-20s, making a decent living, and being in good health with family and friends who loved me: 'If I'm not happy right now, right this minute, then I never will be.' I've lived my entire adult life by that credo, and it turned out to be one of the wisest pieces of insight I ever came up with. I cannot recommend enough to younger people *not* to equate the accumulation of extreme wealth with happiness; if you do, you'll never be happy. I know I've had a really rough past 15 years or so, but all-in-all, I've had a *fantastic* life, and it's precisely because I've been able to find joy in the most trivial of situations. When I was 27, I went to Europe with a friend of mine for three weeks - it was the first time I'd ever left North America. He once said to me, "You're the only person I've ever met who could entertain themselves for hours with a piece of tape." I thought it was hilarious when he said it, but listen up: If that doesn't apply to You (the reader of this, whomever You may be), then I urge you to change your priorities in life. You can decide to do it in the blink of an eye, right now, right this second, it doesn't cost a thing, it doesn't take any effort, and you'll be happy for the rest of your life. Close your eyes right now. Are you in any physical pain? If not, then ask yourself this: "Right now, right at this moment, and for the next few seconds, what does Bill Gates have that I don't?" The answer should be: "Nothing." I don't know if this is normal, but I also derive an almost-selfish happiness from helping other people - a few days ago, I helped a struggling grandmother and her granddaughter at an airport (which actually took a fairly large toll on me) - she only knew my first name and has no way to get in touch with me, so it's a very safe bet our paths will never cross again, but I couldn't imagine *not* helping her, personal gain be damned; helping her was all the personal gain I needed. And I detest it when people do this type of thing and make a big deal out of it - this should be standard human behavior, and it irks me that it's not. If I ever get into a position of power, I'm going to lead by example in terms of human kindness. And if this paragraph comes across as a "humble brag" (and I pray to God it doesn't), then I fully deserve to be called a tool.]

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had a simple weekday dinner here last week with a friend. I don't eat much seafood, so I had the beef burger ($16) which, though unspecified, thankfully does come with fries..otherwise I was thinking the price a little high...regardless the burger was excellent. I didn't ask for a 'done-ness' but it came out a little below medium. The red onion jam proved a tasty condiment and along with the quality, juicy meat there was no need for further additions on my part. Shoestring fries were good and served their purpose. I could have eaten a jar of the pickles. Very good, surely made in house. Much appreciate the quality turf option at a place like this. My friend had the baked oysters, which he enjoyed. There was only a smattering of people in the restaurant and service was good and very pleasant. Evidently the tables against the far right wall are bar service, so the bartender had to walk around and out to us to take our orders. Probably should have just made our orders at the bar and then sat down but the bartender came out promptly, without any sense of annoyance or inconvenience..so we remained comfortably seated. 

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I had dinner at Brine last night.  First the good news.  The marinated tuna, ceviche, lamb and clams, and the brussel sprouts were all delicious!  I was not wild about the plankton bucatini.  The rent could be free, but I am not sure this place can survive with the number of diners there last night.  It seemed that every eating and retail establishment we walked by was empty. 

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The rent could be free, but I am not sure this place can survive with the number of diners there last night.  It seemed that every eating and retail establishment we walked by was empty.

Walked by on Monday night at 6:45 and there were 10 diners in the whole place.

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This is really what it comes down to. The Mosaic demographic certainly has disposable income, I just think they choose to spend it in different ways. I don't think it has anything to do with real estate prices or being 'house poor'. I grew up in Fairfax County (and own a store at Mosaic), so I have a pretty good idea of the type of shopper that we are seeing over there. Places like Matchbox, Ted's, maybe True Foods Kitchen are the right fit. I mean, look at Sweetwater Tavern (yes, technically not Mosaic, but close enough). Packed every night.

Someone should do a study on this. It is quite amazing the difference in buying habits between Fairfax County and Arlington. On paper, the demographics are pretty similar.

Of course, I am generalizing and not saying ALL customers in Fairfax County and ALL customers in Arlington, etc. etc... Just an observation.  :)

PS: please feel free to move this post into another thread, as it really has nothing to do with Brine (well, maybe a little..)

McLean (including Tysons) has loads of money-bags but it can't support any decent non-steak restaurants.  Personally, I've been to Brine 3 times and liked it (especially for their simply grilled fish).

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I still believe that part of the issue with Mosaic is where it is located. Growing up in Arlington County we always seemed to have an 'identity' of location. Mosaic to me doesn't seem to have a sense of community whereas places like Clarendon, Rosslyn and even Fairfax City have a sense of community. People grew up there, people came back or moved close by and still haunt their old neighborhoods.

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I agree that demographics are a significant issue with the success or lack thereof of restaurants in the area. I also agree that Fairfax County is very different from Arlington County--and some parts of Fairfax County are very different from other parts. In the 30+ years I've lived here, I've seen precious few independent fine-dining restaurants thrive. Maestro had the Ritz Carlton where it was located to increase patronage, although anywhere else it would have done very well on its own. 2941 does well, but it has a lot more going for it in terms of location than most of the rest--who wouldn't want to have a wedding reception there? Trummer's on Main draws on the area right around it and offers a lovely venue for wedding receptions and parties as well. I doubt either one of those would do as well in a less picturesque part of the county. Villa Mozart is small enough to do well, and is supported by the law offices all around the courthouse right there. But typically throughout the county, the restaurants that succeed are chains, delis, and small ethnic restaurants.  Does anyone else here remember Fern Street Bistro, in the shopping center at Burke Centre Parkway and Burke Commons Road? It was a lovely restaurant with wonderful food and a wine store attached, similar to Evening Star Cafe in Del Ray. But it never developed enough of a following to survive, although the meh Chinese restaurant and the Starbucks at the other end of the row did very well. Outside of Old Town Alexandria, Del Ray, and maybe Vienna, fine-dining destination restaurants just don't have the support, from what I have seen.

Merrifield seems to me to be an artificial community, created by Edens in developing the Mosaic District. At some time in the future, it may become a neighborhood or a community where people stroll around and shop and eat out, or where people stop on their way home from the Dunn Loring Metro. But right now it is not.

It doesn't help that Brine is located in an area that is largely not yet built out and developed, which means that folks who don't live nearby or read this forum might not even know it exists. I hope that enough diners find it to  support it going forward.

I also note that, while Brine (and Gypsy Soul when it was open) don't do much of a lunch business, Four Sisters, which moved in before the recession and had a large following already, runs along full speed and at capacity. Aside from already being established with a following that supports it, and being one of the pre-eminent Vietnamese restaurants in the area, what do they have that Brine and other non-chain restaraunts don't have? I don't have the answer to that question.

I'd love to see more fine dining in Fairfax County, especially independent non-chain restaurants. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

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Fern St Bistro! Blast from the past. I grew up near Burke Lake Park/Fairfax Station. My buddy used to work as a server at Fern St. (he now owns a restaurant and wine shop in PW County). Yeah, it's a shame that area can't support more restaurants like that.

Four Sisters was super popular before they moved, so they had that going for them. Also, like you said, ethnic food thrives in FFX County.

I think the problem at Mosaic (and I agree on the lack of a cohesive community there) is that the lunch time customers are looking for quick, inexpensive bite to eat. The Cava Grill is always packed at lunch. Sweetgreen and Taylor seem to pretty much rely on weekday lunch business. I seriously doubt the majority of the lunch crowd is looking for a sit-down meal with drinks, 3 courses, etc... It's the same here in Clarendon. Lunch business seems to be strictly the less expensive-type joints.  Not enough expense account/offices for the 3 martini lunch. :)

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...

That being said, have you tried the burger at Brine? I had it once and really loved it. Lots of smoky grill flavor and good beef flavor, too. It could be worth your while. (Disclaimer: I had it without a bun and with grilled corn on the cob instead of the fries, because . . . gluten.)

...

I'm not completely sold on Brine, but I'm going to give it another try or two before I make up my mind. I do wish it much success, but I still question whether the area can sustain it.

ScotteeM, the info on the burger at Brine is very helpful.  My wife and daughter, one or both of whom might accompany me to a journey to Mosaic/Merrifield and Brine, will be encouraged that I can have something to really enjoy were we to go there.  I like an occasional oyster, but am long past the days when, for me, a couple of dozen oysters would be a meal that I would look forward to.  And, by the way, not gluten-free as a necessity, but the bunless burger and grilled corn instead of fries or whatever else the side would be sounds really good to me!

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My sister and I had a very late lunch here (3:30 to 4:30 pm or so) today, and loved it. I wrote up an experience a couple of months ago from a weekend-night dinner, when we both liked the food very much and hated the experience because of the excruciating noise. This afternoon was, naturally, much different. Given the day and time, the restaurant was mostly empty, and not noisy at all. We walked in intending to have raw oysters, which we both love, and as we were preparing to order, our very personable and efficient waiter announced "the Rappahannock oysters are 75 cents each starting now"...we were planning to order them at $2.50 each. So we had two dozen, as they were almost free. We asked if this was a regular deal, and our waiter said no, this was "Oystoberfest", only through the end of October. Whatever, it was a great deal, and we enjoyed a dozen oysters each for $9 per person, which is way better than Old Ebbitt's deal, although obviously a long way out of town (but we were out there anyway). We then both had a trout filet, which was wonderful also, along with a vin de pays du Var rosé, which was very nice and priced at a gentle $35, I think. A beautiful light lunch that we both loved. I'd certainly gladly go back for a similar quiet meal.

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