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The Curious Grape, Chef Delian Depietro Modern American Wine Cafe in Shirlington Village - Closed


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They are having a tasting for some Kiwi wines tonight.

A Visit From Villa Maria of New Zealand (Thurs, Jun 30) -- In the rush to experience new wines from exciting new wineries, we sometimes overlook the venerable, established estates of the region.  If you've been happily sampling the seemingly endless parade of new wines from New Zealand, maybe you've been overlooking Villa Maria.  Villa Maria is not only one of New Zealand's oldest wineries, it's also continuously garnered more national and international awards than any other New Zealand winery!  Want to see what keeps Villa Maria on top?  Stop by TONIGHT (Thursday, Jun 30) from 6-8 pm and taste with a visiting guest from the estate.  You'll taste:

    *
      Riesling
    *
      Chardonnay
    *
      Pinot Noir
    *
      a delicious little Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend, and
    *
      one of their top Sauvignon Blancs (91 Points in the Wine Spectator!)

Of course, you'll also enjoy the tasting bar discount on all wines being tasted!
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"They're Back...."

Shirlington peeps already know that in 2011, we lost a Curious Grape (boo hiss), but gained a Cheesetique (emphatic yay!) in the same location.

Did you also know the Curious Grape found another home in Shirlington? They are next door to the Energy Fitness Club. I saw the sign on the building a few weeks back, and then received their latest newsletter today. A couple of major changes seem apparent.

The venue is now a restaurant, not just a retail location. It's a good news/bad news situation. Good news: wine classes will now have small plate pairings, significantly enhancing the experience. Bad news: wine tasting events are no longer gratis ($15 fee), and daily wine tastings are limited to two rather than three or four varieties.

I have not had a chance to walk into the space, I have only perused the menu online. Their website needs the pen of a marketing maven to get away from "fabulous, fantastic, amazing" and the like. But it looks like the menu features a lot of local ingredients, with clearly marked vegetarian and low gluten options. With dinner entrees available in half portions, it might be a cool happy hour destination for a small group.

If anyone goes, I'd be curious to hear how you grape'd.

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"Color me impressed, and a bit worried."

---observer of Pisa construction culminating in 1319

The Curious Grape's new location is a jaw-dropper. What used to be a crowded, cramped store has transformed into an airy, flowing, vibrant venue as a result of moving down the block. Their new location is a trick to find in the Village at Shirlington. The best way I can describe it for newcomers is what I posted in this thread: pretend you are walking out of the Carlyle, turn right, and look up and to your right. The storefront is just inside the door, followed by the restaurant and bar, and a special event room opens up into the back.

The modern contrast of the new space compared to the old will impress you. Like me, you'll also wonder "how can they afford it?" I've talked with several restaurant owners in Shirlington, and rent is *expensive*. The large footprint of this space compared to the previous locale, and the growing selection of highly specialized retail inventory had me doing mental math and coming up wondrous. I did not see much retail foot traffic during our visit, and with Cheesetique’s covetable selections just down the street on the main walkway of Shirlington, I will be keeping an interested eye on the business model of this admirably ambitious undertaking.

Enough with the building business babble, and on to the food...the menu design is another impressive point. Each dish has a recommended wine pairing, a common practice in countless restaurants. But Curious Grape's menu design goes well above and beyond the ordinary match--a smart layout culminates in recommending a range of wine selections, not just "the perfect pairing". The diner, in effect, attends a Wine 101 course by way of browsing the menu and pairing half pours with small plates. This encourages novices to knowledge-building adventure by ordering a series of dollar-safe, palate-wise experiments. This layout is especially clever in that an expert will not get bogged down in pairing recommendations, and can instead quickly find their intended selection. Kudos to the mastermind who designed a menu that resonates deeply with the venue’s name and culinary mission.

The menu features seasonal ingredients, highlighting a produce list of “what’s growing right now”. Once again, another educational opportunity, this time for those not yet in touch with the ebb and flow of the region’s growing seasons. We ordered the chorizo mini-empanadas and a micro-green and beet salad. High quality ingredients in both, served quickly and with a smile. We chose dessert from the retail dessert case, a mascarpone and strawberry tart. Our visit was about ten days ago, so I cannot recall price specifics, except I thought the menu would probably bump up a few dollars in a few areas once the venue establishes their early, positive reputation.

And by the looks of it, they will. The restaurant has been hopping the other times I have walked by in the past week or two. I’ll bring an out of town guest in for another shop-and-sip experience sometime soon and report our findings.

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went to Curious Grape last night for dinner before going to Signature Theatre. Thanks KMango for the recommendation. It's a little difficult to find, because rather than their name being posted at eye level, a sign sits high atop the building, so you have to look up to see it. Once inside, it is a spacious and welcoming space. We began with the sparking wine cheese selection and the red wine cheese selection, which we paired with a bottle of Pinot Noir. I arrived after the bottle was ordered and neglected to get more info. on it. The cheese plates were both appealing and interesting- my favorite cheeses being a cheddar with caramelized onion and goat gouda.

I found the menu quite appealing. We began with warm baby artichokes with spring garlic, mint, red chile and crispy bread crumbs. It had all the right ingredients but was lacking slightly in flavor. I'm thinking a simple touch of salt would have gone a long way. Similarly, lightly-cured yellowtail with preserved lemon, fresh chile, cumin seed, and radish salad sounded terrific but was missing any punch. For an entree, I had pan-roasted sea scallops with black rice, bok choy and plum wine beurre blanc. The fish was prepared quite well but I expected a bit more from the dish. Everything we tried went along these lines- promising ingredients but falling short in terms of flavor.

Things looked up when we got to dessert. I had a delicious lemon mousse in a crisp cookie cup with lavender blueberry sauce. A friend had dark chocolate pot de creme with caramelized hazelnuts and chocolate shards and loved it.

This is a terrific place to enjoy wine and cheese and dessert. I think the food requires a bit more finesse. We all agreed that it is a great pre-theatre option, particularly compared to many of the other restaurants in the neighborhood. I would certainly try it again on a future visit to Shirlington.

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To counteract oppressive heat screaming from above, I turned this weekend into a haven of quiet, inexpensive-yet-refined, peacefully air-conditioned breakfasts. One such experience took place at Society Fair in Old Town Alexandria, via a post-farmer’s market journey.

Another expedition took me to Curious Grape Cafe, the morning and lunch alter ego of the retail and restaurant space in a tucked away corner of Shirlington.

I have enjoyed the Cafe's breakfast three times in the past two months, and I have to say, this is one of the Arlington/Alexandria area’s great secrets for casually delicious options on a weekend morning. Park in the free Quincy Garage, head downwards instead of up, and your car will be placed in the shade, and in convenient walking distance to the venue.

Selections include the usual freshly baked muffins, scones, yogurt, tarts, other pastries and the like, along with a variety of cold case heartier fare, some available for heating to order. The open space and serenity make it another perfect venue for the solo weekend breakfast seeker, or to bring a dear friend or family for cherished quality time. Counter-based service guarantees no server-based interruptions, and you can take your time in the spacious area nibbling your way through conversation or contemplation.

My dining companion enjoyed chunks of ripe cantaloupe melon, presented in the rind, with proscuitto and mint sandwiched between each wedge ($4-ish). I savored a warmed chorizo and mushroom quesadilla with habanero crema ($5-ish). Both were smaller/appetizer-sized portions, perfect for our hot day intentions. Heartier appetites will need to choose more than a single selection, a pleasing predicament.

With iced coffee ($2-ish) and not another soul in site, we reveled in tranquility until departing for a leisurely walk along the storefronts throughout Campbell Avenue. Future visitors beware, most stores do not open until noon on Sunday. However, earlier opening hours on Saturday, and a happy stroll in less baked conditions, offer post-breakfast opportunities that make the Cafe a morning experience worth seeking.

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The following is a shout out to the wine education seminars underway at The Curious Grape…maybe this post should be entitled “The Curious Tasting"?

Or "Curious KMango keeps posting so much in the same damn thread!"

Sorry, folks, this place is right in the middle of my 'hood, hence the frequency...

Over the past several years, I have run into a half-dozen DR members (sometimes literally, given my itty bitty tolerance after a pretty witty wine tasting) while attending the monthly cheese and wine classes at Cheesetique. Jill is, hands down, my favorite person to have at the helm of such boutique-hosted seminars. She exudes ingredient passion, compassionate humor, expansive knowledge, and an infinitely welcoming sense of fun, with her staff not far behind. The only downside to Cheesetique courses is they are primarily evening affairs. They also book up mad-dash quickly after the newsletter announcement. Such circumstances often clash with my “someone has no boundaries” long workday, or whatever other lame excuse come the weekend.

As noted in previous posting (and the one before that, and the one before that...KEcho?), the Curious Grape in Shirlington opened earlier this year. The venue features a multi-purpose model for their expansive space. It's an “oh my god, they need to be doing a lot of events and creative endeavors to pay for this” kind of space. If you have not been, go, if only to browse the store and procure a small bite from the cold case. You’ll be surprised with the vineyard-meets-private-collection ambiance, pleased with the selection of all things terrior (wine, cheese, chocolate, coffee, vinegars, olive oils, small condiments), and delighted with the friendliness of the staff. Stick around for small plates (and stick to the small plates, cheese or dessert) and half-pour wines on something other than a busy weekend night, and they’ll really knock your socks off.

A new part of the multi-purpose layout is a series of wine tasting seminars available for either Saturday 11:30 or Tuesday 6:30. One recent seminar featured four flights of two wines, each paired with either a cheese, chocolate, or small plate from the kitchen, and hosted in the private room at the back of the venue. An out of town guest adored the experience. The owner and business partners provided detailed educational materials, including topographic maps, to deepen the learning. For $36, and considering the palate interest of wines sampled (retail prices averaging around $25; ranged from $14 to $60), tastes paired, purchasing discount for attendees, and an accompanying geography lesson, it seems like a bargain if not a fun diversion for an hour and a half with a friend.

The schedule for the rest of the year is available on their website: http://curiousgrape.com/

The site indicates they also do custom-tailored group events. If 2013 gets here without too much Mayan drama, and if folks are interested, I will see if I can set up an event for the DR crew. Something grapey to look forward to during the post-holiday, darker time of the year.

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Last night the +1 and I took advantage of a Curious Grape dinner deal I had purchased through Gilt for a 4-course meal (shared app and dessert, cheese plate, and 2 full or 4 half entrees). We were both very pleasantly surprised by our excellent meal.

We started with:

braised pork empanadas with cilantro, pumpkin seed salsa & creme fraiche - a generous portion of 6 mini empanadas, tender pork wrapped in a light, non-greasy pastry. The pumpkin seed salsa had a nice kick and was a pretty rust-colored (and green of whole pumpkin seeds) contrast against the creme fraiche

We followed this with half orders of:

pan-roasted sea scallops with black rice, bok choy & plum wine beurre blanc - scallops were just right, black rice added a slightly crunchy texture and the beurre blanc brought the dish together.

and

butter-poached lobster with housemade corn-stuffed agnolotti, roasted bell peppers & pine nuts - a last little hit of summer with the corn agnolotti and sauce accompanying the dish. Lobster was tender and fresh.

and a full order of:

moroccan-spiced lamb sirloin with israeli couscous, meyer lemon yogurt, harissa & glazed baby carrots - another excellent presentation and preparation. I wish I had asked (or been asked) for medium-rare, but even at medium the loin was juicy and flavorful. The spiced crust worked well with the couscous and carrot mixture.

For dessert, we shared the fresh fig tart. Homemade crust and frangipane, topped with lovely fig halves. A blue cheese ice cream and balsamic caramel finished the plate. It all worked really well together.

Finally, we had the 3-cheese plate, which included several accompaniments (walnuts, grapes, cornichons, dried sour cherries, sour cherry preserves) and our choice cheeses from a list of about 15. We also had the option of selecting their pairings designed for sparkling, red, white, or dessert wines.

Everything was beautifully presented and, unlike foodobsessed6, I found all the flavors and ingredients worked well together. Service was friendly and attentive. We sat outside since it was such a pleasant evening, but would have been just as happy indoors. The dining room has a warm ambiance along with a very agreeable noise level - a low buzz, but very easy to carry on a conversation. We will definitely be back (+1 already stopped in for some soup at lunch, as they're right next to the office). There is a nice bar area which would be a good place to enjoy a glass or two of wine (they offer 3 oz and 6 oz pours), along with some appetizers or half-orders of entrees, before a play or a movie.

KMango let's make your suggestion for a gathering in the new year become a reality!

(and this probably belongs in a new Curious Grape thread in the Dining forum, but I'm too lazy to start it....)

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A post in the Harold Black thread jogged my memory on a similar incident at The Curious Grape...

On a recent Friday, I broke out of work early, and found myself free as a bird in Shirlington around 3PM. Score!

My husband could meet me anywhere, anytime, just name the place. Score 2!

I walked into The Curious Grape, and the place was, as it always is mid-afternoon, nearly empty. Score 3!

I placed my belongings on a table near a window, at the edge of the dining area. The entire wall is a window, delightfully spacious. I knew the restaurant would not have dinner service yet, and lunch items always originate from the cold case, so I walked over to check it out. I told the manager on duty I was looking forward to some wine and cheese plates, and that my husband was on the way, who enjoyed the beer selections. She frowned. The score begins to plummet…

She told me to sit at the bar, because the servers arrive at 4PM, and it was easier for them to set up the dining room when completely empty. Dinner service did not begin until 5, which was two hours away. Score continues the downward descent…

I needed to be out of ear shot of other patrons, to enable candid reflections on work and personal matters. The only way to do that at the bar would be to choose a seat out of view of the windows, in the back of the restaurant, the only zero-atmosphere seats in the entire joint. Score edging towards zero…

I shared my conundrum with the manager, emphasizing that table space and acoustical privacy were important, and we’d be gone in less than an hour. No dice! It was more important to her that we sit at the bar than have our business.

So we wound up at Thai Shirlington instead. Fantastic window seating, $50+ tab after drinks and apps, and a delightful time in a different empty restaurant.

I guess I’m posting this because I was surprised the venue is doing so well they can afford to turn away business. Of course, they could have been burned by previous patrons promising to leave, who then bumped up against 5PM window reservations. And if one table is seated in the dining space, others walking in before 5PM might argue to be seated, an avoidable cascade of hassle. Regardless of the history, the net effect was a miffed customer, reluctant to return, especially during mid-afternoon hours.

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I have never been here before, and I just checked out the website. It says it has a cafe, bar, and dining room. The website says the dining room opens at 5pm, presumably the cafe and bar are open for lunch? Is this "table at the edge of the dining area" at which you tried to sit part of the cafe area or the dining area? If its in the cafe, then I think you have a slam-dunk case, why would she take you away from a cafe table to the bar? If its in the dining area, then it isn't a slam- dunk.

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I have never been here before, and I just checked out the website. It says it has a cafe, bar, and dining room. The website says the dining room opens at 5pm, presumably the cafe and bar are open for lunch? Is this "table at the edge of the dining area" at which you tried to sit part of the cafe area or the dining area? If its in the cafe, then I think you have a slam-dunk case, why would she take you away from a cafe table to the bar? If its in the dining area, then it isn't a slam- dunk.

The "cafe" seems to be more of a menu timing concept than a designated seating area. Cafe refers to the cold case and breakfast item menu, and self seating. I've had lunch a half dozen times (warmed up quesadillas, pot pies, sandwiches, etc.), breakfast (muffins, pastries, etc.) more frequently than that, and the seating is the same as the dining area. During busy dinner times, the dining area then expands to an additional room in the very back of the venue. The bar is in the middle of the main dining area, the "cafe cold case" (my phrase, not theirs) is adjacent to that, the shop extends behind the bar, leading into the wine racks, and then the kitchen.

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This is a terrific restaurant that receives almost no coverage. It's been running a Specialious deal for months--a sign of desperation. Is its somewhat off the beaten path location the problem?  On the other hand, it's only 1/2 a block from the Carlyle Café which is always packed and consistently mediocre.

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I had been intending to try this place or some time, and finally did go after reading kirite's post above. Mrs. G and I had an early dinner there last night.  We were both very happy with the food and the general atmosphere.  For starters we had the fried Brussels sprouts with beets and pistachios, and a fennel soup;  and for the main course pan roasted sea scallops with black rice and bok choy, and a "special" dish involving rice balls and artichokes (this was advertised as a starter, but we used it for a main course).   They have, of course, a nice selection of wines by the bottle or by the glass. All in all we were very pleased with the meal.

(I wonder if this thread should be transferred from the beer and wine group to the restaurants and dining group, since the Curious Grape is no longer just a wine store, or even principally a wine store.)

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(I wonder if this thread should be transferred from the beer and wine group to the restaurants and dining group, since the Curious Grape is no longer just a wine store, or even principally a wine store.)

Yes, and with the formidable, hands-on Fromagière, Katie Carter, now in their employ, I've also initiated them in Italic in the Dining Guide.

Katie, you were the deciding factor in this ranking.

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My husband and I ate here for the first time last night.  The atmosphere is very relaxing and friendly--although voices from other tables can echo.  Service was a little slow but not bad.  I really love all the wines by the glass they offer.  Normally we just get a bottle mostly to avoid getting a pour from a bottle that has been open for days.  Not so here.  We enjoyed 3 different reds and they all tasted fresh.  I also like their wine suggestions with each dish.

The food itself was okay--not superlative but strong enough for me to go back and try again with different dishes.  I had the eggplant parmesan starter which was more like chopped eggplant re-imagined as falafel.  Not bad but was served at room temperature which did not help the cause.  My husband had a pricey spinach salad which he liked.  My entree was chicken roulade which the waitress confirmed was slices of a rolled-up stuffed chicken breast.  Instead it was some sort of de-constructed roulade where the silver dollar slices of chicken (which was very tasty) was on one side of the plate and the stuffing was on the other.  The stuffing consisted mostly of re-constituted mushrooms (which I never like more than fresh ordinary mushrooms) and some almonds and sauce.  It tasted okay but I would order something else next time and they shouldn't call it a roulade.  My husband had the pork shoulder pasta and he liked it.

If I can find a couple of dishes that I like I'll just order those and will be a regular at this restaurant.  Otherwise, I'll miss the wines BTG feature because I won't be returning.

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Curious Grape closed Saturday March 28.  I noticed an email from Friday identifying the closing pricing for wines and describing the final wine tasting which was held on Saturday.  Too bad.  I wish the owner and staff well for whatever lies down the road.

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Curious Grape closed Saturday March 28.  I noticed an email from Friday identifying the closing pricing for wines and describing the final wine tasting which was held on Saturday.  Too bad.  I wish the owner and staff well for whatever lies down the road.

That really is too bad.  ArlNow reports that an Italian restaurant Osteria da Nino Cucina Italiana & Bar plans to open in the space on Thursday (!).

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That really is too bad.  ArlNow reports that an Italian restaurant Osteria da Nino Cucina Italiana & Bar plans to open in the space on Thursday (!).

Agreed. The Curious Grape is the only Shirlington restaurant I've retired in Italic - that said, I haven't been in a long time, and have no idea how much influence Katie had there - if someone can convince me it went downhill, I'll change that, but when I went it was really pretty good.

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