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Cucina Vivace, Crystal City - Chef Gordon Vivace on South 23rd Street - Closed

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This evening found me ambulating throughout Crystal City, meandering past shops on Crystal Drive and 23rd Street. Not much seems to have changed these past few months. Most venues reverberated with laughter of joyful guests. Pretty hoppin’ for a Thursday.

As Doom From The West began to approach in the form of angry grey clouds, I realized I should find shelter. I chose to duck into the nearest place with little DR review coverage—Cucina Vivace.

The covered patio tables were my first seating choice, poor judgment on my part. Everyone had to dart inside quickly once the deluge began. Harsh rain pelted sideways into the tables, as if nature wanted to reach in and smack us for the audacity to attempt al fresco dining.

So inside I flowed, greeted by soft, dim lighting, dark wood floors, and above all, a soothing acoustic environment. Sarah McLaughlin and other soft tunes floated on the airwaves. The glow from simulated candlelight and torch-like chandeliers further muted both color and texture. Tables were spaced generously apart, an overall romantic effect appearing tasteful, calm, refined. I recommend either of the two tables near the front for the pleasant view of street activity through wide windows.

Over a dozen wines by-the-glass, I started with a simple Veneto Proseco ($8). The tasting menu seemed like a tempting way to sample the entire menu, but $40 for four courses would have been too much food. Cesar salad arrived instead, perfect leaves of dark romaine ($8) with some of the best croutons in recent memory. Gnocchi Vivace (cream sauce, pancetta, green onion, $18) soon followed in a disappointingly monochromatic display. A few more green onions or a fresh herb assembly would have been greatly enhanced this presentation. Texturally, the dish was a masterful success, pillows of potato providing tender, delicate, gently chewy resistance. Such a rich dish easily trespasses into palate overwhelming territory, so a brightening garnish would serve double duty to add more intrigue. I requested some freshly grated pepper and Parmesan to perk things up a bit, which did the trick nicely.

Dessert was a mixed berry panna cotta ($7), kissed with floral vanilla, absolutely perfect in nearly every way. Served in something other than an opaque ramekin, this treat would ratchet up into the divine stratosphere.

While enjoying the gracious service, I noticed the international diversity of the wait staff. Of the two servers tonight, the one from Scotland spoke with a charmingly heavy brogue. The other, from El Salvador, worked dutifully to expand his English conversations. I was struck by how fondly both spoke of the restaurant, the menu items, and the chef’s mission to bring the freshest ingredients to the table. These servers were bringing me a product they believed in, from a chef whom they deeply admired. You don’t see that every day.

All in all, Cucina Vivace would offer a pleasant “date night” option, especially if you wander next door to Pizzaiolo for dessert. Or a second dessert.

(like I did tonight)

(chocolate mint gelato)

(a bright green exclamation mark of excess to an otherwise indulgent evening)

By the time I left the area, all storms had ceased, the temperature had dropped 15 degrees, and pollen-free air greeted my lungs for the first time in days.


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