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Cafe Renaissance, Romantic Hideaway in Vienna


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I am surprised that this little jewel of a fine dining establishment doesn't receive more fanfare. It's tucked in a the back of a strip mall a few doors down from the Virginian on Glyndon St., just off 123. Cafe Renaissance is not that big -- the main room might seat 50 on a Saturday night, and the little room off the front side might seat another dozen or so -- but it is probably the most comfortable and romantic dining room in northern Virginia. From the white tablecloths with fresh cut roses, the tuxedoed and attentive wait staff, the paintings and murals on the walls...this is where you take the significant other for a romantic dinner.

Of course, that means it's not a guys-night-out kind of place, or one of those loud bistros where you have to shout to be heard by your dining companion.

Saeed and Soraya are the Persian couple who own the restaurant, and Ocean Joseph is the Turkish chef who runs the kitchen. Ocean's food is the best kept secret in northern Virginia. He generally nods in the direction of Italy with a few Turkish riffs tossed in. The mussels are spectacular, with a garlic-y broth as the base, which I sopped up with almost a whole basket of bread. My girlfriend then enjoyed a tower of salmon, monkfish and crab cake, sauced with a wine and butter reduction, with a wonderful carrot puree that was poached in Grand Marnier for 4 hours. I had a mixed grill of lamb and steak, each bit tender enough to be cut by my fork, and sauced with a raisin glace.

On previous visits I was able to enjoy my inner European foodie with pate, sweetbreads and calves liver. But whenever I have a hankering for a big pile of mussels, this is where I come.

For flair, Ocean is experimenting with different dinnerware shapes and sizes, and he is also exploring some new twists on recipe themes. I'm looking forward to tasting the evolving repertoire over the coming months.

A word about the extensive wine list -- Kirby Pope, who runs the Vienna Vintner in the same strip mall -- and worthy of a whole write-up on his own -- helped put together a very thoughtful and extensive wine list for Cafe Renaissance. You're not likely to find a better wine list this side of 2941. When you're in this part of Vienna, a visit with Kirby prior to a bucket of mussels from Ocean is about the best way I can imagine to enjoy a few hours of the good life.

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Never heard of the place. Is the menu on the web site current? I did not know there were many places serving Steak Diane any more. Do they do the typical service for it?

Yeah, good point. I forgot to mention the tableside cooking that they do on certain dishes, like Steak Diane and the desserts. Saeed did a great Irish Coffee for me yesterday, flaming the glasses and carmelizing the sugar, then topping it with fresh whipped cream. They do a strawberry Grand Marnier over vanilla ice cream for dessert too. All of the waiters are proficient with the tableside prep.

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I ate here a couple of months back and we had a decent meal. The atmosphere is "old-school" romantic, and the menu reflects that (which is not necessarily a bad thing). The pepper steak was actually really good, and cooked to medium-rare as requested. Bananas Foster, with its tableside presentation, was fine, but not spectacular.

The Sea Scallops appetizer (in a citrus beurreblanc sauce) is the dish that I remember most (and that is NOT a good thing). What at first appeared to be 4 sea scallops, placed on the 4 corners of the plate, turned out to be 2 scallops sliced horizontally, no thicker than a stack of 2 quarters. It appeared to me that they were trying to pass off 2 scallops as 4, which annoyed me. However, when half the bites I took had a rubbery texture, I was quite content to only chew through 2 scallops.

The service was pretty good. There were 2 waiters in the restaurant – one was very attentive, while the other waiter seemed like he didn’t want to be there.

I live about 5 minutes from Café Renaissance and have wanted to try it. Overall, I would probably be willing to give it another chance, but I am not exactly in a hurry to go back.

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Back today for lunch. Saeed was running a busy dining room with a few "parties" of elderly diners occupying a few large tables. Ocean, the chef, offered my companion and I a few menu options. We chose the mussels and the branzino. Wow!

The mussels came in a 'broth' of wine, butter, herbs and pepper. I'll be full for a few days because I sopped liberally with many pieces of bread.

The branzino was, very simply, the best seafood dish I have eaten in recent memory. It was Eric Ripert good. I joked with Ocean afterwards that it would be my death row meal. Cooked to perfection and served with a parsley reduction sauce, with sides of roasted beets/turnips and fingerling potatoes. This is a destination dish.

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Open Table lists this restaurant as one of the top three in the DC area, but neither Todd nor Tom includes it in their "best" lists. I am confused. In a Tom chat a couple of weeks ago, someone asked him if he had eaten there. He had not. What, if, anything, am I missing? I may be mistaken, but I don't think that Don Rocks has weighed in on this place.

Thanks

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It is what it is, a very good restaurant with gracious hosts and a competent chef, attentive service and warm and romantic atmosphere. It is the anti-trendy restaurant of Vienna, where you feel like it's the 1970s again. If you like tableside preparations of Steak Diane and Bananas Foster, if you like the chef popping out of the kitchen to check on how you want the branzino prepared, if you like being treated like one of Saeed's or Soraya's closest family members, this is your place. Todd's and Tom's favorites lists tend toward the more trendy establishments, not the oases of comfort and tradition that Cafe Renaissance represents....

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I live within walking distance and have just never gotten the appeal of this place. "Competent" chef does not mean good chef. Presenting classic dishes in an old school environment can be wonderful, but every dish I've had there has been dull and uninspired. I've also never been that impressed with the service, which has also tended to be competent but nothing more. It really seems as if Cafe Renaissance survives on long time repeat customers who may get that homey welcome, but it has been there a long time and continues, so more power to them.

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I live within walking distance and have just never gotten the appeal of this place. "Competent" chef does not mean good chef. Presenting classic dishes in an old school environment can be wonderful, but every dish I've had there has been dull and uninspired. I've also never been that impressed with the service, which has also tended to be competent but nothing more. It really seems as if Cafe Renaissance survives on long time repeat customers who may get that homey welcome, but it has been there a long time and continues, so more power to them.

I believe it can be explained very simply. While others may enjoy the bare brick walls and din that must be shrieked over to be heard, with architectural compositions bathed in foam coming out of the uber-chic open kitchen, there will always be a following for the warm and romantic classic that Cafe Renaissance represents. I have found myself tucking into a pile of mussels for lunch there, while appreciating the blue-haired ladies and their traditional companions at the other tables. It is an oases of all that was good and proper about restaurants before 'trend-crazed foodies' existed. If Anthony Bourdain was parachuted into Vienna, he would likely split his time between the Vienna Inn, maybe the Amphora, a possible tip of the hat to Bonaroti's or Marco Polo, the obligatory gushing over classic French at Le Canard, and then Cafe Renaissance.

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there will always be a following for the warm and romantic classic that Cafe Renaissance represents.

I understand and agree with this conceptually. Personally I just don't think Cafe Renaissance delivers well on what it tries to do.

P.S. Gushing over classic French at Le Canard might be difficult, as it's been Maplewood Grill for close to a year now (albeit with some of the same stuff still on the menu).

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Valentine's Day dinner at Renaissance was an event. Soraya had decorated the dining room with flowers and hearts everywhere. Saeed was running a busy dining room very graciously. The three-course special menu was quite good, but girlfriend and I were allowed a few excursions. Girlfriend had the bucket of mussels to start, and I had the calf liver. The mussels were really fresh and meaty, and gave off a broth that was worthy of sopping up with bread. I had passed on the sweetbreads for the liver, and it was good. But I now have a hankering for sweetbreads, so I will likely return soon. Next course was Caesar salad, followed by the main course -- branzino for her, nicely sauced lobster with crabmeat for me. The chardonnay was quite nice too. This meal was a hit from end-to-end, and judging from the obvious satisfaction of the surrounding tables, a good time was had by all. For a Valentine's Day meal, Cafe Renaissance would be difficult to beat.

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Really interesting thread especially considering that we stopped at Cafe Renaissance tonight after a three hour dinner at Rogue 24. We have a half dozen neighbors who have celebrated anniversaries and birthdays at the Vienna restaurant and this just seemed like a wonderful choice for a dessert after dinner at the cutting edge D. C. restaurant.

We absolutely loved Cafe Rennaisance. "Old School" is an almost lost art that this restaurant does especially well. When I think of how many restaurants in the D. C. area that do this any more there are only a handfull really worth visiting. Cafe Renaissance is at the absolute top of the list. Romantic, personal, intimate, soft lighting with superb tableside presentations that are a rarity today. There was a time when this was a standard in our best restaurants but today it is a rarity. Citronelle, CityZen-pick a restaurant-how many really make you feel THAT special, with soft lighting and the Three Tenors in the background along with a truly knowledgeable, enthusiastic career professional to guide you? Tableside preparation? How many people reading this know what strawberies Romanoff or Cherries Jubilee are? Simply, they are almost impossible to find today. Especially with flair and skill from a professional who prepares them tableside.

Cafe Renaissance does them well. It is a wonderful experience that we would look forward to repeating very shortly.

Thank you Saeed. And thank you Kibbee for championing it and standing by your opinion. This IS one of the best restaurants and dining experiences in Northern Virginia.

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Joe, your taste is impeccable. Let the rest go to trendy brick wall scream taverns, and you and I will dine in the luxurious hands of Saeed and Soraya.

Let me suggest getting to know the staff, especially the slightly eccentric but extremely talented Ocean....he will toss away your menu and cook whatever you desire.

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