This past weekend my wife and I had dinner at the Curious Grape, located in the heart of Shirlington village. Formerly a wine shop, it reopened last year as a hybrid wine shop/restaurant right around the corner from Carlyle Grand.
There is a minimalist chic vibe to the dining area at Curious Grape, it’s an attractive open space with a lot of glass. We had time to walk through the wine shop area prior to being seated, and had noted some interesting wine candidates to accompany our dinner. Once at our table, things began to get complicated.
The wine list is quite smaller than the selections in the shop. Unlike some other local restaurants that also sell wine at retail, Curious Grape doesn’t offer a set markup/corkage fee for bottles. You can purchase a bottle with dinner, but the server can’t tell you the cost.
She needed to send the hostess over, and when the hostess did arrive the server hadn’t told her the wine we were interested in. Finally the bottle was brought out, without anyone sharing the price beforehand. The entire process was distracting and took far longer than it needed to.
But in the end, the markup was fair and we were introduced to an enjoyable new wine. It was the Andrew Murray 2011 Esperance, a Rhone style blend from Los Olivos in central California. We tend to like New World GSM blends, and this was true to form. It was light and bright, with strawberry fruit leading, a delicious and drinkable wine.
The first glasses were aerated at table side, which was a nice touch. Later when we poured, the wine was a bit different, more body, a bit more rustic in character, with more of a distinct finish. Without the aeration the wine actually matched up better with our food – something you may want to consider if you dine at Curious Grape.
And what dining it was! Everything was delicious, with creative preparations, not the typical menu selections you’d expect to see. We enjoyed a smoked trout appetizer with shaved fennel, picked apples and crème fraiche that was a wonderfully fresh combination of flavors. Curious Grape offers most of its dishes as half portions, so we were able to try four different items for the entree course.
All were fantastic. The chicken spaetzle with mascarpone cheese and paprika put the lie to the “never order chicken out” rule. Scallops with black rice and plum wine beurre blanc were perfectly prepared, and two pasta plates – gnocchi with mushrooms and squash and cavatelli with chestnut pork sausage – were also high quality.
Curious Grape seems to make itself very amenable to private events. There is an inner dining area that can be closed off for private parties. Our server told us the restaurant also offers staffing and an alcohol menu (not food) for off-site events as well.
We had a bumpy start, but landed on a high quality experience at Curious Grape. Based on our visit, the service needs to be tweaked to synch up with the atmosphere and the food. If the restaurant instituted a uniform (and reasonable) corkage fee, the value equation could become truly special.
Read Parente’s previous column: A Virtuous Dinner in Old Town on WashingtonExec.
Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a top 100K web site in the United States as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.