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Tom Sietsema Calls Vienna’s New Blend 111 ‘A Work In Progress’

What the critics are saying this week

Blend 111 facade
Blend 111 opened in Vienna last month.
Erica Everhart/For Blend 111

The Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema says the numbers aren’t adding up at Vienna’s new Blend 111, the tri-cuisine restaurant from former tech CEO Michael Biddick that blends styles from his native Venezuela with those from France and Spain. Initial impressions are good (think airy bar, attractive paintings by a Venezuelan artist, and refreshing watermelon cocktails). But dishes from Abby McManigle, formerly executive chef at several wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, don’t exactly shine — yet.

“The restaurant is very much a work in progress. Its heart seems to be in the right place, but for a better blend to happen, good intentions require better execution.”

Sietsema starts with “pale, under-baked olive rolls” and disappointing, dense beef-and-pork meatballs, while potatoes and spring peas try their best to support “sorry” fish, he notes. Marks were better for the shrimp ceviche and desserts (coconut flan), which helped convince the critic to book another dinner.

On the return trip Sietsema was irked over its seemingly novice servers interrupting table conversations midway. Biddick does the same, but at least he comes armed with knowledge about the Spanish biodynamic red wine he’s pouring. The Finca Los Frutales pairs well with the grilled hanger steak, he notes.

Meanwhile, the critic offers a largely glowing two-star (“good”) review for Commonwealth Indian, the new 100-seat bar and dining room in Rockville’s Pike & Rose development. Sietsema raves overs its stunning decor, which includes two-dimensional Bengal tigers and an ornate, gold-painted ceiling.

“Commonwealth Indian could easily rest on its good looks and effusive service, which makes you feel glad to be there from the moment you step inside. Behind the glam, however, is a chef who encourages you to come back for his pleasing takes on Indian tradition.”

While the food focuses mainly on the north end of the country, executive chef and owner Sunil Bastola (behind NoVa mini-chain Bollywood Bistro) also represents South India well, notes Sietsema (see: Chettinad murgh, chicken cloaked in yogurt, chile paste and black pepper). The second-most expensive dish in sight, the yellow crab curry ($25), is the surprise crowd favorite. “The fandom is understandable. Jumbo lump crab takes well to being simmered in coconut milk, bright with turmeric and racy with red chile,” he writes.

Any order comes alongside a medley of “irresistible” quarter-size papadums, mango chutney and raita, the latter of which helps beats the heat. Its weekend brunch buffet (under $20 per person, including bottomless mango lassi) leaves out some hits but still “leaves a lot to explore and to like,” notes Sietsema.

WaPo colleague Tim Carman recently released his annual list of the 25 best casual restaurants in the D.C. area. Picks include All-Purpose Pizzeria, which he declares “some of the finest pizzas in Washington”; Chinatown’s Bantam King for its “unabashed embrace of American fast-food culture, beginning with its name and decor”; Park View’s Call Your Mother and its “terrific” wood-fired bagels; and Adams Morgan’s The Game Sports Pub, “where the cooking and the cocktails — not the TV — are the center of attention.”

And Northern Virginia Magazine food critic Stefanie Gans gives decades-old Del Ray mainstay Evening Star Cafe a fresh taste, now that there’s a new chef behind the wheel.

Chef Jonathan Till adds a “back-to-nature, global perspective” to the neighborhood’s adult-friendly institution, joining last fall after spending time cooking in Europe and brushing up on his foraging skills.

“He grows oyster mushrooms on logs behind the restaurant. Last month, maitake, black trumpet and brown beech mushrooms, including the 100 pounds of mushrooms Till preserved from his summer escapades snooping around decaying trees, snuggle into a coating of tangy, creamy farm cheese on an oiled, griddled slab of bread for a wild mushroom bruschetta. Like the pasta, it’s a dish that reveals a generosity to the guest: a simple few ingredients assembled well, a dish greater than its parts.”

That aforementioned angel hair pasta is a “subtly gorgeous dish,” starring a bursting egg over an assortment of spring vegetables. Till also runs the restaurant’s rooftop garden, planting ingredients (baby turnips, stinging nettle, lettuces, tomatoes) fit for Virginia weather.

His summertime take on poke, an ode to his upbringing in Hawaii, features bright pink watermelon cubes in lieu of tuna. The melon “brings a tingly pop pushing the dish far from its understated roots.” Don’t miss the well-seasoned burger, which involves “crunchy slabs of smoked pig and a layer of what is essentially grated cheese,” though her accompanying fries were soggy and needed more salt.

FROM THE BLOGS: Hungry Lobbyist checks out Foggy Bottom’s new Duke’s Grocery and BYT does a deep dive on outdoor drinking destinations.

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