A massive new steak and seafood restaurant built around a custom wood-burning grill opened on Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront this week, bringing the historic district a place to try tomahawk veal chops, jumbo lump crabcakes with preserved lemon remoulade, and a doughnut appetizer topped with a hunk of foie gras.
Chef Randall J. Matthews, a Maryland native, incorporates influences his mother and grandmother to fill out a steakhouse-style lineup with sides like lobster mac and cheese with Old Bay mornay sauce or loaded baked potatoes with crème fraîche, raclette cheese, bacon lardons, and green onions. ARP partner Dave Nichols says “about 90 percent” of the dishes at Ada’s pass through the wood fire. That includes a bone marrow appetizer served alongside oxtail marmalade, pickled onions, and rustic bread for spreading.
Matthews’s mother adopted vegetarian and vegan diets throughout his childhood, which explains why two of his favorite entrées have no meat. Mushroom lasagna features fresh pasta, wild mushrooms, charred tomato broth, lemon aioli, and two kinds of cheese (smoked mozzarella and ricotta). Matthews’ iteration is slightly deconstructed. Smoked ricotta gnocchi with caramelized leeks and crispy shallots comes with a vegan sausage ragu.
“We found a sweet spot with this current winter lineup, so our next overhaul and the arrival of new dishes will come in the spring,” Matthews says.
By that point, Ada’s will be open for both lunch and weekend brunch. Both meals will maintain an intention to char something on nearly every plate. Matthews says brunch will make begin January 30, teasing a hash made with barbecue burnt ends.
Design firm Hapstak-Demetrios built a dining room with 15-foot floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the Potomac River and a patio with room for 105 people. Art pays homage to 19th century English mathematician and novelist Ada Lovelace, the restaurant’s namesake, and literary figures like Lord Byron (her father), Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Emily and Charlotte Bronte. The owners of the restaurant have four daughters, and they liked the idea of naming it after a woman credited as a pioneer in computing. Alexandria is on the brink of becoming a technology hub with Amazon’s HQ2 coming to nearby Crystal City and Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus coming to Potomac Yard.
Ada’s on the River (3 Pioneer Mill Way, Alexandria) is open for socially distanced indoor dining Monday through Sunday from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. Patio seating is also available, weather permitting. At the moment, Ada’s does not have a carryout or delivery option.