The prompt that sparked Enrique Limardo’s soon-to-open Surreal was ambitious, to say the least. The Michelin-starred Venezuelan chef partnered with JBG SMITH, developer of Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington, to create a restaurant that is “something no one has ever seen before,” explains Héctor García, chief operating officer for Limardo’s Seven Reasons Group. “It’s completely avant-garde and a completely new experience.”
What that meant exactly has been a bit mysterious, but when Surreal (2117 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia) opens this November, diners will step into a garden-like oasis with a fanciful menu that includes Limardo’s exacting and inventive take on everything from pizza to swordfish carpaccio to hot dogs.
Surreal is Seven Restaurant Group’s first-ever restaurant in Virginia, joining a growing hospitality empire that includes D.C.’s theatrical Spanish outpost The Saga, upscale cocktail bar and lounge Quadrant, Michelin-starred Mediterranean destination Imperfecto, the original Seven Reasons that started it all (which will soon move to a bigger location at CityCenter DC), and neighborhood-y spinoff JOY by Seven Reasons in Chevy Chase.
Built from the ground up just for Surreal, the one-story restaurant in a park is designed to be the dining crown jewel of the buzzy new National Landing development. Surreal joins the recent arrival of nearby Water Park, a public outdoor space studded with food kiosks and a restaurant built into a fountain water wall.
Surreal will be a more approachable, neighborhood-focused restaurant, with price points in the range of JOY by Seven Reasons. It’s also going to have a lot of moving parts, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch in addition to a grab-and-go section for office workers to pick up salads, sandwiches, and juices. A market will sell everything from freshly baked croissants and pastries to branded pasta sauces or aprons.
“It’s an all-day experience, and it changes throughout the day. That’s the interesting part,” says Garcia.
While other Seven Reasons Group restaurants stick to a formula (Saga is a fusion between Spanish and Latin America, for example), Surreal’s menu is harder to pin down.
“It’s completely global-inspired,” Limardo says, and he’s also trying to put his own refined spin on the traditional American diner experience. “For me, it’s extremely fun, my style of food is kind of fusion, I always put a spin on classics, this is the best fun way for me to do it and represent it.”
The menu is vast, with more than 46 items. Standouts include the Latin “queso fundido” shakshuka for breakfast, consisting of a skillet topped with a cherry tomato and maitake mushroom ragu surrounding Mexican chorizo, chihuahua cheese, and two fried eggs.
The lunch and dinner menu includes swordfish carpaccio with “Flaming Hot totopos,” which pays homage to the movie Flamin’ Hot with freshly fried tortillas and Limardo’s special seasoning with more than 30 ingredients that he calls “atomic salt.”
Pasta makes up a section of the menu, including a colorful, “all-year Halloween gnocchi” made of purple sweet potatoes alongside ingredients like confit butternut squash and dots of smoked gorgonzola cheese. Dinner will include fancier dishes like whole butterflied branzino or tomahawk steak alongside down-to-earth options like Limardo’s Neapolitan-style pizzas, made with 24-hour fermented dough and a sauce incorporating Habanero peppers. “It’s fruity, with a hint of spice,” he says.
There’s even Limardo’s version of a ballpark dog. For his “Twisted Foot Long Hot Dog,” he wraps an organic beef sausage with smoked bacon and pan sears it until crispy, then tops the dog with a fried garlic, Oaxaca cheese, fried shallots, a Napa cabbage relish and two different sauces (a spicy mix of ketchup and homemade mayo and a sauce made with corn). “It’s fully loaded, fully fun, full of flavor and a very different hotdog,” he says.
Bartenders will mix up cocktails like a pina colada made with Venezuelan rum and Agricole Rhum and a negroni topped with a fruity, floral foam. As part of National Landing’s “Dining in the Park,” program, you can even take boozy drinks outside within the park’s premises. A built-in DJ booth with speakers outside will help Surreal transition to a late-night spot. “We want people to stay here until late and have fun,” Garcia says.
Surreal’s dining room revolves around a central “island” covered with plants that’s meant to make you feel like you are inside a garden, all designed by Seven Reasons Group’s creative director Valentina Story alongside OOAK Architects. The monumental bar is sourced with stone from Greece, while a private dining room will have its own private patio and garden. Two separate patios — one on the roof with heaters and an outdoor space within the park — will complement Surreal’s indoor/outdoor “dining in the park” theme.