Friday, July 2, 2010
The Winchester, 648 Wealthy St SE - 6/30/10
We’re fans of this restaurant but haven’t been there since 12/30/09 (see previous review). We’ve attempted to have dinner there many times on various weekends, but could never get in. (If by some chance you would get in, you won’t be able to hear over the din.) It’s a popular spot, no doubt about it. So lunch is a better bet, and a later lunch time is all the better. Today was a sunny day in the 70's and we wanted outdoor dining. It was time to revisit The Winchester.
The patio alongside the restaurant is long and narrow; it holds four tables for 4 near the front and another three for 4 in the rear. Four small tables for 2 are attached to the exterior wall and a long counter runs through the middle with about two dozen bar stools facing each other. There’s also a counter along the parking lot side with about eight bar stools. Although that counter was in the sun, diners face the small parking lot; not so great. The sunny tables for 4 were all occupied so we opted for a table for 2 against the wall. After about 10 minutes, one table was freed up and we quickly moved to the sunny side of the patio. From our point of view, adding more tables and reducing the counters would be an improvement, but claiming to be more pub than restaurant, the Winchester is probably fine with how things are.
The menu doesn’t match the online menu but we enjoyed the humorous preface to the undercooked food warning, “the legal stuff.” (They really should say, you won’t get anything medium-rare, sorry.) The menu isn’t very large but for us that’s a positive; they concentrate on making a few dishes really well.
We started with the Pierogies: handmade, containing butternut squash and goat cheese, and served with braised cabbage, drawn brown butter, and Sobie Meats (local producer) bacon. You may have had Pierogies during Pulaski days or otherwise, but these are the Winchester version and are incredibly delicious. The dough was perfect - thin and not overdone. It was a real taste treat.
Our first main dish was Surf and Turf: grilled tri-tip steak, handmade crab cakes, avocado puree, and smoked paprika aioli. In our experience, when we order beef medium-rare, our odds are less than 50% that we’ll get it. Today was no exception. The steak still retained flavor but was medium at best, and closer to medium well. Tri-trip steak was an interesting offering (see hanger steak at Blue Water Grill); it’s a part of the cow that used to be consigned to ground beef or soup meat. The trick is that it’s so lean it is easy to overcook, as it was today. The avocado puree was a little overwhelming for the very good crab cakes but was easily corrected by portion-control.
Our second dish was Chicken Bhuna: blackened chicken breast with red curry spiced tomato sauce, haricot verts (french green beans), and basmati rice. A few minutes after we ordered, our server returned to offer an alternative for the rice: mashed potatoes or a vegetable medley. The chef had informed her that the rice would be 13 minutes to prepare. We’re fine with 13 minutes (and loved the specificity) and it was definitely worth the wait. The dish was great - nice spice level, tasty chicken, fresh beans from their garden across the street, and perfectly prepared rice. It was a wonderful combination and blending of flavors.
Each dish was beautifully presented, and service was prompt and friendly but not rushed; our tab was under $40.00. If you appreciate creative cuisine based on fresh, locally produced ingredients, you will love The Winchester, particularly on a nice, sunny day on the patio.
And one last note: the owners took the name of the restaurant from the hilarious, zombie cult classic, “Shaun of the Dead,” which is a wonderful touch. "Come and get it - it’s a running buffet!" "If we hole up, I wanna be somewhere familiar, I wanna know where the exits are, and I wanna be allowed to smoke."
It’s not a buffet, and you can’t smoke, but you can quite comfortably hole up here. And don’t say the zed-word.