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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:30am–3:00pm
Mon–Thu 5:30pm–10:00pm
Fri 11:30am–3:00pm
Fri 5:30pm–11:00pm
Sat 11:00am–2:30pm
Sat 5:30pm–11:00pm
Sun 11:00am–2:30pm
Sun 5:30pm–10:00pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


Alexandria Old Town
1120 King St.
Alexandria, VA
(703) 684-9669
The pride of Old Town seems to get better with every season

One of the most sweetly shining stars of Old Town, Vermilion sets itself apart from its King Street neighbors with more style, a swankier clientele, higher prices, and—yeah, we’ll admit it—more pretense, too. Adjectives could be used less on this menu; that said, the staff is about as unpretentious as anyone could be who’s serving dishes with names like “trumpet mushrooms 2 ways, parmesan froth & winter herbs,” “path valley kaleidoscope carrots,” or—on an otherwise English menu—calling tomato “pomodoro” for no reason.

But here’s the kicker: unlike at some of the overpriced, trying-too-hard New American trend-fests all around the greater DC, Vermilion backs its claims up with legitimate sensory mastery of the palate, beginning with simply masterful raisin bread and butter, an element of the meal that is so often merely perfunctory.

The menu changes often enough that we’d merely be torturing you by lavishly describing much of what we’ve had here, but one really notable preparation has been a cream-of-cauliflower soup, with a whisper of curry, that would have been a bit bland on its own—but was elevated to greatness by its totally unpredictable mix of sweet-savory accoutrements: raisins that added sweetness, expertly fried oysters that added salt, and fried cauliflower that added crunch. And out of nowhere came a treble note of anise.

Fish is handled with extraordinary patience, care, and expertise in this kitchen, whether it’s seasonal shad roe—in a star-crossed threesome with smoked bacon and Meyer lemon brown butter—or grilled whole fish, served as simply as it should be, with olive oil and lemon. Prices have not gotten out of hand here; the four-course tasting, $45 at press time, is one of the city’s most reasonably priced.

Brunch is an unexpected delight at Vermilion; in fact, it’s one of the best in the city. You might be treated to a loose, ground-pork-shoulder version of scrapple—the mystery breakfast meat of the Pennsylvania and Delaware small-town working class. We surely thought we’d never seen an haute version of that. (Just when you thought the fashion of fetishizing the native cuisine of America’s rural poor couldn’t go any further.)

Cocktails are excellent, too, and the wine program is unusually thoughtful, with good amounts of attention paid to underappreciated white wine regions like Austria.

Oh, and as if all of that weren’t enough, they call main courses “mains,” not entrées. Respect.

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