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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Southern, Modern
Upmarket restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:30am–2:30pm
Mon–Thu 5:30pm–10:00pm
Fri 11:30am–2:30pm
Fri 5:30pm–10:30pm
Sat 5:30pm–10:30pm
Sun 5:00pm–9:30pm

Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


1990 M St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 659-1990
Going for many things, and achieving most of them

Vidalia is one of those restaurants that has been around long enough to be overlooked. This isn’t the hottest ticket in town, but the restaurant is quietly putting out great food that is impossible to categorize. It’s known for its Southern roots, but when you descend the stairs from the street to the subterranean space—past a boastful wall of accolades dating back to 1993—you’ll discover a brightly lit, restaurant-cataloggishly modern dining room that suggests anything but pork fat and pecan pies.

These, days the menu reads as if it was put together by Mad Hatter: homey macaroni and cheese and roasted Vidalia onions share space with contemporary dishes like slow-poached duck egg and blue-corn polenta. It all might feel disorienting until the first few dishes arrive at the table—beginning, perhaps, with a refreshing amuse of not-entirely-Southern chilled cucumber soup. Soon, things suddenly fall into place. If you are adventurous enough to order a soused shad, you are rewarded with one of the finest raw fish preparations anywhere, built around warm shad roe, cipollini, yellowfin potatoes, and a touch of acidity from the bacon-apple vinaigrette. The buttery fish fillet wouldn’t be out of place at a top sushi bar, but what’s most surprising, perhaps, is the use of sousing—a technique used to lightly marinate herring in some European countries and almost unheard of in the US.

This kitchen has a way with offal—and a way with carving it, too. Tender pig’s trotters have their meat scooped out, chopped, and placed back into the neatly cut cylinders, preserving their original shape. Chicken livers come out in perfect geometric shapes, as if to mimic foie gras torchon. Pig’s tails are picked of bone and cartilage, stuffed into casings, and deep fried; the end result looks and feels a little like a rubbery egg roll, but the tail-meat filling is like pornography to a self-respecting pork fanatic.

Vidalia has the capacity for unevenness. We’ve sometimes been disappointed at lunch, when service has been clueless, rockfish has been overcooked, and shrimp and grits have come out with a surfeit of salt.

But come for dinner and get the tasting menu, and by its conclusion, you will have given up on trying to categorize Vidalia. But perhaps that’s why it feels so comfortable in this city. Like the District itself, it is Southern, and also Northern. And like the District itself, it is nostalgic, and also modern.

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