Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pushing the Envelope in Alexandria, VA

Having not visited Alexandria, Virginia, in years, the prospect doing so beckoned. Last Friday, on the spur of the moment, a three hour opportunity arose in mid-afternoon. My appetite was ravenous, and lunch hour had passed. An evening commitment in Baltimore precluded dinner there.

Most of my time was spent walking and taking in Alexandria's historic waterfront, architecture, and restaraunts, especially those serving at this hour. The three block stretch of King Street between my parking space and the waterfront offered numerous choices. Within minutes, I was seated at an upscale Thai spot and had ordered from its reasonably appealing menu a whole rainbow trout stuffed with herbs and lemongrass. With two minutes of additional walking, I would have chosen instead to try the fast Ethiopian fare at the Torpedo Factory Food Pavillion near waters edge.

More on my mind, however, was a different kind of African influence I'd recently read about in conjunction with Farrah Olivia on the plaza by Balducci's at 600 Franklin Street. The article was about its Ivory Coast born owner/chef, Morou Ouattera, whose culinary sensibilities had a reputation for penetrating a lot of fringes. Despite the need to be back in Baltimore by 7:30, I was determined to at least have a look.

At 5:30, when Farrah Olivia opened its doors for dinner, I took my seat at the small bar near the entrance. Having been walking for two hours, I was eager to check out the menu over a refreshing cocktail. Any lack of a cocktail menu became a non-issue once the bartender had mixed and served me a glorious mojito. From its main menu, I would describe Farrah Olivia's cuisine as lending an African perspective to a broader Modern European/American genre in a unique and adventurous manner. Among entrees, the most expensive was "lamb chop/plantain loaf/white mint *caviar*/palm fruit bbq" for $34. Least expensive was "soft-shell crab/pickled tapioca/melon fruits/bok choy mustard," the smaller portion (presumably one soft-shell) for $18.

Time restricted me to but one quick treat: the gazpacho pictured above. It was listed as "painted gazpacho/curried eggplant/vine ripe tomato/cucumber." Checking Farrah Olivia's menu on the web several days later, I observed a "painted soup/silky chestnuts/ginger squash/beet cider," but no such gazpacho, so who knows? Regardless, after visiting Farrah Olivia's website and searching out some of the numerous reviews, anyone should have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

For me, it's a matter of when, not if, to make a special trip back to Alexandria and further experience what Farrah Olivia is about. Should its fourteen course tasting on Friday and Saturday nights with reservations required be excessive, also offered are five and seven course tastings for $55 and $75 respectively. I only wish Farrah Olivia were closer by and wonder how Baltimore would respond to the likes of it.