River Bend Bistro & Wine Bar: A Modern Neighborhood Spot
River Bend Bistro & Wine Bar: A Modern Neighborhood Spot
7966 Fort Hunt Road
Hollin Hall Shopping Center
”Since opening last fall owner Bill Ross and executive chef Caroline Bruder Ross have worked diligently to bring diners in Fort Hunt a fulfilled dinning experience with their realistic approach to neighborhood dining.”
Atmosphere: Upbeat, contemporary
Service: Coordinated, reserved
Lunch (everyday) 11:30am-4pm
Dinner (Mon-Sat) 4pm-10pm
Brunch (Sunday) 11:30-4pm
Wine glass: $6-$16
When I hear the word bistro, I get excited. I think of the early dinner my parents and I shared my graduation weekend at Petit Louis in Roland Park. I think of fresh ingredients, passion, hospitality, good friends and good memories. I want to go to a bistro because bistros want me to come to them. When driving through the Fort Hunt area of Alexandria, I was quickly reminded of the suburbs I called home as a kid in New Jersey: beautiful homes, green grass, and a warm sense of community. Walking into the space, formerly held by The Village Wharf, there is much to be drawn to in the simplicity of the layout. On your right there are loafers, sandals, Vans, and pumps all dangling from the bar stools as regulars are comfortably chatting over the low set music. On the left there are friends and lovers both old and new chowing down on dishes – faces glowing in the consciously lit dining area as everyone is enjoying their neighborhood spot.
In an effort to increase their marketability some restaurants compromise their very existence by incorrectly branding themselves. This makes me furious. I could list the “inns” and “taverns” that do not actually offer room and board or the numerous “cafes” without liquor permits or any food offerings other than overly sweet, microwaved, pre-baked breads. The one that bothers me the most is corporate giant Texas Roadhouse, which boasts over four hundred locations in forty-nine states. It is hardly a traditional roadhouse, which Webster’s defines as “an inn or tavern usually outside city limits providing liquor and usually meals, dancing, and often gambling.” Sure the staff will perform a choreographed line dance at the request of a guest celebrating a birthday or anniversary, and almost certainly will the hostess boast about their “hand-cut steaks and legendary margaritas,” but what about gambling and lodging?
Staying true to your title is important for me because sometimes owners and managers get carried away thinking about potential customers rather than their current ones. I believe a neighborhood bistro should be both convenient and affordable. It does not need to have French inspired food, cassoulet, bean stew, or black and white pictures of the Champs on the wall. It needs soul. With their location in Hollin Hall shopping center, Bill and Caroline have managed to keep the neighborhood community in mind – folks who are looking to escape the hectic parking circus of King St., and the $8 M Street beers.
The soul of River Bend bistro will come when locals turn into regulars and the business turns into an establishment. This will be easy, however, as the fair pricing and ingenuity of both their food and wine menus were one of the most notable parts of the restaurant. Three ounce, six ounce, half bottle, and full bottle portions of wine all priced out to make a second, third, or in my editor’s case – fourth glass work within an evening’s budget. The list in itself was smartly assembled with crisp Chenin Blanc’s from South Africa, Rosés from Texas, and even a local Virginia red. Countless options just waiting to be paired with the sumptuous yet simple plates brought out from kitchen under the watchful eyes of the classically trained executive Chef Ross.
The one glaring problem with the River Bend Bistro is that it is damn near impossible to escape the aromas of the kitchen. This is a way good problem to have. I could not fathom going to the bar, ordering a drink, and leaving. There is just no way. Thankfully for those with little self-restraint, like myself, there is a quaintly crafted “snacks” section of the menu with some standbys like their flat breads. I was impressed to see that they offered homemade chicken liver mousse, which I had to order and was delighted to see it served with mustard, pickles, and warm bread. Magnifique.
For the dining crowd I would like to point out that the amount of food on the plate for both appetizers and entrees is exactly the size I look for. Caroline has found harmony between miniscule portions of haute cuisine and “what two sides come with that?” platter-like dishes served in traditional American joints. As for quality, I have to say I was not served one thing I was not deeply satisfied by. Very cohesive dishes like roasted cod loin served with red potatoes, oven dried tomatoes, and black olives and pan roasted chicken breast, situated atop fresh noodles and tossed in morel cream sauce. My favorite part of my meal, however, was my appetizer – caramelized onion tater tots. I am not the biggest fan of fried foods, but they completely nailed the gussied up comfort food thing with this one. Savory little bites of potato and onion served with a creamy horseradish sauce – I will definitely come back for these.
Restaurant economics often begin and end with location. The popularity of waterfront dining in the summer, and cozy main street corners in the winter are great indicators of a consumer’s circadian rhythms. But with prime real estate comes a lack of affordability. What Bill and Caroline are doing is laudable because they are gambling their futures on the hopes that people will return to their restaurant for good service, good food, and good wine; creating their own identity rather than having a location create it for them. I believe that they are doing an excellent job so far. There are still a lot of inevitable growing pains and changes that they will make over time but I have no doubt each and every decision will be made with the soul of their business in mind – the customer. I hope to return this spring and am eager to see what other tricks they have up their sleeves in both the kitchen and with the sommelier.
Written by: Vincent Arrunatequi