Cedar Knoll Restaurant
Cedar Knoll Restaurant
The latest re-opening – December 2015 – of this iconic place was long over-due. Brothers Andrew and Chris Holden, Charlie Blevins, and Neil Wadhwa now head up the new generation of culinary experts that have energized this prime spot. Cedar Knoll had been closed for a few years until recent renovations were made and a lease was signed by this close-knit group of daring culinary artists. They definitely brought their unique talents to a truly unique property.
Cedar Knoll is the perfect spot for a dining establishment looking west over the Potomac River and an absolutely fabulous spot for outdoor dining as the moon pops over the trees.
A bit of history – In 1760, George Washington purchased the property, becoming River Farm, the northernmost of the five farms that made up Washington’s 18th century estate. The building was originally opened as the Mount Vernon View Antique Shop and was first operated as an inn and restaurant in 1941.
Currently, there are three separate dining rooms at Cedar Knoll, and each room has a different feel. The Botanical Room is wrapped in windows and old scientific illustrations of plants and flowers. The Presidential Room with lush curtains, dark wood, which gives the room a 19th century parlor feel. Then there is the original part of the building, the Log Cabin, which has the most natural character, with logs and chinking, a huge stone fireplace, and our first president keeping watch over the room. And don’t forget about the aforementioned patio where full service dining is available!
After entering the front door, the first difficult choice you have to make is which of these entirely different rooms fits your fancy. The second difficult choice is what to order. This was the dilemma we faced on our recent visit. We chose the Botanical Room with its sweeping views of the Potomac River. After an appetite inspiring Vodka Gimlet we decided to let the kitchen make our minds up for us when it came to ordering the food. We have dined and noshed at Cedar Knoll several times since the reopening and tend to order the same things so we decided to venture outside the box – Chef Andrew did a great job.
The menu is seasonal and at the time of our visit the Spring Menu 3rd Edition was in effect. The appetizers are plentiful and inspiring. The list begins with Fried Oysters Rockefeller. They dust their local oysters in cornmeal, making them gluten free. Perched atop an oyster shell, accompanied by kale and Virginia country ham, the oysters are finished with a champagne froth. From there the choices continue with Two Way Duck, Lobster “Profiterolls”, Steamed Mussels, Arugula Salad and a wonderful Roasted Beet Salad. Cedar Knoll offers three different types of local oysters including Alexandrian Bruce Woods Dragon Creek Sweet Cousins.
The “showcase” or entrée list includes Rainbow Trout, Picanha Steak, Boneless Lamb Rack, Jumbo Scallops and Lobster, Scallopini of Chicken, Singapore Style Maryland Soft Shells, Almond Crusted Pork Tenderloin, and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.
Each night the restaurant also offers specials. On this night the chef picked the Fried Pork N Peach appetizer and the Watermelon Gazpacho – both of which were on the special menu. Per the menu,”Our braised pork belly is fried and paired with a charred Saturn peach. A sweet and sour slaw, coriander black pepper honey and a sesame cracker give the dish proper support”. I love bacon but have had a hard time wrapping my head around pork belly, but this had more pork and less belly and was fried just right and the slaw set it up very well.
Like the pork belly, I am not usually a fan of cold soup. Just something about my southern upbringing that mandates that soup be hot! However, I have to admit I did like the few spoonfulls of the gazpacho that I had. My companion loved it – but then again she is a gazpacho fan and claims to be sort of expert on this dish. “Fresh English cucumber, watermelon, tomato and canteloupe are blended to create this refreshing chilled soup. Garnished with the mango salsa and cured lime, the flavors of jalapeno and mint are present”. According to her, this is spot on! The combination of these fruits and the cucumber, jalapeno and mint make for a tasty new twist on a summertime staple.
For dinner we shared the Panamanian Lane Snapper off of the regular menu and the Taro Root Encrusted Atlantic Halibut off of the specials.
Lane snapper is native to the western Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to southern Brazil. The menu describes this dish as “Lane snapper is a beautiful specimen with silvery pink skin that is prized for its tasty white meat. We pan sear it and serve it with garlic lime grilled jumbo shrimp. A white wine, lemon, and tomato stew, baby red bliss potatoes, and sautéed okra provided a supportive background for the main attraction”. Served in a tureen-style dish, this offering lived up to the description with the perfectly cooked al dente okra adding a kick.
The halibut is described as “Pan seared day boat halibut caught off Martha’s Vineyard near Nantucket Island is crusted with shredded taro root and seared to give it a crispy exterior while locking in juices and flavor. To give it a warm weather flair, we serve it over chilled melon puree and a grilled red onion and sugar snap pea salad with goat cheese and cucumber”. We all know that halibut can tend to be a little on the dry side if over-cooked just slightly, however, the taro root crusting did just as described and kept this nice piece of fish moist and flavorful. It is a great combination and my companion’s only suggestion is that the snap peas needed to be blanched a bit longer. The portions are substantial so we ended up bringing some halibut home.
Dessert was a nice surprise as well. The Blackberry Lemon Pop Tart described as “A bright lemon custard fills a light sugary, buttery crust and is accompanied by fresh blackberries and merengue”, was a refreshing end to the meal. We are both big fans of lemon merengue pie and the tart took us both back to the flavor of our childhood. Oher options on the dessert menu include Chocolate Rosemary Souffle Cake, Lemon Ginger Semolina Cake and an Unbaked Cheesecake with Port Cherries (I think the next time I am there I am going to sample this).
Cedar Knoll also has a nice wine list and craft beer list that offers something for everyone. Our favorite thing about it is that it isn’t overwhelming and the price points are very reasonable. Everyone who has been reading our publication on a regular basis know that we are big supporters of Virginia wines. We are happy to know that Three Fox, Barboursville and Linden are represented here. There is a small full service bar to the left of the entrance that serves as a great place to wait for your table as well as just to have a few “happy hour” beverages after a long day.
Another thing that sets Cedar Knoll apart from most dining establishments is their choice of dinner ware. They have collected several different patterns of vintage china – including the serving pieces – from various sources throughout the area. In fact, the tureen that the snapper was served in was donated by our very own Martha Washington from Mount Vernon – the reenactor that is! This makes for a very pretty table setting and good conversation. Was interesting to watch the ladies checking out the bottoms of the dishes.
The clientele at Cedar Knoll runs the gamut, however, it really isn’t a place we would take young children. This is both a restaurant that you can make your own as a regular in addition to celebrating a special occasion. We were fortunate enough to share the Botanical Room with new regulars, Alex and Kelly Chapman, while they were celebrating their 8th Anniversary.
Conveniently located off of the George Washington Parkway and the Mount Vernon bike trail on Lucia Lane, it makes getting to Cedar Knoll a pleasant excursion. Put this restaurant on your list of summertime must dos!
See their ad on the back cover for hours of operation and contact information.