Despite not being a country music fan, I found myself working at a country music radio station in the 1990s, and even though I was on the news and sports side, the music has a way of seeping into your subconscious. One of the songs of that era that I actually kind of liked — mostly because I am a sucker for a bad pun — country music lyrics are of course rife with bad puns, so you’d think I’d be more into it — was Sammy Kershaw’s “Vidalia”, whose chorus goes “Girl, won’t you tell me why/Sweet Vidalia you always gotta make me cry.”
So even though I’m a Walla Walla* onion guy at heart, I always think nice thoughts of Vidalias. And when a group of us finally dined at Vidalia (1990 M Street, in the District) the other night, I hoped it would live up to its stellar reputation. In some ways it did, and in some ways it didn’t. Should I just be glad it didn’t make me cry?
* the onion so sweet they named it repeat….sorry.
The dining room is underground and quite elegant and refined, but very beige, and for some reason Mrs. Me didn’t like the ceiling, which seemed normal enough to me. It all looks very nice, and everyone is friendly and professional, but our service wasn’t smooth at all, though it did improve as the evening went on. For example, we were asked for drink orders before we’d had a chance to read the options; then we were left hanging for 35 (thirty-five) (not exaggerating) minutes before our server returned to see what we had decided. 35 is too many minutes by about 25-30 minutes. This was especially painful because we were hungry and apparently official Vidalia procedure is to not bring out the bread basket until the drink orders have been taken.
Wait aside, the bread basket was wonderful, boasting several nice choices including moist cornbread and buttery, flaky rolls. The rest of the food also was mostly as good as expected. Like: six huge juicy shrimp swimming in creamy, delicious grits. I loved the sweet-salty-savory balance of fried sweetbreads atop a waffle with cream sauce and syrup. An amuse-bouche of (I think) roasted mushroom soup with sunflower seeds was excellent. And judging from my fantastic mint julep, a perfect trifecta of mint-sweet-bourbon, the bartender is a scholar and a gentleman and a mighty fine mixologist or mixateer or whatever the trendy name is these days.
Those were the highlights. Mrs. Me liked her onion soup though it wasn’t what she was expecting, I think the onions were more subtle than at other places (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I tried it and thought it was very good, especially the duck dumplings floating atop the soup. We got a side dish of mac and cheese, a reputed star of Vidalia’s menu, and while the ham-studded cheesy-noodly melange was tasty enough, it wasn’t transcendent or anything, and despite a decently large portion I’m not sure it was worth $9.50.
Frogmore stew (shrimp, rockfish, crab, sausage) was fine but isn’t actually stew-y; we were all expecting our server to come back and pour some broth in the bowl…no such luck. Potato-flake-covered-flounder was good, pork chop was good, salad was good — nothing was even remotely bad or even mediocre, but at these prices, we were hoping for superiority across the board. Our group of four agreed that the value just isn’t there, between the prices (pretty much every entree is over $30) and the uneven pacing and (for us) the location, so doubt we will be back anytime soon. Only four or five tables were occupied the entire time we were there, so maybe we aren’t the only ones in that boat.
Unless I develop a sudden craving for shrimp, grits, and juleps. Stranger things have happened.