The bang bang Brussels sprouts borrow their name and style from Bonefish Grill’s similarly titled bang bang shrimp. The pad kee mao hints at the drunken noodle from chef Eric Reid’s neighborhood Thai restaurant, Kanjana, in Springfield. And Reid shops at the same market to find sheet tray-long rice noodles, which he hand-cuts into extra-wide strands. The house-ground pork butt sausage welcomes Reid’s own version of a Montreal steak seasoning for a smoked-then-griddled sausage, served with deep slits, creating more crevices for charring.
The menu at Reserve dropped its heavy, Southern-inspired menu from when Reid ran it the first time under the name Reserve 2216. Almost two years later, the 30-seat spot above Del Ray Pizzeria is back. And this second coming is even better.
The original Reserve never found its legal footing in the particulars of zoning and parking regulations and whether the intent was for Reserve to be for private parties and reservation-only dining. In the two-year gap, Reid developed the menu for Chickpea, the short-lived, quick-casual Mediterranean counter operation from the same owners, which transferred power to Flat Top Burger. “Everyone says they want a healthy option, but everyone really wants burgers, shakes and fries,” says Reid. The chef then resumed his role at Del Ray Pizzeria. When the owners secured 10 parking spots from a nearby lot (about $1,000 a month altogether), the ratio of seats to parking tipped to the favor of reopening Reserve.
“We had looked at other locations,” says Reid, “but nothing seemed right for what we really wanted to do.” The natural move was to renovate and redecorate. “Let’s get this bad boy reopened,” Reid remembers thinking.
The new Reserve is just as tiny but now features high-top tables with grandma-chic upholstered chairs in a mustard yellow print and a new bar with worn, whitewashed shiplap instead of tile. “I watch a bit of HGTV,” jokes Reid, who turned 40 in March and has been cooking professionally for half of his life.
The effect of Reserve is the same. It’s not a perfect restaurant, it never was. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a neighborhood restaurant for grown-ups. Not all of the dishes work, some have good intentions but can’t deliver and some are overly complicated. Plenty more are simple, fun, restrained or present a beautiful cut of meat, cooked just right.
That prime filet of wagyu, marinated in chipotle and balsamic vinegar, smoked over pecan wood and topped with Caveman Blue cheese, lets a butter knife slice through without any friction to reveal a rosy center. It’s accompanied by hominy au gratin, serving the purpose of something starchy and creamy, but because it’s hominy—chewy, nubby corn kernels—it vibrates on the menu as both unusual and traditional.
Weeks later, a lamb loin chop is the star protein, equally tender, but this time offering that gamier, slightly funkier flavor. That housemade sausage, one of the few constant menu items on this otherwise weekly-updated menu, is a gourmet hot dog, especially paired with a housemade habanero-beer seed-filled mustard and pickled onions.
When a menu consists of no more than 15 items, each one needs to sing. The burrata, imported from Italy (though Reid hopes to teach himself how to make it) is as creamy and luscious as the next version, but its decorations separate it. In this case, out-of-season cantaloupe pairs with prosciutto, and while it’s a classic match, it’s meant for ripe, summertime melons. Dried tomatoes bring a pop of color, but doesn’t fit with the mellower fruit-meat combination. The disrupting crunch of whole coriander seeds and floral lavender honey only contribute chaos, not continuity.
The odd man out on the menu, the nod to the Thai drunken noodles, displayed excellent, aggressive heat, but the duck was dry and tough.
Reid’s other homage, fried Brussels sprouts, deep fried, tossed with panko and a mash-up sauce of sriracha, sambal, brown sugar and mayonnaise, is the reason why every restaurant keeps this kind of dish on the menu. Not many can pull it off like this crispy, savory, near-perfect version.
Pastas often fill the meatless option role, with housemade tagliatelle in a butternut squash bisque flavored with chipotle and decorated with oyster mushrooms. It sounds fascinating on paper but arrives underseasoned. A chunky ricotta sauce with bits of roasted chestnuts and garnished with crispy fried sage leaves is simple and refined. But also, small. And also costs $16. We’ve seen trends bounce between minuscule, hard-to-share small plates and pricey, family-style portions. What hasn’t caught on is portion control. Not too many restaurants offer slightly smaller entrees attached to fair pricing. It seems like we were trained to want as much food for as little money. But there’s no quality in that.
When Stomping Ground, also in Del Ray and formerly tied the Del Ray Pizzeria family, served dinner, the most remarkable aspect was how affordably priced the higher-end dishes were, and how guests could finish dinner, no take-home box necessary.
“Doggie bags annoy the shit out of me,” says Reid, starting a rant about food left to wilt in the fridge, and how he positions Reserve as a first stop on date night. “You’re not gonna leave still hungry, but you won’t leave full and ready to go to bed.”
But then there are Reid’s scratch desserts, which could nullify his argument. Four-layer carrot cake leans a little dry, but still good. And it’s especially hard not to order when it’s sitting in view from the dining room. A classic cheesecake takes well to a dousing in brandied cherries and a sauce from the cherry juice, and even more brandy. A simple dessert, on a simple menu, in a simple space. Simply good dining.
2216 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
Open for dinner Wednesday-Sunday