COVID-19 Closure: Please note, this review was written pre-coronavirus closures. As of press time, Blend 111’s dining room remained closed per state government orders. The restaurant is offering touch-free takeout and delivery options Tuesday to Sunday. Please check the restaurant’s website for more information and the latest updates.
Former tech CEO Michael Biddick admits he was overly ambitious when he opened Blend 111 in Vienna last May. He was so gung-ho about running a sustainable and eco-friendly restaurant that he even initially hired a sustainability coordinator to manage it all—despite the fact that industry folks warned him his plan was too expensive and wouldn’t work in a restaurant setting.
“Maybe,” he remembers thinking, “but let me see if it can work.”
It took eight months of experimentation, but Biddick and his team eventually found a sweet spot. The measures they take in the name of sustainability cost them nothing at this point, and Biddick—who documented the journey—plans to share the lessons he learned with fellow restaurateurs.
“It’s a good thing to do for the planet—not necessarily for the bottom line, but you have to balance the two,” he says. “Our goal is to have one bag of trash per day. Everything else is either composted, recycled or reused.”
Balance is essential to Biddick’s other passions, as well, namely, wine, coffee and food. Diners will find a thoughtful wine list solely featuring organic and biodynamic options from lesser-known producers in France and Spain, with many of the 50 or so bottles offered by the glass to encourage experimentation and conversation.
Coffee is roasted on premises each week in a sparkling roaster seen from the dining room. When you order an espresso, the barista measures 18 grams of espresso beans, grinds them and serves the brew instantly. Biddick sources the unroasted beans from Manassas distributor Cafe Kreyol, which trades directly with Haitian, Honduran and Brazilian farmers, among others, so that consumer dollars are reinvested in those communities.
“Sustainability and direct trade is really important for us, not just with the coffee but with the wine and the food products,” he says. “Coffee is a big part of European culture. We wanted to do it really well.”
The meticulous attention to detail and sense of balance also plays out on the plate—mostly.
One evening, a clear table favorite was a bowl of mussels mariniére, the bivalves plump and soft, and the broth loaded with herbs, garlic and a lovely rosemary aroma. It came with a slice of whole grain bread that Biddick says will likely be replaced with something that soaks up more sauce. Other winners included an appetizer special of zesty Impossible meatballs made with the trendy meat substitute, tomato sauce and cheese; scallops on a bed of corn freshly shorn from the cob and punched up with a vinegary chimichurri; and a bouillabaisse swimming with bay scallops, shrimp, crawfish, mussels and fish, depending on the day.
Dishes we found to be less of a home run were the underseasoned filet mignon saved by its sidekicks of excellent roasted potatoes, asparagus and mushroom sauce; the mac and cheese, which was fine but a bit dry; and the shrimp, which was skimpy on the main ingredient (three shrimp feels like an appetizer, not a $28 entree) and came with over-salted squid-ink rice. The dramatically black rice that covers the plate did, however, feature a pleasant chewiness that would have been completely addictive if the seasoning had been on point.
A salad of whole bibb lettuce leaves with avocado, apple, manchego and cherry tomatoes drizzled with a honey-lemon dressing was good but nothing special—unlike the salad at brunch that came with the beet arepas and Impossible burger. That “petite salad” was actually pretty substantial, and the fresh, colorful jumble featured carrot, radish, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, varied greens and a tangy, creamy dressing that had us picking at it long after we were full.
Brunch is a great time to visit Blend 111, and not just for the artisanal coffee. We were all wowed by the Côte d’Azur bowl, named for its mesmerizingly blue spirulina base and topped with bananas, strawberry slices, blueberries and a sprinkle of coconut. The spirulina itself doesn’t add much in the way of flavor, and its health benefits are still being researched, but it adds plenty in the way of novelty and fun.
The Impossible burger loaded with tomato, spinach, avocado, queso and aioli, served with plantains and salad also sparked a conversation about how it tastes so much like beef. In fact, Biddick says diners regularly think they’ve been accidentally served real meat—even after the kitchen ordered mini flags to adorn the brioche buns to avoid confusion.
No matter which meal you’re there for, order the seasonal arepas. In late winter, they were bright red from beet puree and stuffed with guasacaca (avocado salsa), queso and greens, with the option to add beef or shrimp. Each protein adds its own personality, with the beef skewing toward comfort food and the shrimp evoking a tropical beach. In spring and early summer, the arepas switch from beet to spinach, but the fillings remain the same.
Desserts, unfortunately, mostly failed to satisfy. A lemon tart turned out to be a cloud of citrusy, sticky and strangely salty marshmallow atop a tasteless cookie. (This isn’t on the current menu, but we implore the pastry chef to rethink it before next winter.) Chocolate mousse lacked the lightness in texture that makes the dessert so iconic.
The favorite by far was the marquesa, a Venezuelan-inspired pie of rich, smooth chocolate with a couple of thin cookie layers throughout, plus a bright raspberry sauce that brings it all together.
In other words, we appreciated its lovely balance.
Colorful oil paintings and rich wood accents—including wall panels made with wine crates—warm up a space that also features trendy gray-and-white-patterned tiles, a chic lounge area near the coffee bar and exposed brick walls
Mussels marinière, scallops with sauteed corn and chimichurri, seasonal arepas stuffed with shrimp or beef and Impossible meatballs at dinner; the blue spirulina bowl, Impossible burger, coffee and juices at brunch // 111 Church St. NW, Suite 101, Vienna; open lunch Wednesday–Friday; for dinner Tuesday–Sunday; and for brunch Sunday; Starters: $9-$25; Entrees: $16-$34