Vienna / Modern Latin American / $$$$
Andrés-Julian Zuluaga knows how to design an eye-pleasing plate. Take, for example, the Chesapeake Bay rockfish. The seared, skin-up fillet reposes atop an island of roasted corn and cuttlefish. The sea? It’s a creamy peanut-seafood emulsion dotted with globules of crimson achiote oil. It’s a fantasia of colors, textures, and flavors.
The dishes might be multipronged attacks on your senses, but they never injure or unsettle a delicate palate. They will simply leave it wanting another bite. These are no mere plates of a protein and a couple of sides. They are multisensory artworks.
Scallops costeño looks like a forest of sprouting mushrooms but tastes like a visit to a fine-dining restaurant hidden in the South American jungle. Chunky, optimally seared scallops are sunken in aji de parcha, a creamy sauce made from intensely puckery passion fruit and chiles. They’re buffeted by roasted turnips, pockmarked in the oven, showered in cashews, and haloed with more nutty achiote oil.
Feeling more like turf than surf? Order the chuleton, or rib-eye steak, that comes to Vienna via Lynchburg’s Seven Hills Food. The 16-ounce behemoth is a crusty paradigm of the Maillard reaction that reveals a pink center, flavored with squiggles of tangy red chimichurri. Zuluaga never fails to get diners to eat their vegetables, whether it’s the side salad that accompanies a steak or a meal of smoked cauliflower with toasted quinoa.
But whatever you choose, every sense will appreciate it.
See this: Inside is as much stylish café as it is restaurant (check out the coffee drinks), complete with local art, while outside is festive year-round with string lights and effective heaters.
Eat this: Ceviche, scallops costeño, piñamaiz
Service: You’ll leave feeling like you’ve made a new friend who really knows their food and wine.
When to dine here: Your date is smart. Smart enough to appreciate this cerebral cuisine.