WINE & DINE COLUMN: Eating Good in the Neighborhood Restaurant Group


Chris Parente

By Chris Parente

The restaurant business is a tough one, and sequestration fears hang in the heavy summer air. That said, metro DC offers a very strong culinary scene and there are more interesting choices for dining out  than there were just ten years ago. A number of these places belong to the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes local establishments such as Rustico, Vermillion, Evening Star Cafe and Columbia Firehouse.

Some of these restaurants put wine front and center, while others like Churchkey and Birch and Barley put more emphasis on craft beers. Either way, the consistent vibe across establishments is casual but smart. There is a sense that all the details that go into a good experience are being addressed properly. I’m confident that carries over to their private events, which most of the locations seem ready and eager to host.

My wife and I have a number of good experiences at numerous Neighborhood Restaurant Group restaurants. The only cautionary note I’d share pertains to Tallula in Arlington, where the portion sizes have become too small in my opinion. Our most recent meal was at Columbia Firehouse, the former Portners restaurant housed inside a historic fire station in the middle of Old Town.

We have eaten at Columbia Firehouse before and always been pleased. A favorite appetizer is the tuna tartare tacos, a tasty and crunky twist on a familiar menu item. Mussels are also a popular appetizer choice, served with a number of different preparations and plenty of fresh bread for broth dipping.

For dinner Gabriele went for the fried chicken, which the restaurant does very well. I went for the fish special of the night, blackened tilefish with rice made “dirty” with minced organ meat, corn relish and fried okra. It was very tasty and the fish was prepared well, but the relish was one too many competing flavors.

We ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir I had heard good things about online. It was the 2007 Loring Rancho la Vina Pinot Noir from central California, and it was excellent with our meal. It’s big as Pinots go, with a lot of alcohol and raspberry on the nose. It was light bodied, smooth on the palate and finished with a tart flourish and a little bit of leather. This Pinot is delicious on its own but is also a versatile food wine, and stood up well to all the flavors in my entree.

The first floor of Columbia Firehouse has a beautiful old bar that extends the entire length of the room. It usually has an active crowd and can be a bit noisy. We were seated upstairs on the second level of the restaurant, and there is a third level that was having a private party this past Saturday. Our server told us they do “lots of private events, especially in the fall.”

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group really seems to have the “casual but still nice dinner out” equation down. Consider one of their locations the next time you’re planning dinner out, or a private corporate event.

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Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a global top 500K web site as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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