Last night, the walls of the lovely ~two-hundred year-old renovated building on Marshall's Main Street pulsed with energy as Neal and Star Wavra's new restaurant, Field & Main, opened to a packed house. Expectations were high, given their previous success leading The Ashby Inn to the heights of its acclaim and their backgrounds at two of America's best restaurants: Blackberry Farm and Charlie Trotter's. Expectations were more than met!
The vibe at Field & Main is interesting. It is intentionally less formal than the restaurants I mentioned. It's simple...gracious...classic. Beautiful, polished old wood floors and custom-made wood tables add an element of warmth. You've been to restaurants that shout at you with bright colors and loud noise? This is the opposite. The tastefully muted walls are occasionally decorated with art that fits in
quietly and harmoniously. The simple and elegant custom dishware from well-known artisan Amber Kendrick contributes to the gracious ambiance. You feel like you're someplace really nice, but nothing demands your attention. You can focus on friends, and the food and drink you share with them.
And that's the point. Neal doesn't want this to be just a special occasion restaurant. He wants it to be a place that's welcoming enough you'd feel comfortable stopping in for an early supper with your family, wearing your jeans. And it is. But he also wants it to be good enough that you'd go their for your anniversary. And we will.
The main dining room seats ~30, plus there are three tables and six to eight bar stools in the adjacent room which has a view into the kitchen (and was a great place to sit!). The elegant bar area has a couple of tables and some stools (and a separate bar menu). Upstairs, there is another dining room that seats ~24, which can be used for private events, wine dinners and the like--or can be additional seating on busy nights like last night. I have a feeling there'll be lots of busy nights!
Neal and chef Anthony Nelson go back a long way--they originally met at the Culinary Institute of America. Their focus is on bringing the highest quality, freshest ingredients from local farms to the table. Lots of restaurants say that. Neal and Anthony are doing that. The centerpiece of the kitchen is a giant, custom-designed wood-fired hearth. The big adjustable iron racks allow the chef to roast a variety of meats and fish (and some vegetables) simultaneously. If your goal is molecular gastronomy--the kind of kitchen gymnastics made famous at NOMA in Copenhagen or Alinea in Chicago--this may not be your place. There was nary a sign of liquid nitrogen or trapped burning hay. But if you're interested in sharing a delicious roast leg of lamb or porchetta, you may have just found a new favorite. We had the porchetta last night and it was outstanding--as were the starters of scallops, lamb porterhouse, sorghum risotto and deviled eggs.
Neal is one of the most talented sommeliers/wine directors in the DC area--that's not just my opinion...it was a consensus at a gathering of DC winos following a major collectors dinner. His focus is not on trophy wines that will break your bank account--it's on good wines you can afford on a night out. And he has a solid representation of the best of Virginia on his list--for example, Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay, Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir and big reds from RdV. If you don't think Virginia makes good wines, try those three--they'll put your notion to rest. But if your inclination is toward France, Italy or the west coast, don't worry--there are enough great choices that I kept going back and forth before making a decision. And the Jansz sparkling rosé from Tasmania Neal suggested as an aperitif was a very pleasant--and affordable--surprise.
Service, from Star's greeting at the entrance to the waiter's final good night, was warm and gracious. There was no way to tell that this was their first night (no doubt in part because, like the pros that they are, they practiced serving friends and family for a couple of weeks before opening).
The customers weren't the only ones who were happy to be there last night--the staff were clearly excited and proud. Those that used to enjoy The Ashby Inn in its heyday will recognize some of them.
Field & Main is not inexpensive--great things rarely are. But it's not so expensive that you can only go there on birthdays and anniversaries. It's affordable enough that you can take the kids there now and then. And yes, they do welcome kids (and have a kids menu).
For those who've been waiting and waiting for a really good restaurant in the western suburbs and the beginning of the Piedmont, your wish has come true. Field & Main is about to become one of your favorite places. For Neal and Star and team--congratulations! We'll see you often...with our family...with our friends...and for our special occasions.