Molasses-marinated muscovy duck breast with caramel corn pudding and grilled asparagus. Photo by Beth Furgurson
A wonderful meal out doesn't have to be a leap off a cliff without a parachute. Sometimes good ingredients treated with respect, nicely crafted dishes, a welcoming environment and cordial service are what you want. And Chef Michael Hall has brought just that to Rocketts Landing with his M Bistro and Wine Bar.
It's a stunning space, flawlessly appointed and decorated. The lights are subtle, the cool jazz is not intrusive and the seating is very comfortable. The place and people make you feel like you want to put your feet up and relax.
When you enter, you are greeted warmly. You see a well-designed small bar, which, if it is Monday night, is occupied by a small but lively wine-tasting group. An elegant divider separates the bar from the main dining area. Once in your seat, you're given a beverage list and the menu. Always hold your decision until you hear the specials.
On a Saturday lunch, we sat in a sunny window booth in a space that looks as inviting in full daylight as it does in a subdued evening glow. The lunch menu is full of great choices. Several of the salads had a perfect twist, such as the Caesar served with sliced entrecôte steak (cut from between the ninth and 11th beef ribs) or the golden broiled crab cake with flavorful tomatoes on mixed greens with fennel-green olive relish and grilled tomato vinaigrette. It was creative, but not odd.
I settled on the braised short-rib sandwich with horseradish sauce and grilled onions on a potato roll. It is easy to discern whether braised meat is made from scratch. If it starts with commercial stock, the result is bound to be salty. But this braise was round, complex, meaty and delicious. The roll was soft enough to help me not lose a drop, but it held together and didn't get soggy. Everything worked to make for a fabulous sandwich. Handsome Hubby had the Chef's Burger, 8 ounces of perfectly grilled meat with cheddar and bacon. It was accompanied by some well-made French fries, and he was grinning from ear to ear. A glass of red wine complemented our superb lunch.
Dinner presents patrons with even more delightful choices. First, I must point out the beverage list. There are hand-crafted bourbons, and this bar can even make a traditional New Orleans Sazerac. There are about 14 good wines available by the glass, and many reasonably priced bottles as well as a great selection of half bottles. Some excellent Virginia wines are also represented on this list. But the dinner menu is just plain fun.
I started with the Prince Edward Island mussels, with Great Northern beans, garlic, tomatoes and white wine-basil cream. Several pieces of grilled bread served to capture the sauce. The mussels were plump and enhanced by the flavor combination. Handsome Hubby had the lamb spareribs with a sweet soy dipping sauce. The lamb was falling off the bone, and the sweet sauce was a terrific counterpoint to the juicy, tender meat. And those were just the appetizers.
My husband is a great lover of good steak, and his was cooked exactly as ordered, with a beautiful brown demi-glace that highlighted the flavor of the beef. The dish was simple and elegant, but accessible, and it made him smile.
I am a big fan of lamb. The nightly special of a 6-ounce buffalo rib-eye with lamb sausage was tempting, but I chose the grilled lamb chops. The rosemary-scented chops with warm sauvignon applesauce, asparagus and balsamic reduction was a perfect combination of textures and flavors. The balsamic reduction was subtle, a quality not often found with this type of sauce. The lamb was cooked to perfection, and the applesauce was slightly chunky and rich with flavor.
We saved room for dessert and were glad we did. I have never had a red velvet cheesecake before, but this was terrific. Subtle chocolate flavor and the cheese tang made for a textbook partnership. The serving was precisely the right size. Handsome Hubby chose the crème brûlée, and it was impeccable — tender and sweet with a crispy sugar crust. We shared and enjoyed a flawless ending to a delightful dining experience.
Chef Hall is using first-rate ingredients and applying culinary techniques that flatter the food. Sometimes simple preparation done well is the best.
M Bistro and Wine Bar
4821 Old Main St., 652-2300
Prices: Lunch salads and sandwiches $9 to $14; dinner salads and starter plates $5 to $11, entrées $16 to $30.
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.