Trummer’s On Main
In 2010 Food and Wine anointed Clayton Miller as one of the best new chefs of the year for his cooking at Trummer’s on Main. In my book that was a pretty high honor and one that I thought would elevate this out of the way restaurant in the charming hamlet of Clifton, Virginia, (but within a manageable drive of most northern DC suburbs) as a must-go-there-type of destination for me and many other foodies.
That’s why I was more than a bit surprised when we arrived for a prime dinner reservation at 7:30 on a Saturday night to see half of the restaurant empty and the few diners that remained at the end of their meals. Looking at those who were eating, it seemed most people ordered one course, a single glass of wine, and went on their way. Maybe these fellow diners were so used to eating quick lunches that they had forgotten how luxurious and leisurely dinner should be because within half an hour of our arrival, the restaurant was nearly empty. This I thought was a shame. Why? Well, first and foremost Trummer’s on Main has a really innovative menu with many dishes that have a strong “wow” factor coupled with a brilliantly chosen and wallet-friendly wine list. Since it’s so rare these days to find a restaurant that does both so well, one would think the place would be packed.
We had actually arrived a bit early for our dinner reservation, thinking we would surely be asked to wait at the bar which would have been fine considering how lovely the first floor bar is, complete with its own bar menu and cozy seating areas. The owners behind Trummer’s on Main have taken a once historic hotel and obviously put an enormous amount of effort into renovating the space. Besides the first floor bar area, upstairs is a lofty beam-filled second floor with expansive windows that in one corner look out onto an umbrella-filled deck and the town. There is a lot of light (and hence potential heat) coming into this room (even at 7 o’clock) but the frond-shaped ceiling fans that rotated ever so slowly did a good job of circulating the air.
While we contemplated ordering the $82 tasting menu, Lynn and I decided to order a la carte instead so that we could try each other’s dishes. While there seemed to be quite a few servers at Trummer’s on Main, there appeared to only be a few designated waiters. Luckily since they weren’t busy, we didn’t have to wait very long to order cocktails. Water was poured and small chewy ciabatta-like rolls were put next to each plate. This is not a white tablecloth restaurant, but rather a designer placemat kind of place which has the unfortunate effect of having one’s silverware move around quite a bit.
Consequently, I had a young server ask me to move my silverware before two of my courses so he could put the plate down! Since we live in New York and are acclimated to the very highly trained servers of the world’s of both Danny Meyer and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, (where silverware is ever so correctly positioned for you), I found this request annoying.
There was no welcoming amuse bouche from the chef. First courses therefore were brought out right away. I had a rock shrimp citrus salad with a tangy Meyer lemon vinagrette that was spooned in little button-like circles on the plate. Citrusy and tasty, it had the essence of summer, a winning combination between the small shrimp, some orange slices and a few slices of beets. Lynn had one of the biggest scallops I had ever seen that had been dipped in tempura batter, fried, and then plated on top of silky strands of spaghetti squash. Crowning this dish were tiny chunks of spicy radish which lent each bite a bit of a crunch coupled with a nice spice factor. While I thought this dish was visually appealing and the combination of scallop and squash lovely, the tempura was a bit too greasy for my taste.
As the sun went down in this very Southern veranda-inspired window-filled room, single votive candles adorning each table gave the space a lovely romantic quality. But because the room was so empty (and void of table conversation) what should have been faint background music turned into a full blown 70’s and 80’s “Rock Fest” pouring into the vaulted ceiling and barn-like beamed room. I can only assume the slow night in the kitchen resulted in their cranking up the tunes to stay awake.
Our second course followed. I was intrigued by the Chilean sea bass on a bed of “ragu” topped with tempura onion rings; Lynn ordered the tuna loin with a mild honey soy glaze, plated with some sort of root vegetable puree and a lovely mixture of out-of-the-shell edamame beans.
My sea bass was magnificent, the fish perfectly cooked. The “ragu” turned out to be wine-infused and richly flavored shreds of oxtail coupled with slices of slightly undercooked carrots. On its own this entree would have been divine, coupled with the fish, it brought this dish to a whole new level. Interestingly, the tempura battered onion rings that topped it didn’t have the greasy factor that overwhelmed the scallop dish.
Portions here are large, Lynn’s piece of tuna was generous, raw where it should be and not overly salted which given the soy honey glaze I feared might have been the case. There are sides to be had, too. Since I thought that there was enough food on my plate, I felt I didn’t need something extra, but Lynn is a sucker for anything cauliflower, so he ordered a side of cauliflower gratin. While I thought the cauliflower was perfectly cooked, it was lacking in the cream and cheese department and thus really not a proper “gratin.”
With very competent service as well as our courses coming out of the kitchen fairly quickly, we had nearly half a bottle of wine to finish before we even contemplated dessert. When we were finally ready to look at the desert menu, I was actually a bit surprised at its brevity. There was a cheese offering, a cake, and both sorbet and ice cream. What caught my eye however was the chocolate soufflé.
Now in most restaurants I know (particularly French ones), the wait staff is usually asking you if you’d care for a soufflé before the start of your meal. Not here. I actually inquired of our server if this in fact was a real soufflé, or rather a molten lava-like cake version. Oh, no, he assured me it was in fact a “real” soufflé and would take about 13-14 minutes to get to our table. So we waited. Sure enough within the allotted time, a small ramekin with what looked like a chocolate soufflé with a puffy top was placed in the middle of our table and a rum raisin butterscotch sauce was poured into a slit the server made with a spoon. Some steam escaped, we waited to dig in, and truthfully I loved the sauce, but the chocolate needed to be richer. And it did in fact have more of a molten chocolate cake taste than its more upscale soufflé namesake.
They brought us two tiny coconut macaroons to nibble on before we left the restaurant at 9:03. We were more than content with the ample portions, creative and flavorful cooking and wallet-friendly bill. Since I realized my biggest concern that evening was that the dining room was so empty (because everything else was just so darn perfect), it gave me time to reflect on the saying that “if you build it they will come.” Since this part of Virginia is off the beaten track for us, I can only hope other people will make the pilgrimage as we did to this very worthy establishment.