The heart of Society Fair is the open kitchen at the end of the wine bar. There, five nights a week, a chef prepares a three-course dinner in front of a small group of customers who have reserved spots for that evening's "demo dinner." Along with these special dinners, this latest project from Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong's EatGoodFood Group (Restaurant Eve, Virtue Feed & Grain, Eamonn's, the Majestic) features a snack-filled à la carte menu and a shop with a butcher counter and coffee bar.
At one demo dinner, chef Trey Massey explained that the demi-glace flavoring his braising jus could be bought in the retail store. So, too, could the "chicken" lobsters, one of which he'd stagily sacrificed, then pan-roasted in butter. Hyping the store's products this way might sound tacky, but it's hard to be unhappy when the food is so good.
The wine bar features sandwiches, snacks such as the White Spread (whipped pork fat--a little goes a long way), and a hearty daily salad. The Big Bad--a charcuterie board featuring a revolving collection of cheeses, meats, and pickled vegetables--might include a zesty chicken liver crowned with aspic one day, a creamy rabbit terrine the next. When it's available, the dark, rich chocolate cake is wonderful for dessert.
Diners can order from the à la carte menu at communal tables in the shop on Friday and Saturday, but the bright lights and nearby cash register make for a duller vibe. Better to hold out for a seat in the twinkling wine bar. You can pick up some demi-glace while you wait.
Society Fair, 277 S. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-683-3247. Open Monday through Thursday 7 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 7 am to 10:30 pm, Sunday 8 am to 9 pm. Demo dinners $45 to $55, wine-bar menu $5 to $35.
This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.