The swirly “Guggenheim” rolls that kick off dinner at this strip-mall surprise are irresistible, and the often-whimsical desserts from pastry chef Cindy Bennington—after whom the place is named—are among the area’s best. And what’s not to like about being sent off with a fresh-baked cinnamon muffin? In between, things are iffier. Brian Bennington’s cooking can both dazzle (a seared lobe of foie gras with caramelized peach) and disappoint (a tough pork chop). More often, it does neither—content to ride the middle ground of convention. The generous, crowd-pleasing preparations don’t always warrant the high tabs, but they seldom overreach with forced juxtapositions and obscure ingredients. They call to mind a simpler, less showy era of dining out.
552-I Governor Ritchie Hwy., Severna Park; 410-315-8088
A earthenware oven commands the room at this pizzeria, where the toppings are mostly local and organic and the pies—referred to as flatbreads—sport thin, crisp crusts. The Virginia Country Ham, with thin slices of apple, arugula, and cheddar, and the Revolution, a mash-up of caramelized onions, mushrooms, and cheese, are standouts. The pizzas are expensive even for boutique pies, but they’re also better than most. There’s a surprisingly good beer-and-wine list, with a decent roster of wines by the glass.
43170 Wynridge Dr., Suite 110, Ashburn; 703-723-7003
Jeff Tunks’s pan-Latin hot spot has lost some of its mojo, and in this economy, lackluster flavors at big-ticket prices are not a draw. Heavy-handed seasoning overwhelmed the feijoada on a recent visit, while a salad that included excellent grilled octopus had a bland dressing. A plate of sugar-cane-skewered shrimp garnished with guacamole and pineapple salsa seemed tired. The best value remains the $9.95 mojito—a great and simple drink in a city awash in craft cocktails.
701 14th St., NW; 202-393-3983
This appeared in the May, 2009 issue of the Washingtonian.