A Prominent Virginia Chef Will Serve Drive-In Tasting Menus From His Parking Lot

"It’s half patio, half tailgating,” says Jonathan Krinn, who'll open "A Lot of Clarity" on Saturday.

Clarity chef/owner Jonathan Krinn is merging fine dining and tailgaiting at his Vienna restaurant. Photograph courtesy of Clarity.

Relaxing over a multi-course dinner, served by a friendly stranger on real plates, sounds like a foreign concept these days. But Clarity chef/owner Jonathan Krinn has dreamed up a way to revive the fine dining experience. On Saturday he’ll launch “A Lot of Clarity,” a five-course prix-fixe meal served in 16 designated “slips”—that’s the tonier nautical term for parking spaces—in the outdoor lot of his Vienna, Virginia restaurant. 

“It’s sort of half patio, half tailgating,” says Krinn, who like a number of fine dining chefs quickly transformed his business model for takeout via Clarity To Go at the start of the pandemic.

Restaurants around the world are experimenting with new “pod” dining styles in the face of a global pandemic, whether that means private greenhouses in Amsterdam or plexiglass partitions in South Korea. For Krinn’s version, he’ll set up tables and cushioned chairs in 9-foot parking spaces, which are set another 9 feet from each other for social distancing. The experience is reservation-only up to three weeks out, “no drive-ins,” says Krinn. There’s a two-person maximum, unless parties are family and arrive together, in which case groups of four are permitted. When the vehicles arrive, staff will bring a full sanitized set-up to the tented slips. “If someone feels more comfortable it can be BYOT—bring your own table—BYO knife and fork, whatever they want,” says Krinn. 

One thing you can’t BYO is alcohol, at least for now. Krinn plans to include wine pairings, whiskey pairings, cocktails, and other beverage options if the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority grants his license, but he is sticking to non-alcoholic beverages for now. The state liquor board has already outlined new measures to allow businesses to serve alcohol in extended dining areas like sidewalks and parking lots as Virginia enters phase one of reopening this Friday. The move excludes northern Virginia, which is tentatively scheduled to reopen later on Friday, May 29 due to the higher percentage of Covid-19 cases in the region. Similarly, Montgomery County is lagging behind Maryland’s reopening on Friday, while DC Mayor Muriel Bowser just lengthened the city’s emergency orders to Monday, June 8.

A Clarity dish pre-pandemic: Rabbit with cherry glaze. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Krinn acknowledges his plan to launch A Lot of Clarity on Saturday may be controversial because he’s testing out a version of the phase one model—outdoor dining at 50 percent capacity—before phase one begins in Vienna. But Krinn says the fact that he’s not serving alcohol, and is essentially sticking to takeout, may allow him to move forward. Patrons won’t be allowed inside the restaurant space at all (regularly sanitized bathrooms in an adjoining office space will be available). He says Vienna mayor Laurie A. DiRocco gave the green light.

“I’m going to serve as a model for reopening in Vienna. I can advise you, you can help me, it’s sort of like war gaming,” says Krinn, who comes from a strategy background after eight years as a marketing specialist for Booze Allen while moonlighting in the kitchen. “I’m basically repackaging takeout. You’re eating takeout in the parking lot, which you’re currently allowed to do. You’re just giving me plates back.”

Guests can even choose to dine al auto instead of al fresco, though Krinn’s menu doesn’t sound like the kind you want to eat from your dashboard. The initial $80 prix-fixe (subject to change) will start with a “gift from the kitchen” like white spring asparagus soup with cured arctic char. Guests then pick between two options for each course. A full sample menu is below. Oft-changing dishes may include morel and sweet corn salad, grilled Chesapeake soft-shells and sweetbreads, and smoked foie gras with rhubarb jam and Krinn’s father’s homemade brioche. (Veterans of the Washington dining scene may remember the elder Dr. Krinn’s homemade breads from the father-son duo’s start at 2941). Guests can also order the five-course menu to-go alongside Clarity’s lengthier a la carte offerings, though Krinn says it’s really designed for the in-person experience. 

“We’re just excited to cook on plates that break if you drop them. I’ll be happy to hear that sound.”

Reservations go live today at 6 PM.

A Lot of Clarity Menu (Subject to change)

Welcome Back Gift from Jon
Holland White Asparagus Soup with sherry and pink peppercorn cured arctic char
First Course
Oregon Morel and Smoked Sweet Corn Salad with pickled peppers
Cucumber and Zucchini tartare with grapefruit chili bouillon
Second Course
Nova Scotia Mussel Pasta with saffron emulsion
Grilled Chesapeake Softshell and Sweetbreads with porcini mushrooms
Smoked Foie Gras with rhubarb jam and Dad’s brioche
South Carolina Wild Caught Halibut with curried cauliflower
Fourth Course
Pennsylvania Lamb Rib Eye with first of season fiddleheads
Charcoal Grilled Strube Ranch, Texas Wagyu Mishima Strip Loin
cippolini onions and chanterelle mushrooms
Banana Pudding Ice Cream Sandwich
Salted Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with toffee ice cream

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.