Things got off to a rousing start with a chilled raspberry gazpacho, which was spicy, flavorful and delightful (especially considering some of us aren’t the biggest fans of raspberries).
Vernick’s raw menu is stellar. The Arctic char ($13), garnished with crispy skin and dill, was pleasantly mild and perfect for summer. The tuna ($15) with pickles and crème fraîche was powerful, bright and spicy.
There were some captivating raw flavors on Vernick’s toast menu. These play out like upscale takes on bruschetta. The beef tartare and horseradish ($12) was so enjoyable it almost didn’t need the toast. Even tastier was the Maryland crab ($12), with thinly sliced jalapeños giving it a nice kick.
The small-plates menu had some nice surprises. We weren’t expecting much from the grilled heart of romaine ($12), but it was one of the best dishes of the evening — very fresh with aged cheddar and a hint of the sweetness of figs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, expectations ran high for the grilled shrimp and avocado salad ($14). Somehow the result wasn’t greater than the sum of its parts, as the shrimp overpowered the other flavors. Another bright spot was the housemade mozzarella with rhubarb jam and sea salt ($12), where the flavors did a happy dance of salty, sweet and creamy.
We only had room left to try one large plate: the organic Amish chicken (whole $45/half $24). A few weeks back, we declared the chicken at Square Peg the best in town. We have to amend that statement. Peg has the best fried chicken in town. Vernick has the best roasted chicken in town — perfectly seasoned, tender and juicy. Had we not filled up on small plates, we surely would have stripped down the whole bird to the skeleton.
Dessert was one of those instances in which the more you ate, the more you loved the dish. The olive-oil cake with peaches was a prime example. The first bite was good, moist and not very sweet. But there was something there that triggered a taste memory. We couldn’t put our finger on it until the third or fourth bite; then it came to us. Pancakes! It tasted like the best pancakes we ever had — but it’s dessert! It was pure addictive joy. Then there was a butterscotch and smoked chocolate parfait, which was also wonderful due to the restraint it exercised in its sweetness. There was just a hint of butterscotch playing with the semi-sweetness of the chocolate and the whole dish was airy and perfect.
Vernick Food & Drink is the excellent convergence of a great location, nice décor and a well-executed menu.