I thoroughly enjoyed Basa Modern Vietnamese, and
though I never visited it frequently enough, when I learned it was ending its 10-year run at 2244 Frankfort Ave., I and many others were saddened.
But all good things must come to an end sometime, right? And nothing makes that so abundantly clear as a dramatic makeover like the one given that space for the opening of Fork & Barrel last week. No former fan of Basa will look at the quaint, wood-sided Clifton building and recall its former tenant. The battleship gray exterior now bears a scheme of muted orange, tan and black, colors carried over to the mix of rustic and modern tones and textures inside. You’ll find yourself asking, “This was Basa? Really?” and then struggling to find elements connected to that concept.
“We wanted it to have its own look in every way possible,” said Geoffrey Heyde, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Emily. “That took more work than we expected, I’ll have to say, but I think it’s worth it.”
In conversations I’ve had with Heyde over the past two months since the opening was announced, he’s described his cuisine as elevated Southern and classic American. The dinner-only menu reflects a blend of both notions with multiple beef, lamb, chicken, pork and regional fish dishes, though it veers toward the East Coast with mussels, crab cakes—before taking far eastward to the Mediterranean, with charred octopus. With the backing of Nick Sullivan, longtime chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia and, most recently, chef de cuisine at The Oakroom, such off-theme excursions are both welcome and expected.
That carries over to the bar menu as well, where just two of seven house cocktails listed use bourbon as their base spirits. Head mixologist Karla Jean clearly likes clear spirits, leaning on gin, tequila and vodka to create several clever offerings including my choice, Emily’s Garden (gin, ginger syrup, lemon juice and rose water). (Worry not, brown spirits fans, there’s lots of that to draw from.)
Food prices range from $8 (parsnip soup) to $39 for Border Springs lamb chops, but the majority of the plates are priced at the middle of that spread. A couple could easily get out for $50 or ratchet up the spend to triple that with a bottle of wine, so the experience is easily tailored to your mood and appetite.
Invited by Heyde for a soft opening (meaning food guests’ food is free, but tax, drinks and gratuity are on them), a friend and I shared a pair of appetizers including the super lump crab cakes ($12 with sauce gribiche, avocado mousse, red vein sorrel and chili oil), and charred octopus ($16, white beans, country ham, rutabaga, flash-fried greens and haricot verts). Both were great, but I was taken with—as I always am—the eight-legged creature. Such a treat to find tender versions like this one. The assorted charcuterie ($14) was delicious as well, especially the bonus foie gras.
The cornbread and buttermilk salad ($9) could double as a savory dessert should Heyde want to scoot it around the menu. The buttermilk was actually a strip of delicate buttermilk panna cotta served atop sweet corn puree and blistered corn kernels along with tufts of mache, strawberry slices and crumbled cornbread.
Our entrees were straightforward Southern: mine a pair of cornmeal-encrusted Lake Barkley carp ($24) fried and served atop a Rappahannock clam chowder and roasted vegetables; my friend’s, roasted veal loin ($26) with celery root, mashed potatoes and veal jus. Hearty and substantial, but well prepared. Great cooking technique is always appreciated, but occasionally lacking sometimes in kitchens.
Not only were we too stuffed to even look at the dessert menu, we both had separate engagements afterward, so we bid our solid server adieu and headed out.
Long story short: There’s nothing in Clifton like Fork & Barrel. It’s its own breed in a neighborhood collection of upscale Italian, relaxed American, rustic Irish, dive bar chow and full-on trendy spots. Maybe the closest comparison I could make is it’s a bit similar to Harvest, where ingredient selection and classic technique are hallmarks. It’ll be fun to see what personality Fork & Barrel develops over the coming year. Heaven knows adequate talent is under roof to make it a solid spot on the local scene.
Fork & Barrel, 2244 Frankfort Ave. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m. Call 502-907-3675 for more information.