Wild Tomato takes root in Cabin John
It's always time to eat at the 5-week-old Wild Tomato in Cabin John. The short, yet comprehensive menu is available from 10 a.m. up until the restaurant's 11 p.m. closing time.
Chef Damian Salvatore has amassed a broad fan base with Persimmon Restaurant, his fine dining flagship in Bethesda. Along with fortunate locals, the chef's devotees have been flocking to Wild Tomato to sample his more casual, family-friendly fare, packing the petite dining room during peak lunch and dinner hours.
Although the menu might be simple, it is by no means ordinary. Thai steamed mussels are cooked and served in a broth profuse with lemongrass, ginger, lime leaf and Thai basil. The bivalves are cooked just until the shells open, so the mussels are plump and juicy. It is imperative to polish off the broth by slurping directly from the dish, scooping with a soup spoon or sopped up with the house-toasted crostini bread. Fried clam strips are tender yet chewy with a nicely seasoned and fried batter coating. They are served with a remoulade mayonnaise, bright with the flavor of fresh lemon and spiked with capers and chunks of cornichon pickles.
The soup of the day comes by the cup or the bowl, with the cup more like a cup and a half. Porcini was the soup of the day, and it was velvety thick and creamy with a tan hue and an earthy mushroom flavor.
Pizzas, from kid-friendly Just Cheese, to the spicier and meatier Smokin' Pizza, are built on a thin chewy crust with just a slight flavor of sourdough.
The fish tacos came highly recommended, and deserve the referral. The tortillas are marked with stripes from a hot grill, and then loaded with slabs of fried white fish and accompanied by slices of avocado, a spicy slaw, a drizzle of chili-flavored mayonnaise, grated carrot and chopped cilantro. It is served with a small pot of salsa and a pile of tortilla chips. While each component is mildly seasoned, the ensemble is full-flavored without being a challenge to palates that might be sensitive to salt and spice.
Entrée or "Bistro" salads include the seared tuna salad, which features rosy slices of sushi-grade tuna with a tasty circumference of seasoning and char, presented on a generous pile of neatly diced cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado and red onions. While the salsa is tidy and fresh, it is pale in flavor from being out of season, as well as low in seasoning. The barbecued shrimp that come on a "Big Plate" with dirty rice are cooked and served with the shell on. Cooking in the shell maximizes flavor and lusciousness, although it requires some dexterity with a knife and fork, or a willingness to manually peel and eat. The dirty rice is buttery and tender, flecked with bits of sausage and bacon.
The jumbo frosted cupcake has the airiness of angel food cake with a thick frosting of chocolate ganache. Vanilla ice cream is luxurious in texture and exotic in good quality vanilla flavor.
The chocolate cream pie martini consists of a layer of pastry cream, folded with morsels of cookie and toffee topped with whipped cream, all served in a mod martini glass. The coffee is good, and comes with refills.
Classic rock at a low volume suits the boomer crowd, and a flat screen behind the bar scrolls unobtrusively through sports and current events. Far and away, the coolest attractions in the dining room are the eye-popping Dali-esque paintings of gargantuan vegetables, particularly heirloom tomatoes.
Wild Tomato is a neighborhood bistro with a fine dining pedigree. The kid-friendly food is not dumbed down to an afterthought; the same menu that satiates the discriminating palate also will satisfy the fussy tweener. Lunch and dinner service are for diners who enjoy a crowd, while quieter times are best enjoyed at odd hours and on Sundays.
7945 MacArthur Blvd.,
Cabin John, 301-229-0680
Hours: Tues.-Sun. 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Style of cuisine: American Bistro,
Pizzas and Entrees: $9-$19
Credit cards: All major cards