Restaurant Review: Circa at Clarendon
Another energizing and welcoming little bistro has opened its doors in Arlington, and is inviting you in for a refreshingly good time (with some seriously good food).
Arlingtonians – I hope you’re ready for yet another fabulous food frenzy coming your way – Circa at Clarendon is now open for business!
My boyfriend and I popped in there last night to test the waters and see what the fuss was all about.
I chose not to make a reservation (because it was Monday night) and decided we’d just wing it and see what our odds were at 7pm. We arrived to a warm atmosphere and were greeted immediately by a super smiley, well-dressed and enthusiastic hostess, who proceeded to hand our menus to what looked to be a manager who sat us at a table for two (or a two-top in restaurant terms).
I have to admit, I already peeked at the menu beforehand to see what kind of food they had to offer (very similar to Liberty Tavern – with cheese plates, gourmet pizzas, fine wines and beer), so I had plenty of time and energy to soak in the happenings all around me.
Our server came over practically before we were even completely seated, asking to take our drink orders. I had just unraveled my scarf onto the menus on the table, and was struggling to get my coat off, so I told him two waters would do for the moment. Despite feeling a little disheveled from the bitter cold and wrestling my many layers, I was impressed with their service already (I hold restaurants to high standards because I used to work in one). My boyfriend decided on a Lagunitas IPA ($5.50) and I chose a glass of their Diseno Malbec from Argentina ($9.00).
They brought our drinks quickly, while I decided which appetizer we would try. Again, I secretly already knew what I was thinking ahead of time, but figured I’d take a gander at the menu anyway. My family often has a cheeseboard out for hors d'oeuvres and entertaining, so I was pleased to see it on the menu.
I decided that I was going to skip some of their tasty apps (like their Petite Filet Mignon Sliders for $14; Portobello Mushroom Flan for $8; Apricot Chili Glazed Chicken Wings for $10; or Circa Mac & Cheese for $10) for a cheese plate instead. They offer six different kinds of cheeses for trying, with the option to get a choice of three ($9), choice of four ($11), choice of five ($13), or a choice of all six ($15) cheeses. A little symbol of a Goat, a Cow or a Sheep located right next to the name of the cheese signifies which kind of animal and milk this cheese is made from. Clever and cute, I say.
Once our waiter dropped off the cheese plate, we ordered our entrees. This was the first ‘table visit’ we had from the same manager who seated us. As I mentioned before, I used to work in a restaurant and our managers often prided themselves in their table visits and the ability to visit every single group that came through the restaurant, either for the entire lunch rush or entire dinner rush. That being said, I know how important this step is and the personal touch it gives to your customers, so I was very happy to see that he was already checking up on us so early in our meal.
The entrees took their standard 20 minutes to make their way to our table. During that time, I enjoyed the subtle alternative music playing Arcade Fire, Steely Dan and Radiohead from their extra high ceilings above, and my taste buds loved the cheeses I chose for our tasting.
Circa started filling up around this time (about 7:15-7:20pm) which was also good to see (especially if you’re a people-watcher like me), but it never got too loud to hear my boyfriend. The tables were perfectly spaced around the restaurant and allowed for you to really feel like I had my own personal space. The beautiful, old school looking red leather arm chairs we sat in added an elegant, cozy touch.
We sipped our beverages and were greeted once more by our friendly manager when he asked me if I’d like one more glass of wine to go with my dinner. I was pleased and impressed, and felt like he had read my mind. Smooth move, manager man.
By the time he refilled my wine, we were just about completely finished with our cheese plate and the complimentary bread, red pepper tapenade and butter they also served us, and our entrees were being delivered. I ordered the Circa Steak Frites ($20), while my boyfriend ordered the Jamaican Jerk Tuna sandwich ($11.50), which was absolutely to-die for!
My Greek mother often cooks some kind of meat with dinner, so I grew up a steak lover, and I have to say – this was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. It was cooked perfectly to my liking (medium-rare with an exquisite red center and bursting with crushed black pepper flavor), while my boyfriend’s tuna sandwich (also cooked medium-rare) was overflowing with all kinds of crazy delicious flavors.
(Other entrees include Chipotle "Jambalaya" Penne Pasta, $19; Wild Mushroom Ravioli, $18; Braised Boneless Short Ribs, $21; or Southern Fried Chicken, $18.50; and they have a seasonal drink menu offering a few classics like Mojitos and Martinis, remixed by CIRCA.)
We took our time eating and savored every single bite of our meals. Both of our dishes coincidentally came with fries – mine with french fries, and my boyfriend’s came with sweet potato fries – so when they arrived we had to ask for some ketchup. Once it was clear that the tiny ramekin we were sharing was empty, we had the third visit from our chatty, but always welcomed, manager friend. Both the manager and our server were funny, sarcastic and treated us as if they already knew us. It made our experience even more fun and relaxing.
After the manager left, he quickly reappeared again when he saw that I had been scraping this (amazing) sauce off my boyfriend’s plate with my French Fries, and gave me my very own ramekin of it. Visit number four – incredible!
By this time we were starting to feel like royalty, and noticed that other people in the restaurant weren’t getting as much VIP attention (perhaps it was my constant snapping of pictures and the fact that I was wearing a blazer, who knows), but it definitely was clear that he had been visiting other tables, too.
Maybe it’s because Circa has only been open for a week, but this new sweet spot in Clarendon has certainly left its mark on me. Aside from his completely satisfying and filling meal, my boyfriend said that he liked the sports bar/relaxed feel paired with the fancy decor, and that it created a really nice balance. Pretty accurate, I'd say.
I highly recommend Circa for any celebration, date night, special occasion, or if you’re simply just in the mood for some damn good eats – head to Circa, and you won’t be disappointed.
Circa at Clarendon 411
3010 Clarendon Blvd., (703) 522-3010
(at N. Garfield St., you know, that new building around the corner from Clarendon Grille and across from Restaurant 3)
Hours of Operation: Mon-Thurs: 11am-12am; Fri: 11am-2am; Sat: 10:30am-2am; Sun: 10:30am-11pm
Price Range: $$$ (out of five)
Dress Code: Casual and a little dressy; comfortable and classy
Serves: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night
Happy Hour: Monday-Friday 4-7pm: $3 Draft Beer, $5 Wines by the Glass
Miscellaneous: Takes all major credit cards, has outdoor dining, take out, and is open late!