722 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
PRICE $$ ($13-$20)
HOURS Open for lunch and dinner daily.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO Blue Line(King Street) Yellow Line(King Street)
By Warren Rojas
Running a restaurant is no easy task. I guess someone forgot to mention that to Geranio chef/owner Troy Clayton.
“I couldn’t be happier because I don’t have a job,” the enthusiastic restaurateur said of his homey Italian retreat. “We’re like a family.”
Caricatures of familiar Italian spices (marjoram, sage, oregano) decorate a vestibule leading into the main restaurant. Inside, patrons can choose between the cozy main dining area (featuring mustard-colored, brick walls, tightly knit tables and a flickering gas fireplace), a side dining room decorated with faint floral prints or a more casual upstairs lounge (worn hardwood floors, wraparound sofas and a mini bar).
Each area presents its particular charms, but all are tended by shirt- and tie-clad servers who virtually fall all over themselves (refilling drinks, running orders, fulfilling special requests) in a coordinated effort to please.
Clayton seems to be just as hospitality-minded. He spent nearly a decade cooking throughout Europe and several years in some prominent local kitchens before taking over Geranio in 1998. After nearly a decade in the thriving “Washington West” section of King Street, Clayton says he is thrilled to finally see Old Town coming into its own as a serious dining destination.
“I’m a little bit surprised it’s taken everybody so long to catch on,” he said of the recent influx of high profile to the area. “There’s a renewed energy that you can feel.”
While that renewed energy will hopefully translate into new business for everyone, Clayton said his menu will continue to showcase time-tested dishes that have become neighborhood favorites, including signatures like the lobster risotto. “A dish that makes so many people happy in your restaurant has got to become a favorite of the owner,” he noted. The grilled salmon over mashed potatoes with a confit of garlic, shallots and pancetta serves as an old stand-by, “like a good friend.” And the signature lobster and polenta starter, Clayton said, is “such a unique, fun and rich appetizer to start with.” Likewise, patrons should expect to find white truffle oil (a Geranio staple), wild mushrooms and specialty risottos sprinkled throughout the menu, though Clayton said seasonal changes often invite new preparations and fresh accompaniments.
An opening gambit of polenta, lobster and leeks pays savory dividends, delivering creamy leek- and mushroom-fused grains topped with peppery swatches of tender lobster (superb), surrounded by a ring of lavish lobster oil. A Roman salad arrives bearing prosciutto-wrapped bulbs of baked mozzarella (chewy cheese morsels) paired with a robust roasted red pepper-and-tomato ragout. The tonier duck confit salad dresses up frisee with buttery goose liver (provides a fatty pop that couples terrifically with the tart-sweet thrust of the caramelized pears) and agonizingly moist duck.
The house risotto summons a feast of wild mushrooms, crisp spring peas (burst with every bite), ribbons of pancetta (note to the kitchen—ease up on the salt and let these wisps of bacon do the work) and shaved Parmesan cheese nestled within a creamy embrace. Homemade lasagna unveils mounds of spinach noodles layered with seasoned ground beef and a luxe cheese sauce. Linguine arrives smothered in a rich tomato ragout stocked with sliced porcinis and ground veal.
The restaurant offers about a dozen mixed whites and reds by the glass, all under $11. The master list bounces between domestics and regional Italian vintages, topping out at $250 for a 1983 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Paulliac.