6930 Old Dominion Drive
McLean, VA 22101
CUISINE American, Steakhouse, Seafood
PRICE $$$ ($21-$30)
HOURS Open for lunch, Monday through Friday, dinner daily; Sunday brunch.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
If you prefer your romance with a generous helping of Southwestern flair, make sure to add J. Gilbert’s to your short list.
This steakhouse arm of the Houlihan’s Restaurant family is all about exposed brick, dark hardwoods and comfy booths—including the four tables that hug the double-sided, glass-enclosed central fireplace. Curious black and white nature shots and multi-colored mosaics adorn a main dining room that is usually occupied by a roughly 50-50 split of business (the place is clearly a standby for McLean’s heavily corporate workforce) and casual diners.
Well-appointed staff (shirt and tie, black vests, neatly pressed aprons) make most meals a delight, doling out insights (one made sure to point out that the menu had recently been updated with totally new entrees and wine selections) and attention (wine glasses are dutifully inspected and carefully wiped down before they ever reach your table; leftovers are bundled up without a fuss) with absolute ease.
Although beef is clearly a big seller here—J. Gilbert’s prides itself on its Midwestern-raised, aged steaks—the menu features enough variety to satisfy most every diner. Portions also tend to tilt to the larger end of the spectrum, which makes for easy sharing.
The wooing begins with a still-hot loaf of sourdough that only gets better with a swipe of sweet cream butter.
Shake off that winter chill with a warming bowl of tender, red-skinned potatoes, spring onions, cheddar and crumbled bacon in a pepper-flecked broth (delicious). Or a smoked chicken number featuring meaty chicken morsels swimming amongst diced red onions, sweet corn and a thicket of multi-colored tortilla strips.
Chipotle shrimp brings a quartet of grilled shrimp presiding over a bed of the signature Southwestern medley (zesty mix of black beans, corn, pico de gallo and more tortilla strips). One companion was instantly smitten with the Maytag chips, a mountain of homemade potato chips (light but not flimsy, with good crispness) smothered in molten jalapeno cheddar (faint heat but good flavor) and an abundance of potent blue cheese (blue-green chunks of the ripened aromatic appear throughout).
A hefty top sirloin arrives noticeably charred on top, but perfectly tender in the middle, with just a light dusting of pepper to provide any cover (none needed). A side of white cheddar mashed potatoes makes for excellent company, while a steamed asparagus bouquet seems like the odd man out (limp and totally bland). The barbecue salmon summons a narrow but attractive filet of rust-colored fish (nicely seared crust and deliciously warmed center) brushed with what was a too-sweet-for-my-taste barbecue glaze, at least in this case. The barbecue ribs seemed more on point, delivering smoky-sweet bones of tender pork (chipotle glaze provides rolling heat, but the sweetness lingers) flanked by triangles of fried polenta and some stellar baked beans (countrytastic).
Come dessert, the hands-down favorite was a Fuji apple cobbler composed of caramelized apples that smacked of cinnamon, sugar and bourbon (crumbly strudel topping is boozy sweet) flanked by a demitasse of creme anglaise and a crunchy cookie. The restaurant offers roughly two dozen mixed whites and reds by the glass, most between $6 and $9.50 a pour. The master list is composed of mostly familiar spots in areas like California, Argentina and Italy, but also features special selections from a winery of the month. Bottles start at around $26 for a 2006 Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay and climb to $180 for a 2003 Opus One blend.