"But that's so far," Washington friends said when I recently proposed going to the new Colvin Run Tavern, in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Tysons Corner isn't far, of course: it's a suburb of Washington, D.C., and a half hour's drive west of the Mall. But going there feels like getting far out of the city. The drive passes near some of Virginia's loveliest hunt country, and then a sudden concentration of shopping malls, office buildings, and hotels rises in the distance.
Colvin Run is in the most elegant group of shops, directly between Tiffany and Gucci. It's elegant too, but not glossy. It's also firmly tied to the region, unlike the chain stores and chain restaurants around it. The name comes from a nearby gristmill that ground and sold cornmeal and flour until the 1930s (the mill has been restored and is open for tours), and the food is full of mid-Atlantic and southern influences.
I persuaded my friends to make the drive because I'm a longtime admirer of Bob Kinkead, the owner and chef, and this is his first new venture since he opened his very popular downtown restaurant, Kinkead's, more than ten years ago. Kinkead's has long been my favorite place in Washington to find local ingredients, particularly fish and seafood, reliably prepared and served in very comfortable surroundings. Kinkead is one of the country's leading upholders of what in the 1980s became known as New American cuisine, incorporating French techniques and regional American ingredients. (This school began with Larry Forgione's An American Place, in New York City; its current redoubts include Charlie Palmer's Aureole, also in New York, and Bradley Ogden's Lark Creek Inn, in Larkspur, California.) It's a big, masculine style of cooking, with several deep-flavored, often contrasting elements in a single dish, and rich sauces. Kinkead has stayed at the top of the Washington list because he pays close attention to a distinctly American style of service that arose at the same time the cuisine did—friendly and knowledgeable without being familiar or pretentious. He also put good live music in the downstairs bar at Kinkead's, which is an excellent place for a solo supper.
Although I visited Colvin Run just five months after it opened, it had the feel of a smooth-running, long-established operation. The customers, not at all stereotypically suburban in appearance, looked like a mixture of downtown lawyers, businesspeople, and policymakers; survivors of the dot-com boom, which originally lured the expensive chain steakhouses that until recently were the closest Tysons Corner came to haute cuisine; and intriguing cosmopolitan types who could animate a spy novel. The service at Colvin Run was nearly as polished as that at Kinkead's.
Each of the four, themed rooms, whose names evoke those of hotel conference rooms (Shenandoah, Charleston, Nantucket, Camden), is plush and comfortable in an unforced way. I was drawn to the lively warmth of the Shenandoah, with its big stone hearth, but my friends preferred the trim and spare Nantucket, for the calm that made conversation easy. (Unfortunately, it offers views of shoes, not sandals on the beach.)