Fri 20 Jan 2012
If you’ve ever left one of the Eat Good Food Group’s Alexandria restaurants wishing you could replicate what you just ate at home, consider yourself one step closer. Tomorrow at 6 PM, Society Fair opens its doors to the public, offering many of the ingredients used at Restaurant Eve, the Majestic, Eamonn’s, PX and Virtue Feed & Grain. Get ready to raid Chef Cathal Armstrong’s pantries.
We had an opportunity to take a look around as Rob Shinn and his team were getting ready for this week’s opening, and we were like kids in a candy store as we moved from butcher’s counter to coffee station to bakery racks. Goods we’d only read about before (being unable to find them at local grocers) were all around us. Where’s Julie Andrews to sing about “favorite things” when you need her?
Lots of pictures and your plan of attack after the jump.
First things first: don’t think of Society Fair as a wine bar. Sure, they’ve got a posh seating area with 25 wines by the glass (including 4 on tap) and a tempting menu of light fare. But focus on that, and you’re missing the forage for the trees.
Nevermind the fact that you’re not going to be able to get a seat in the wine bar anytime soon. The real reason to turn your attention away is the fact that it’s all an elaborate advertisement for the market. Everything you eat, drink – even the glassware – is available for purchase in the retail shop. So let’s turn our attention that way to begin.
Walk in the front door of the market, and you come face to face with the massive coffee station. Shinn described Society Fair’s coffee program as “aggressive,” pointing out offerings that included a daily pressed coffee, drip-poured options, and even a rotating signature seasonal drink (the first is an orange-tequila caramel latte, just to give you an idea of where they’re setting the bar).
From there, head to the right and you approach a marble table laden with cakes, pastries and assorted treats. Along the windows, you’ll see baskets of the “daily bread,” which will come out hot and fresh three times a day at Society Fair. Baker Nathan Hatfield is a veteran Eat Good Food guy, and anyone who’s ever demolished a bread basket at Restaurant Eve knows what he can do. He’ll be working with a French Pavailler oven that’s just visible through the rear window of the shop.
Walk back toward that window, and you’ll encounter a standing cooler with a well-edited selection of American and Irish cheeses. These, again, are some of Chef Armstrong’s favorites and they run the gamut from creamy and soft to firm and salty. Fromagier Justin Owens’ creations will also be available for sale at Society Fair, and we’re eager to taste them for ourselves.
Now turn your attention to the wall. See the larder menu with its hefty list of recommended meats and charcuterie? You probably won’t find every item on this board in front of you every time you stare into the butcher’s case, but Society Fair can get them for you if you ask. Even better, they can also trim the meat to your specifications and offer suggestions on how best to use it, if you’d like. Welcome back to full-service butchery.
The butcher’s counter is also the place to go to try Society Fair’s rotating menu of tempting sandwiches. We envy anyone with an office within walking – or even driving – distance. Try though we might, we just can’t find a nearby source for roasted pork shoulder with pimento aioli, sliced egg and lemon on toasted potato roll (or as they call it here, the “Spaniard’s Lunch”).
The rest of the shop is given over to a combination of prepared and packaged foods that represent everything you need to replicate a restaurant meal at home. Yogurts, olives, butters, pickles, stocks, spreads…they’re all ready and waiting for you in the coolers at Society Fair, having been made by hand the same way they are for use in the kitchen at Restaurant Eve or the Majestic. Spices are sold in small tins under the Society Fair label, ground fresh and likely to be far more flavorful than those red-capped jars gathering dust in your cabinets.
Cocktails more your culinary style? General Manager and “liquid savant” Todd Thrasher’s contributions to Society Fair include packaged versions of his homemade tonic, his dirty martini mix, and even his cocktail onions. A whole table is given over to the bar tools and mixers he prefers, including Bittermens bitters and Dolin vermouth.
Okay…now we can head into the wine bar and take a peek at the menu. Each of the wines available by the glass is accompanied by helpful – and less helpful – tasting notes. One sparkling wine is “charcuterie pairing perfection,” while a Spanish white is described as a “crowd pleaser? Not so much.” And how can you resist a wine that’s “u-turn on rte. 29 good?’ Glasses run from $8 to $22, with most in the $10-12 range. ”Professor” Sommelier John Wabeck is someone whose taste in wine we’ve enjoyed since his days at Firefly, and we’re looking forward to trying some of his latest selections by the bottle and the glass.
Just like Virtue Feed & Grain’s beer-centered bar offers a few inventive “hoptails” for those who want something different, Society Fair invites you to try their “vin-tails,” which are described as “artisanal wine influenced libations.” They blend white wines with spirits, bitters and botanicals to play up the wines natural inclinations in drinks like the “Pleasantly Bitter Beginning.” We’re suckers for Todd Thrasher’s creations, so put us down for two right now.
At the end of the bar is a full demonstration kitchen with seating for ten. Three-course dinners will be prepared and served by reservation only Tuesday through Saturday. They’ll have a single $45 seating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 PM, and two $55 seatings on Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 and 9 PM. Each night’s menu will be guided by a different theme, and there are plans to bring in guest chefs and eventually expand the offerings to include wine and cocktail classes, as well.
So when and how should you get there? If you just can’t wait for tomorrow’s official 6 PM opening, rumor has it you’ll be able to stop by the market at lunchtime today for a sandwich or any of their prepared goods. Once they’re fully up and running, the market will open at 7:30 AM and close at 10 PM daily, and the wine bar will open at 11:30 AM and close at 10 PM (though Friday and Saturday nights may run later than that). Society Fair will offer parking in an underground garage accessible via Columbus Street (turn west onto Duke Street from Washington and then make your first right).
The only thing you won’t be able to buy at Society Fair is the years of training and know-how that go into those dishes. Guess you’ll just have to keep practicing.