Idylwood Grill & Wine Bar 2190B Pimmit Drive, Falls Church; 703-992-0915; www.idylwoodgrill.com Average entree: $21 to $30 ($$$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday.
Idylwood’s take on Tunisia: lamb sausage and navy beans.
I’ve yet to wander into the Idylwood Grill and not find founder/owner Hedi Ben-Abdallah sharing a bottle (or two) of wine with some clearly enthralled group of restaurant regulars.
Why settle for jawboning about wine when experiencing it firsthand is on the table?
The cozy neighborhood restaurant/retail operation fields around 100 different wines (global reach; most under $100), including 40 by-the-glass selections ($6-$13 a pop) and a fluid roster of “guest wines” culled from recent finds.
Ben-Abdallah expresses an affinity for cabernet and shiraz from Australia, pinot noir from Argentina or New Zealand and viognier and syrah from California’s Central Coast, whereas he suggests general manager Martin Escudero remains partial to Argentinean malbecs, California zinfandels and Chilean carmenere.
The 2007 Macon-Lugny “Les Charmes” Chardonnay laid out the best of Burgundy, flooding my nostrils with lemon, splashing grapefruit on the tongue (dug those flashes of sour) and, thankfully, eschewing the meddling woodiness favored by shortcut-seeking winemakers.
A glass of 2007 Farnese Sangiovese spoke of dried pepper and purple fruit, with tannins that clung to my teeth and surprising depth that left me licking my lips in anticipation of the next sip.
Ben-Abdallah makes a point of posting recommended pairings for all their daily specials, but otherwise invites guests to try their hand at ferreting out the perfect wine to complement chef Marvin Hernandez’s Mediterranean-style cuisine.
Mussels steeped in white wine and butter (supporting cast of garlic, onions, tomatoes and capers packs a garden of flavor into every bite) are an exercise in tempered richness and pickled pop.
A plate of Merguez sausages buoyed by simmered beans and smoky harissa—“The only dish from my home country, Tunisia,” Ben-Abdallah notes—is plentiful, but somewhat bottom-heavy. The lamb links are genuinely delicious, but wind up looking somewhat skimpy reclining atop the mountain of barbecue-like navy beans.
Artichoke hearts (well-placed agents of acid and grassiness) and grilled salmon—the gingerly charred edges and tips smack of smoke while the remaining flesh conveys only a passing acquaintance with open flame—give gnocchi new life, riffing smartly off the herby notes imprinted on the pesto-covered dumplings.