Ada Lovelace, known as the first computer programmer, created a new language. I wonder about the conception of how new words are formed and how it goes from an internal thought bubble to a code communicated between strangers. I also wondered about the language of food, how instead, we use our nose, our mouths, our tongues to interpret it.
Ada’s on the River, a new restaurant on Alexandria’s waterfront named in homage to Lovelace, has written a language of its own, where textures become dialects, fire becomes an inflection and memories become a sentence.
Even on a day with hovering rain, Ada’s looks inviting alongside the Potomac River. When you enter, you immediately smell its wood-burning oven, similar to the natural, yet controlled nature of a campfire. The décor plays with openness with gold tones and light from the large river-view windows dancing off the vintage-looking dinnerware.
The natural texture of fiddle leaf fig trees balanced with the gold chain overlay on the uplighting foreshadows the intimacy that the light seeping through would provide at night.
As a bartender, I focus on idiosyncrasies — noticing at Ada’s how all the servers blend together in matching scarlet shirts, the transparency of the kitchen, where guests can see the “bones and organs” of the restaurant. You can see the natural transition from bar to back of the house to “the line” — how everything moves in unison like trains on a car, working together like a sentence.
The cocktails at Ada’s more or less enhance the flavors of their solid liquor choices, especially the Lord Byron, using sometimes-forgotten Luxardo cherry liqueur and coffee to bring new life to something old-fashioned. As a die-hard gin drinker, what was truly surprising was their Crack the Code gin-based drink with Luxardo and matcha syrup, which was the only time I ever found myself enjoying the earthiness associated with a matcha tea.
Influenced by Chef Randall’s travels to Dubai and other countries, the food plays alongside the décor’s balance of texture and earthiness, hot and cold, light and dark. Notes of citrus, fresh lemon and paprika are mixed with aioli sauce and tossed with charred flavorful Brussel sprouts and the wood-grilled Mahi Mahi sandwich.
The Crab Mac & Cheese is surprisingly light and airy, despite cheese and bread crumbs overflowing from the brim of the serving dish. The custom wood-burning oven is spotlighted in most of the choices on the menu and a la carte steak and seafood options, especially their tri-tip steak salad with cool, yet charred romaine and gem lettuce.
Unlike most restaurants, vegetarian dishes here are not an afterthought. They aren’t slapped with a soggy salad or overmixed and under-seasoned onslaught of sides leaving them hungry enough to go to Taco Bell afterward. Usually when I go to a restaurant, the vegetarian option I am constantly left with is a one-note heavy pasta, but Ada’s Smoked Ricotta Gnocchi is able to infuse that same smokiness from the steak into vegan sausage.
In psychology, the “recency effect” states that items at the beginning or end of a list are remembered best. However, it was the uniqueness of my first and last dishes that made them the most memorable. Both bridged an interaction with the guest –when the seared tuna appetizer came out, a server trickled the blood sauce over pillows of avocado mousse and sprigs of chili.
The Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé, well worth the 25-minute made-to-order wait, was cored and a citrus toffee cream was poured into the center alongside a citrus whipped cream.
The first and the last bite of the meal were just as memorable, except now, there were memories filled with endless groans of enjoyment, and enough leftovers to relive the experience at midnight.