Northern Virginia residents looking to taste dishes from around the world without leaving the area are in luck. Reston’s Vinifera restaurant hosts monthly "World Tour Dinners" that showcase international cuisine. Countries featured throughout this past year include Spain and Portugal, South America, and Italy.
These dinners are the brainchild of chef Bo Palker, who first came up with the idea about four years ago when he started working at Vinifera.
"It’s outstanding because the food is so different," says Palker of the special meals. He’s worked with people from all over the world and sometimes uses his colleagues as reference points when he comes up with a menu.
He’s even had a diner from Poland who said her dish was as close to her country’s authentic food as she’s ever come in the United States. And Palker even imports some of the ingredients used in the dishes from the country being featured to boot.
Back in July, I attended Vinifera’s South American dinner. The restaurant is located in the The Westin Reston Heights inside of an office complex. It offers a nice atmosphere and sets itself apart from the mostly chain restaurants at the nearby Reston Town Center.
The restaurant has a spacious lounge area, a bar, and a light-filled dining room. One highlight here is the patio that comes complete with heat lamps so customers can eat alfresco even when the temperatures drop. Palker also grows oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and heirloom tomatoes on the patio, and then incorporates them into his gourmet dishes. According to Palker, roughly 100 people attend each World Tour dinner.
For a starter, I choose the smoked pork empanada that came with pebre and guasacaca sauces. This was by far my favorite dish. The flaky moon-shaped empanadas had just the right amount of spices and the sauces complemented the dish well. Although all the presenations here were impressive and Instagram-worthy, I loved the simplicity of this one. It was served on a dish that had two individual compartments on the side for the dipping sauces with one middle space that was just big enough for the two empananadas. I opted to drink a white torrontés wine from Argentina. It was very full-bodied — both sweet and a little dry — and made a great addition to my entire meal.
My entrée, chimichuri mahimahi served with pineapple salsa and yucca chips, was another highlight. The portion was extremely generous. Although the fish did fall apart somewhat, as to be expected with mahimahi, I loved what topped the fish. The salad served alongside it tasted fresh from the garden. For dessert, I opted for the tres leches with a splash of rum and caramelized meringue. The rum notes were a little too strong for my liking (although I do love a rum-infused libation), but it was just sweet enough. I capped off my meal of with an impossibly smooth latte.
Overall, Vinifera offers diners a nice reprieve from the highly commercialized Reston Town Center chain options. The setting is professional, but relaxed enough to hold informal gatherings, too. Although this restaurant is somewhat tucked away off Sunrise Valley Drive, it’s worth finding.
Prices range from $38 to $50 per person for a prix fixe World Tour Dinner without wine, depending on the dinner. Wine packages that include one glass of wine per course are also available for purchase. For more information about Vinifera’s World Tour Dinner series and to view upcoming dinners, please visit the restaurant website.