They just might despise me at Zed. My last review was less than flattering, and when I cruise down Lakeside Avenue to pick up dog food across the street, I sense a daggerlike vibe emanating in my general direction from inside the restaurant. Or maybe I'm just paranoid wait, do you see a target on my back, or is that just me?
Zed, however, is entirely different from my previous encounters. I was itching to get back for one compelling reason: Bill Foster.
Foster took over as executive chef of Zed's kitchen in the fall and his pedigree is impeccable. He's a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who not only worked at Virginia's executive mansion and for A Sharper Palate, but also earned spots in the kitchens of our two national culinary stars, Jimmy Sneed and Dale Reitzer. He's a man who knows his way around the ahi and truffle mashed potatoes, and I wanted to give him every chance to impress me.
He's also committed to working with local purveyors and directly with local farmers. In its previous incarnation, Zed's commitment to the organic and sustainable was a little fuzzy, but Foster's vision is razor-sharp. Bring in the best from places like the Flour Garden, Belmont Butchery and Victory Farm, and it's a little like being the coach of an all-star team instead of trying to whip the Bad News Bears into shape through sheer perseverance (and bourbon). Half of your work is already done.
Foster and his team more than take care of the other half. The lavish roasted-beet salad is sweet and punctuated with mild, creamy goat cheese and crunchy walnuts. The white anchovies are sharp with a bracing vinaigrette and lots of capers over fresh greens, and while my only complaint is that there isn't enough of it, the generously filled glasses of French and Italian wines can easily distract me until the main course arrives.
Although the citron oolong-brined pork doesn't taste very much like tea (I'm not sure what that would taste like anyway), it's so very juicy and the greens are so slithery and full of good salt that it makes me forget about menu descriptions and the unfulfilling pinto beans on the other side of the plate. An unremarkable creamy slaw paired with gorgeously golden seared scallops takes a mental adjustment, but the cold and hot ultimately find a place that works well together.
The snapper is as meaty as tuna and slightly off-medium, which gives it a compelling juiciness, and the earthy lentils and asparagus bring it down to the level of comfort food. I think the red pepper sauce is superfluous, but it rounds out the plate visually by bordering it nicely with red. The lamb loin, bloody rare, is the star of the menu and languidly receives adulation from the sticky, cheesy risotto that supports it. With the constant arrival of fresh, unasked-for slices of excellent bread to mop up the juices, it's difficult not to find that happy, Zen-like state that Zed's mission statement implies.
Dessert is fine, although a little uneven, with the hard, brown crust of the almond cake detracting from its dense pound-cake interior and the abundance of strawberries in the sauce flanking it. A perfectly rendered classic crème brûlée absolves a multitude of confectionery sins, however, and next time, the flourless chocolate cake will get my full attention.
With a constantly changing menu reflecting what's freshest in our area at the moment, Zed can only get better and better as Foster develops new relationships and sources more of the best ingredients. It's finally become a restaurant with an easy philosophy that not only satiates your conscience but also makes your mouth and belly mostly full of joy as well. S
5109 Lakeside Ave.
Tuesday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Nonsmoking and handicapped accessible