Arlington, VA

“The menu was kind of all over the place,” acknowledged Dennis Holland, the new general manager of Mad Rose Tavern (3100 Clarendon Blvd).

Holland was echoing the thoughts of many who had tried out the new Clarendon eatery and wondered what exactly it was trying to be. It seemed to be a mash-up of several restaurant concepts — a perception that was probably close to reality, given the differing visions of its initial management team and its owner.

The Clarendon eatery has gone through some messy management changes over the past month, including the recent departure of executive chef Johnny Nielson, and the new team is now trying to turn over a new leaf. To that end, Holland has hired a new chef — a fellow veteran of the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in the District — and has embarked upon a complete revamp of Mad Rose’s menu.

With the exception of the pigs in a blanket, don’t expect much to stay the same, food-wise. Among the expected additions to the menu are:

  • Calamari — Fried and tossed with a Thai BBQ sauce, served over rice noodles
  • Roast Pork Rib — Slow-roasted pork, sweet potato hash, and truffle demi-glaze
  • Chicken Zydeco — Chicken sauteed with roasted peppers, scallion, andouille, garlic, crimini mushrooms tossed with penne and Cajun cream sauce
  • Shrimp and Grits — Jumbo Shrimp sauteed with crawfish tails and served over gouda grits and a Creole cream sauce
  • Blackened Sea Bass — Pan roasted and served over rice with sweet chili champagne sauce
  • Seared Scallops — Pan seared and served over mango salsa and micro greens with a citrus sauce

Although the eatery’s lounge business is going well — and they’re happy with the existing beer selection — Holland acknowledged that Mad Rose’s food business needs work. In addition to ramping up the restaurant business with the deployment of a new dinner menu, Holland says he’s hoping to attract lunch customers with $5 burger and chicken sandwich options and weekend customers with a Saturday and Sunday brunch menu.

The restaurant should be given a lift later next month, when Holland expects the county to approve Mad Rose’s plan for sidewalk seating. Once the additional outdoor seating is in place (there’s already an outdoor patio on the lounge side of the business) Holland says Mad Rose will host a grand opening party.

To further entice new customers, Mad Rose will be implementing daily happy hour specials, including deals like $2 Bud and Miller Lite or $4 mojitos and margaritas, depending on which day of the week it is. But don’t expect the restaurant to try to become another Spider Kelly’s. Holland and another new manager, Damon Stuermann, said that Mad Rose is comfortable attracting a more mature clientele and doesn’t have any plans to include dancing to its entertainment line-up. It does, however, plan on eventually applying for a live entertainment permit. And expect special events like scotch tastings and cigar nights.

Holland says that talk of the management changes has belied the fact that much of the wait staff and kitchen staff has remained the same. Mad Rose has excelled at providing friendly service, he says, and now it’s time for it to serve food “that [we] can be proud of.”

“You’re only as good as you last meal,” he says.

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