With its grand opening last November, Leek American Bistro introduced Ballston to its modern American cuisine. And it’s a curious and playful thing, full of refined dishes reminiscent of southern home-style traditions and other regional fare that toys with the influences of other lands in a way both enjoyable and familiar to the American diner.
But the food isn’t the only thing of wonder at Leek. The elegant way dinner is served makes the menu all the more exciting. Tall leather chairs are situated around the tables, each draped in a white tablecloth and illuminated by candlelight. Large windows wrap around the corner restaurant, giving nearly every seat a view. Menu selections, appetizers included, come with not just a wine pairing, but with a recommended beer and cocktail, too. And then there’s the bread. A basket of warm focaccia and plate of oil and pesto are a welcome kindness from the kitchen in times when few things are gratis.
Inquisitiveness pulls in all directions from picking the very first dish on this eclectic menu. One might embrace the Asian influences of ahi tuna tartare in ginger-chili mayo or the Korean-style short ribs, stay local by indulging in steamed mussels with Virginia ham, choose a soup or salad in gourmet treatment, or dive right into the Pulled Pork Biscuits ($9).
From a distance, the biscuits might look like sliders with their rounded, golden crowns topping a meaty filling, the pair served plated on either end of a stack of French fries. But a bite reveals otherwise. Within this dense sandwich, smoky barbecue flavors of Carolina pulled pork are accented by a little sweetness by way of homemade apple jam, a surprising and delicious combination.
Entrees are divided between and Mains and the Handhelds. It’s an all-American feast on this sandwich menu, of Maryland Crabcake and Maine Lobster Roll, with the interestingly esoteric picks of the Louisville Hot Brown and the Iowa Skinny. But no matter which region they hail from, diners can all agree on the merits of a cheeseburger, and the Leek Bistro Burger ($10) joins that proud tradition. The diner’s choice of cheese, a ground beef patty cooked to order, and some hickory-smoked bacon make for a solid sandwich, and the garlic fries that join the Bistro Burger are a flavorful take on the standard side.
The Mains reflect the way this restaurant can dress up old stand-bys and infuse them with international flair: Pork and beans are reimagined as braised pork shank and a ham and bean cassoulet; salmon, falafel-crusted, comes with a roasted garlic-garbanzo puree. The Seared Duck Breast ($23), with its sides of tea-poached pear slices and a pickled daikon salad goes East for inspiration, but the duck could find itself on any menu. The duck breast – sliced into pieces with a juicy pink center for a medium rare order, each with a thin, crispy skin – is just dreamily succulent.
A few inventive picks make the dessert menu. The Sweet Corn Panna Cotta ($10), creamy panna cotta with sweet corn bubbling to the top coupled on the plate with a trail of caramel corn, and the Black Sesame-Pear Tea Cake ($10), a block of the slightly sweet cake topped with a mound of coconut gelato, mix flavors and textures intriguingly. Such desserts ensure the meal closes on the same delightful contemplation that marks dining at Leek, an experience that is, in its own unique way, fun, elegant, and ultimately delicious.
Leek American Bistro is located at 801 N. Quincy St., Arlington. For more information, call 571-312-4036 or visit leekbistro.com. Restaurant hours are Monday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Tuesday – Friday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Saturday: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.; and Sunday: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.