Bethesda's Relic fuses trendy with traditional tapas
Fusion is the successful combination of ingredients and techniques from very different cultures and countries, and a lot of mixing and matching is going on at Relic Restaurant, Bar and Lounge. The décor is a playful collision of over the top baroque ornaments including empty gilded frames, plush leather sofas with faux zebra hide finishes, elaborate (faux) moose antler chandeliers, bar stools that are real bridle saddles, and oversized portraits of King Henry VIII and his notoriously unfortunate second wife Anne Boleyn. On the menu, traditional Mediterranean tapas are featured alongside Executive Chef Patrick Waffo Gassion's more eclectic signature entrees.
Apparently, Relic's frog legs with garlic mayonnaise are so popular that they routinely run out. Fortunately, the calamari is crisp and fresh with a luxurious marinara sauce flavored with a hint of toasted cumin. The spinach, artichoke and crab dip is creamy and well seasoned, with a slightly browned crust of toasted parmesan cheese on top; however, the dish is shallow and the crab is scarce. Four links of handmade Merguez sausages, ground lamb spiked with an authentic intensity of Moroccan Harissa chili sauce and dressed with a garnish of sweet tomatoes and briny olives, make for a great appetizer to go with the house sangria or stronger cocktails. Purely vegetable tapas include the Tuscan potatoes, large diced, browned with olive oil and flavored with plenty of garlic and rosemary.
The pasta used to make ravioli stuffed with cheese is cooked to a perfect al dente, and quality cheese provides a creamy, slightly salty and tangy filling. While whole sage leaves wilted in butter make a nice garnish, the ravioli arrive in a bowl drenched in too much drawn butter. Penne Bolognese consists of plentiful penne pasta tossed in a spicy cream sauce with browned ground veal, minced chilies and diced vegetables.
Asked for entrée recommendations, our server steered us to the skirt steak with good reason. A large portion of beef is perfectly seasoned with plenty of pepper, and grilled just right. The little dish of dark Beaujolais sauce doesn't add much joy, so it's just as well that it's served on the side. And the accompanying buttered spinach is nicely wilted rather than mushy or greasy.
So far, the element of fusion on the menu has been rather tame, with dishes mostly conservative renditions of traditional Mediterranean fare. However, the featured special of the night is a filet of wild salmon served with coconut sauce. While the ample portion of salmon is tasty and fresh with a slightly crunchy breading, the coconut sauce is bland and oily, the flavor more sun dried tomato than coconut. The potato gratin is pleasantly cheesy with good spice, and although the grilled asparagus has a pleasant char, it is too tough and raw. The fine dice of peppers and the drizzle of sour cream make the simplest and best flourish on the whole dish.
The veggie wrap is a delicious vegetarian entrée. The ratatouille of peppers, eggplant, onions, tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms and lettuce is rolled in soft tortilla-like flatbread, then grilled, and served with either french fries or the aforementioned Tuscan potatoes. The kitchen did a great job of packing this wrap to go. Of the desserts, both the apple and the mango sorbets, served in tall martini glasses with a fresh baked cookie, are refreshing and fruity with a pleasantly crystallized slushy crunch. And the chocolate mélange is an airy yet rich mousse of dark and light chocolate served with fresh berries and two delicious sauces.
Open for five months, Relic is gaining traction with the urban chic crowd in search of the next trendy lounge. Probing beyond the décor and façade, the place is clean and tidy and the food merits attention for its more traditional Mediterranean fare. Service staff need to focus on clearing plates before bringing more food, and while the solid wood lounge tables are sophisticated, they are a little wobbly under the action of a steak, knife and fork. The place is well-lit during the dinner hour, and the eclectic interior will entrance children. At dinner, the music is trance-like without being too loud or too chic, and as the evening wears on, the volume goes up, the lights go down and tables are cleared to make room for dancing.
Relic is a splashy venue that has culinary legs, just not enough frog legs to keep up with demand.