Montgomery County Gazette Review:: 2010
Milan-born and Bethesda-bred chef Tony Marciante knows food and Bethesda. He was executive chef at the Bethesda McCormick & Schmick's before opening Visions in November 2007. Earlier this summer, the 23-year veteran of the business re-envisioned the restaurant, the fourth he has owned. The new name reflects that it is his kind of cooking experience and he's behind it. His business card reads: Chef Tony Marciante, Chef Proprietor & CSO (Chief Seafood Officer).
Reached by telephone just as he was leaving to go the market, Marciante shares his philosophy: "Keep it simple. Keep it fresh. If you have great ingredients, you don't have to do much." Keep it seasonal as well.
He describes his "simple, clean flavors" as "rustic gourmet." Chef Tony's is not a pretentious place, he declares. Rather, it's a place where he wants people to come to have a good time.
One menu at dinner features smaller, tapas-style plates possibly attuned to those who wish to sit at the bar with a glass of wine. The other menu, consisting of starters, main plates and finishes (desserts), is keyed to the market basket and changes daily.
Nonetheless, the chef admits that some items, like the deftly fried calamari with peppers, lemon and basil aioli that we enjoy, the grilled Caesar salad with a balsamic reduction and the filet mignon satay among the starters, are perennials.
Not to be missed is the tempura soft shell crab dressed with fennel and celery slaw. A fellow at another table requested two as a main plate for an upcharge. The mussels with tomato, garlic, Chardonnay and more than a grace note of salt are plump and tasty.
In the main plates, seafood shines. The generous seven-ounce Maryland crabcake served with Old Bay fries and aioli is a perennial, popular with diners, and this diner, too.
Perfectly seared scallops appear on a bed of al dente yellow lentils with asparagus spears. The dish is a lesson in restraint.
A rich mushroom risotto and carnival (purple and white) cauliflower complement Alaskan sockeye salmon that the kitchen treats with respect.
A friend relishes his herb-infused, whole grilled black bass with summer corn, zucchini and tomatoes but not the effort it takes to debone it. (He'd surely appreciate the experienced waiter encountered elsewhere who skillfully dispatched that task.)
Other finny possibilities include baked Boston cod with heirloom tomatoes and pan-seared freshwater trout with farm-stand tomatoes and asparagus.
The accent may be on seafood, but carnivores will find a six-ounce filet mignon with demi-glace, onions and Peruvian potatoes and a six-ounce fresh bison New York strip with chimichurri and Peruvian purple potatoes. For vegans, a seasonal farm stand vegetable plate may satisfy.
In his black chef's coat, Marciante makes his way around the room. If he had stopped by later, we might have asked about the unusual green apple tart — a thin layer of concentrated apple puree on a sweet rich crust, a small pool of caramel sauce and a sprinkling of caramel powder or the deconstructed ice cream sundae or sweet potato "pie."
We definitely appreciate the large mug full of strong coffee to cap off the meal.
Red glass fixtures perk up the dining room, illuminating some tables while leaving others in shadow. The bar divides the narrow 85-seat restaurant into two rooms. The back one can be used for private parties and business functions. Marciante calls the side walkway he converted into an intimate alcove with five tables for two, "lovers' lane."
"Whatever happens there stays in there," he jests. "Diners either love that area or hate it."
A few things to note: Marciante will adjust his daily menu to diners' dietary needs (including gluten-free meals) when alerted in advance. The restaurant is closed Mondays, but available for private parties that day. Wine is half-price on Sunday and Tuesday at dinner. A two-course lunch is offered for $12.95. Dinner seating is until 8 p.m. The third Thursday night of the month is comedy night, featuring local and national talent. Next one: Sept. 16.
Chef Tony's is across the street from a municipal parking garage and three blocks from the Bethesda Metro station.