ALEXANDRIA, VA- You’ve probably driven by Tempo at 4231 Duke St. a dozen times and wondered what this simple little white building was all about. Wonder no more. Tempo, conceived by Wendy and Serge Albert some 29 years ago, features a menu of French and Italian dishes reflecting Serge’s background of growing up in Toulouse, France with Italian parentage. Wendy has been in the restaurant business for years including working at Portner’s and Bilbo Baggins.
Inside the main dining room is a comfortable collection of white tablecloth covered tables with sparkling crystal and tableware. The room lighting makes menu reading easy. The noise level is pleasant and you don’t feel like you are sharing your meal with the table next to you. The walls are covered with whimsical pictures of chickens, eggs, and duckies. And to think this used to be a gas station.
Tempo offers a nice selection of wines both by the glass and by the bottle that will complement your meal. Wendy chose a flavorful Pinot Noir to accompany our meal. There is also a full bar menu available including a wide selection of beers. The restaurant offers a Monday and Tuesday dinner special where you can enjoy a three course dinner for two with a selected bottle of house wine.
Our meal began with a collection of cold and hot appetizers. The Carpaccio is a plate of slice tenderloin on a bed of garlic vinaigrette, capers, and parmesan. Words like light, delectable, tender, and flavorful come to mind with each bite. The Salmon Gravlax is a worthy competitor composed of house cured, dilled salmon served on a chilled plate with thinly sliced red onions. The flavor is exceptional. The rich salmon flavor belies the freshness and quality of the salmon. Could I love the Calamari Salad more? The rings of calamari are firm yet tender, just the slightest bit of chew. The lemon dressing was the perfect foil to the seafood – so good that we sopped up the remaining dressing with a piece of bread. Hot appetizers also excel. Wendy said the Oysters Rockefeller would be the best we had ever eaten and I have to agree. The oysters, from upstate New York, Long Island, were briny and barely warmed through, topped with spinach, cream sauce, and Parmesan cheese. My picky guest said she doesn’t like oysters but offered to try one. She ate two! She said she would eat oysters every day if they were prepared with the kind of finesse of this kitchen. If the kitchen has prepared the house made agnolotti pasta, order it. These tender little pasta pillows were filled with spinach and ricotta, covered in a creamy panna sauce. Once the pasta was gone (quickly!), we sopped up the remaining sauce.
Appetizers include several fresh mussels’ preparations and oysters both fresh and gratinee. Try a soup if you are in the mood. There is a delightful Two Beans and Pasta made of black and white beans with pasta. Garnish with a bit of olive oil to be transported to Italy!
We would have been happy had the meal ended there but we were served up more delights. The Medaillon de Boeuf au Roquefort is a wonder. Thinly sliced beef medallions, cooked to order, are covered with a Roquefort cheese, mustard, and cream sauce. The beef was very tender and the sauce was beyond amazing. Served with pommes dauphine and an assortment of seasonal vegetables, plate was a combination of beauty and flavor. We were treated to Sogiola con Granchio -fresh flounder with lump crabmeat, zucchini, and tomatoes in a sweet red pepper sauce. As much as I love beef, I loved the flounder even more. The fish was very fresh and cooked to exact doneness. Each bite was remarkable. The fish and crabmeat were perfect foils for each other – each so flavorful in their own right.
Splurge on the homemade pastas. Serge updates his mother’s recipes with offerings such as Capelli d’Angelo Napoletana made with very thin egg pasta topped with tomato, garlic, and basil. Vegetarians will love it. The Linguine “Frutti di Mare” is enjoyable dish of linguini with seafood in a light tomato sauce. You can satisfy meat eaters with favorites such as Scaloppine di Vitelo Marsala with fresh mushrooms and marsala. Or, try the Scaloppine di Vitello “Rosa” with tender veal cooked with sweet red peppers, garlic, oregano, and tomato. You’ll find the classic Steak Diablo on the menu featuring a New York Strip steak with black pepper and whole mustard seeds. The seasonal specialty menu offers a variety of dishes including pasta, seafood, and meat. It’s soft shell season so look for the Molecche all’Erbe with two jumbo soft shell crabs sauted in a shallot-butter sauce with fresh herbs.
Vegetarians can delight in the fresh mozzarella and vine ripened tomatoes with basil or the asparagi all’ Agro – fresh asparagus in a light vinaigrette. The Asparagi Parmigiana features that same asparagus served hot and covered in melted Parmesan. The Avocado Imperiale is a Hass avocado topped with lump crabmeat with a creamy white wine sauce.
Save room for dessert. Your server will bring out a tray covered with choices. There are fresh season berries like strawberries and blueberries. The pastries include key lime pie, crème au caramel, flourless chocolate cake, various tarts, cream puffs, apple galette, tiramisu, and their award-winning panna cotta. It was ‘ll take hard not to say I’ll take one of everything, but we made our choices. The apple galette, served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be something could eat every day. The crust was light and tasty and the apples were firm slices that were tart with a bit of sweetness. I can’t actually tell you about the key lime pie because my guest did not offer to share – it was that good. In between bites, she offered it was one of the best she had ever eaten. The panna cotta won the Kid’s Favorite Award at the 2019 Carpenter’s Shelter Cookoff. The panna cotta did not disappoint. Flavored with caramel, it was soft yet firm with all of the delicate flavor you would expect from panna cotta.
Tempo is no run-of-the-mill Italian/French restaurant. The personal touch provided by Wendy and Serge is evident with every dish that comes out of the kitchen and the personable table service. They are ably assisted by Achilles at the front door, and our lovely server, Palma. The restaurant is lovely, a perfect place a nice lunch or dinner or special occasion. There is a private dining room where you can entertain a large group of friends. Go soon, and go often.
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