Element: Eclectic Menu, Friendly Atmosphere, Great Food

First published in Valley Homes and Style.

dsc_0052A new site is in store for two of Front Royal’s more innovative restaurants. Element and Apartment 2g are moving to a new location in the city.  The current location will be getting a facelift and opening as another concept, likely in the fall according to one of the owners, David Gedney.

There are so many reasons that we go out to eat. It’s a way to connect with friends and a way to try new food combinations or sometimes it’s just a way to enjoy having someone else prepare and cleanup after a meal.

At Element in Front Royal, especially on the weeknights when we visited, it seems to be about the camaraderie. The clientele is predominantly local. Diners greet one another with the words, “Hey, how are you doing? What have you been up to?”

The variety on the ever-changing menu could be one reason for the repeat customers, although the comfortable atmosphere no doubt contributes as well.

The restaurant seats no more than two dozen diners; the tables closest to the window have nice natural light, while the tables further back have romantic lighting from candles and indirect light from track lights that highlight the eclectic multimedia artwork hanging on the walls. Along the north side of the restaurant, bench seats with a soft velvety cushion line the wall. The deep colors and sleek art contribute to a modern feeling that hints of bohemian energy. In the very back, a bar seats a few more diners.

As we settle in to try the latest creations of chef/owners David and Stacy Gedney, we start with the beverage list.

The beer and wine list had a wide selection, which is enhanced by a large rack of wines for sale at retail prices. If Element’s wine list wasn’t sufficient, diners could select one of the dozens of bottles for sale then pay a corking fee to have them served with dinner. The special Spanish rioja with an affordable $6 per glass price tag, written on the specials chalkboard in pink, looked like a good way to start the meal.

For a starter, our choices ranged from a cheese tray or a traditional Caesar salad to Korean beef tacos. According to our waiter – it was his first day – the salads are the most popular; he hadn’t seen anyone order the beef tacos yet that evening. He laughed as he explained his limitations.

Always interested in cultural flavors – and curious what kind of fusion we’d find in a Korean taco in Front Royal – we decided to buck the trend and try the beef tacos.

Our waiter was enthusiastic about our choice, when he delivered the two tacos that comprise the appetizer portion. Tender beef slices still dripping with a Korean sauce were centered on the 6-inch soft flaky flour tortillas – the perfect size to split among the three of us. The sweet-spicy combo was a great one-two punch for the taste buds.  A carrot, cabbage and red pepper slaw added a nice crunch, all while adding a slightly sweet flavor profile. The tacos really did look Mexican, but the Korean taste shone through – and it really was Korean rather than a generic Asian flavor.

In dining out what quietly calls us back to a restaurant is the sense of trust established between restaurant and diner – for example, the menu’s description versus the food delivered to your table. In accurately delivering on Korean tacos we are then subtly encouraged to consider future ethnic adventures. The Gedneys change up the menu at least seasonally, but also change it based on what sells and what customers like. While we may have been one of the first to try the Korean tacos, the international flavors are one of the alternatives they like to offer diners.

“I am inspired by different cuisines all around the world. Our menu reflects that by covering a variety of selections to choose from,” David says.

As diners, we benefitted from the Gedneys’ experimental bent. The Shenandoah Valley is often better known for mountain vistas and country cooking, rather than ethnic food diversity.

Our waiter was more than willing to put in our appetizer and drink order, while we continued to peruse the seven or so entrée selections, which included selections that were beef, pork, seafood, chicken and quail, although the quail wasn’t available during our visit. Our party of three opted for a chicken, a scallop and a pork dish.

The chicken was the most traditional of the three: Pan-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, spinach and au jus. The flavors were comforting, without a dominant herb or spice.  The thin au jus carried the poultry flavor into the potatoes, while the sautéed spinach resting atop the dish gave a splash of color and a complementary earthy flavor.

The pork on the other hand was stuffed with cheese and served over a bed of angel hair pasta and marinara sauce. It was a large portion with the tender pork dominating the plate. The marinara was thick and chunky with a rich tomato flavor reminiscent of summer’s best tomatoes.

The scallops were the subtlest of the three. Beautifully seared to a golden brown crust, the inside was evenly cooked throughout and still moist. Arranged in circle around a center of citrus-laced orzo with just a hint of kale and dappled with an orange beurre blanc sauce, the citrus flavors punctuated this dish but still blended nicely with the ocean taste of the scallops. The sometimes-bitter taste of kale didn’t come through at all, with the sweeter tastes dominating.

According to their Web site, David trained at The California Culinary Academy and attributes his love of cooking to his parents. Stacy has foodie roots as well. Her mother had a small cake business, and Stacy started her own catering business when she was in high school, preparing bagged lunches for local business people. She attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

The couple met at the Inn at Little Washington where Stacy was morning kitchen supervisor and David was lead sauté. They changed jobs, but continued to live in the valley. When the Front Royal location was available, it presented the couple with an opportunity.

“We grew to love the town and decided to make it home for us and our business,” David says.

The couple grows a wide variety of herbs and produce, but not everything. During the housing crash, cost and quality were considerations when the duo was planning their garden.

“Stacy and I used to work at the Ashby Inn and really enjoyed working with the products we grew,” David says.

Element is only one of chef/owners David and Stacy Gedney’s establishments. They also serve up a prix fixe menu upstairs only on Saturday nights in a restaurant dubbed Apartment 2g. The offerings there are even more upscale.

“Apartment 2g was our first restaurant. It was open five days a week. We did tapas two nights a week, our five-course prix fixe on Friday and Saturday nights, and brunch on Sundays. We would typically be full on Friday and Saturday, but tapas and brunch were more sporadic. Apartment 2g’s mission was to serve fine food without pretense. Element’s mission was to reach a broader customer base than Apartment 2g by providing a casual bistro type environment,” says David.

That leaves another restaurant to try on another evening. Tonight, we were trying Element.

At Element another dining option is take-away meals – particularly with the bottled wine sales and the lunch menu – Element offers the alternative to take a meal home or to pack up to picnic for the nearby Skyline Drive.

For dessert, our group of three decided to share two desserts: The Nectarine and Cherry Crisp and the Raspberry Chocolate Mousse Pavlova. The crisp was served bubbling hot with whipped cream, the flavors light and refreshing. Recently cut herb sprigs graced the top of the plate. A staff recommendation for the Raspberry Chocolate Mousse Pavlova was right on target, appealing to the chocoholic in each of us. The homemade chocolate mousse in a meringue shell with raspberry coulis was delectable. The size alone would recommend it, but the taste would really draw you in. Not too sweet, but with a combination of crunch and creaminess.

So yummy.

Our dinner extended to over two hours, but the friendly comfortable atmosphere and good pace of food service hit the spot.

While the dining room added coziness on the drizzly spring day when we were dining, an al fresco patio dining opened up recently. Not only did it open up the opportunity for outdoor seating, but also doubled the seating capacity of the restaurant.

But with a new location in the offing, diners will be able to find the same delicious food in a completely new Front Royal location. Since the opening date is a moving target, call to see exactly what – and where – the Gedneys are cooking.

Pam and her husband, Tim, travel throughout the Valley looking for their favorite restaurants, and are happy to share their finds with you. If you have a suggestion for a review, please email tplettie@visuallink.com.




Element soon to move to new location in Front Royal





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