As water dripped down the ice sculpture commissioned for the restaurant's grand reopening celebration, the symbolism was hard to ignore: Here was Indigo Landing, literally thawing in front of its patrons.
The Star Restaurant group opened the waterfront eatery last year as a high-end edition to Alexandria's culinary scene, featuring executive chef Bryan Moscatello's innovative low-country menu. It closed its doors last winter, and emerged in March with Star out of the picture. "As this juncture, Star Restaurant Group is redirecting its focus to concentrate on our new Italian restaurant and bakery in downtown Washington," said president Dan Mesches in a statement.
So Indigo Landing fell to Guest Services, a National Park Service concessionaire that originally opened the restaurant with Star. Immediately, the focus and feeling of the dining room/bar overlooking the Potomac shifted to something more approachable.
"It was more upscale. It’s nice to go a little more casual, but we’re working hard to keep the quality of service, as well as food, that we had before," said general manager Kari Ottaviano.
The ambiance of the dining room, with its spectacular views and nautical theme, hasn't changed much. But Ottaviano and Guest Services sought to bring the restaurant back in line with what drew patrons to its former incarnations — a casual, classy vibe that spotlighted the relaxing aspects of its setting. For example, Indigo Landing reintroduced the popular Jazz night on Wednesdays and during Sunday brunch.
From a cuisine standpoint, that meant dumping the low-country theme in favor of a variety of selections from different genres.
"We have several chefs that worked very hard, and everybody put in a little of their own flair," said Ottaviano.
Executive Chef Ernesto Pabico said the new menu stresses selection.
"I can do French, Italian, Oriental…all that jazz. It’s all cooking for me," he said. "People want to come down and not think, ‘Oh, it’s all Southern food.’"
PABICO IS ORIGINALLY from the Philippines, and the way the food is prepared there has influenced his cooking here.
"Everything back there is fresh," he said.
So he makes 90 percent of the menu from scratch, from entrees to sauces. Chop-house style dishes at Indigo Landing including Hickory Roasted Prime Rib that's served with a creamy horseradish sauce and a natural au jus. The beef and chicken served at the restaurant — frequently in its wood-fired grill — are raised with no antibiotics or artificial growth hormones, according to Pabico.
Overall, Indigo Landing wanted to become more eco-friendly in its new incarnation. "We do sustainable seafood. Stuff that’s line-caught, stuff that’s not over-fished," said Ottaviano.
"We really wanted to go in that direction — a little more green," she said. "You’re in a national park. It’ll be good to be able to have some food you won’t have to feel guilty about."
Seafaring options include a coconut-grilled lobster, which is a fire-grilled split rock lobster over tropical rice with wok-seared vegetables and pineapple coconut butter.
The previous menu's crab cakes with spicy Cajun remoulade sauce return. "People did love the food at Indigo," said Ottaviano.
The hope is that the food continues to have its admirers, while Indigo Landing's renewed commitment to a casual vibe. It's what Ottaviano heard her diners wanted under Indigo's previous co-ownership, and what she hopes it can provide now.
"You talk to people and hear things," she said. "I still hear the stories about when this was a hamburger shack."