White-tablecloth French restaurants? So ’80s Washington. This spring it’s all about relaxed brasseries. April brings two of the biggest restaurant openings of the season, with Stephen Starr’s Le Diplomate primed for its debut on 14th Street within two weeks, and prolific local restaurateur Ashok Bajaj set to open his biggest project yet, NoPa Kitchen + Bar (800 F Street, Northwest). The latter is a more modern, American vision of the brasserie in Penn Quarter, which is slated to host its first guests on April 29. We got a peek at the interior through renderings provided by James Beard Award-nominated designer Martin Vahtra.
Gone are the shiny red surfaces, white walls, and other ’90s-esque trappings of former tenant Zola. Bajaj nearly gutted the inside of the circa-1875 structure, revealing original brickwork and wood moldings. To create an American eatery with French touches, Vahtra contrasted the almost 140-year-old foundation with modern industrial touches, and used a neutral color scheme that reflects the raw wood, brass, leather, and steel used throughout the space. The main dining room, divided into three connected sections, epitomizes the rustic-meets-modern feel with wood and brick walls, accent pieces such as a large gold-plated mirror, and burgundy leather banquettes.
The restaurant concept is closer to Ardeo + Bardeo than Rasika or the Bombay Club, but it does have three private rooms: a 40-seat space equipped with a working fireplace, another 20-seat room adjacent to the bar with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a 14-seat dining room for hosting intimate dinners. The bar area is set to be its own distinct scene, with a number of cozy lounge tables, benches lined with leather belts, and windows looking out at the National Portrait Gallery.
A still-in-the-works menu includes a mix of regional and French-inspired dishes from Jean-Georges vet chef Greg McCarty. Look for a full raw bar with freshly shucked oysters and lobster and a number of classic brasserie dishes such as house-made pâté with pickled vegetables and steak frites with caramelized onion sauce. Also look for innovative seasonal dishes like crispy soft-shell crab atop avocado-basil purée, sautéed rockfish with andouille sausage and fennel broth, and roasted chicken with foie gras, barley, and chamomile jus. Dessert might bring a round of warm sticky buns.
Check out the slideshow for an exclusive preview of the restaurant.