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The chef moves from new-wave deli to fine dining. By Anna Spiegel
Chef Barry Koslow (right), with DGS Delicatessen co-owner Nick Wiseman, says he left the deli for a fine-dining restaurant. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Barry Koslow, the chef behind DGS Delicatessen since its opening, will part ways with the restaurant as of June 20.* Co-owner Nick Wiseman says no major changes are in store for the Dupont deli. Taking Koslow’s place is Brian Robinson, a sous chef at the eatery who worked alongside Koslow.

“He’s basically smoked every pastrami, made every pickle,” says Wiseman.

Koslow has made culinary waves since DGS opened nearly two years ago with his fresh takes on deli fare and Jewish cuisine. When reached for a comment, the chef says he’s already landed in a new kitchen, with details on where coming soon.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity for me,” says Koslow of the new spot, which he says is a fine-dining restaurant. “I’m returning to my roots.”

We’ll keep you updated when details become available.

*This post has been updated from a previous version.

Posted at 02:25 PM/ET, 06/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Top-shelf margaritas from a Top Chef alum. By Anna Spiegel
Chef Mike Isabella will open a casual Mexican cantina in Ballston, around the corner from his upcoming Kapnos Taverna. Photograph by Greg Powers.

Restaurateur Mike Isabella is a chef on the move between the upcoming Kapnos Taverna, set for Ballston this fall, and a second Graffiato in Richmond. Up next: Pepita, a casual Mexican cantina slated to open in Arlington in early 2015. 

The concept at 4000 Wilson Boulevard centers on the laid-back spots Isabella loves to visit in coastal Mexico, with only 40 seats and a small covered patio with access to the bar through open windows. A small lunch and dinner menu of a dozen-odd items will include traditional tacos, guacamole, ceviche, torta sandwiches, soups, and more, plus oft-changing specials such as roast suckling pig. A selection of tequilas and mezcals will be broader, with a variety of margaritas mixed with fresh fruit juices. Barkeep Taha Ismail—also behind the drinks at Isabella’s three local spots—plans for build-your-own margs with a variety of spirits and mixers, as well as hot and frozen Mexican coffees. Furthering the cantina feel will be an interior decked out with wooden furniture, colorful tiles, and plants. 

This isn't Isabella’s first foray into Mexican food. The toque partnered in Georgetown’s Bandolero when it initially opened, before pulling out to focus on his own projects. Arlington itself may be in for an influx of eats from south of the border. Chef Victor Albisu recently shared plans for Bombazo, a Mexican street-food restaurant, and a second Taco Bamba location. Stay tuned for more details as they develop. 

Posted at 12:22 PM/ET, 05/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
One of Washington’s most prolific restaurateurs talks about what’s next. By Anna Spiegel
Chef Richard Sandoval claims more restaurants in Washington than any other city worldwide. Photograph courtesy of RSR.

Which celebrity chef-restaurateur has the biggest presence in Washington? If you’re thinking José Andrés, that’s partially right. The other, lesser-known, answer: Richard Sandoval, who claims the same number of eateries in the area as Andrés between Masa 14, two locations of El Centro D.F., Zengo, Ambar, La Sandia, the recently opened Toro Toro, and two more officially on the way. The Mexico City-born toque owns over 30 restaurants worldwide, but has opened more in Washington than any other city in the world, from Denver to Dubai, with the help of partners like Kaz Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro) and Ivan Iracanin. We spoke with Sandoval about why he’s picked Washington, what’s coming next—maybe more than you think—and the keys to a successful restaurant.

You’ve made Washington home to more of your restaurants than any other city. Why? 

I like to build where I have a presence, and Washington has been very good to our restaurants. We’ve built a sense of community there, and feel very at home. We prefer to grow in markets where we have a presence in the community and people enjoy what we do. 

Your restaurants are in a number of neighborhoods across Washington. How do you pick the areas?

We were very successful when we opened Masa 14, and 14th Street was just up-and-coming. People get scared when more restaurants come in, but if you’re good at what you do, more restaurants and people come to the area. We like to go into neighborhoods that are just evolving. Once you get into a neighborhood that’s completely evolved, like 14th Street now, rents have doubled. Even if it takes longer for your business to evolve, we like to be the first to develop the area and set trends. 

How do you decide which existing concepts, like Toro Toro (originally in Dubai), to bring here?

Fortunately and unfortunately, when I started my career in New York City 17 years ago, it would have been easier if I did Maya and then just more Mayas. But I took a different approach. I go into neighborhoods and cities, and I try to understand what the community needs instead of saying ‘I have Maya, copy and paste it here.’ We go into an area and try to understand the demographic, and then I develop a concept and build the restaurant around that. That’s how I ended up with nine different brands.

What’s up next for Washington?

Mango Tree is the next for DC, opening in City Center in December. I’m very, very excited for that restaurant. Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines. When I met the owners of Mango Tree I thought the food was amazing, but I wanted to bring another element to it, more of a dining experience with music, design, lighting, and food. Kind of what I did for Mexican you’ll see there; an elevated style. 

Tell me a bit about your upcoming Mexican spot in Shaw, and how it’ll be different than the two El Centro locations.

It’s going to be very similar to El Centro, but a little bit smaller. As far as the menu, we’ll probably have a larger emphasis on tacos, with a global taco section where I want to incorporate ingredients from other countries. Our beverage program will be similar, we’ll have a lot of infused tequila, but we’ll put a larger emphasis on mezcal. 

If you could open any kind of restaurant in DC, not necessarily realistic, what would you do and where would it be? 

The next thing I want to introduce in Washington is Peruvian. You see a lot of chicken rotisseries, but you haven’t seen a real Peruvian restaurant. I think I’d do it in Georgetown, actually. At Toro Toro we have some dishes, but this would be classic Peruvian with my modern twist; a big ceviche bar, dishes using their chilies, the many kinds of potatoes and stews. I’m talking about it to somebody, so don’t be surprised if we announce it! 

A number of your restaurants have the fusion elements, and it can be tough to do well. Do you have rules when it comes to making fusion dishes or menus?

Yes, absolutely. You always hear the saying ‘fusion is confusion.’ In order to put cuisines together they have to have some similarities. For example, I could never fuse Mexican and Italian; there aren’t similarities as far as ingredients or flavor profiles. But then you look at Mexican and Asian cuisine, and they use similar grains, chilies, sweet-and-spicy flavors. Those cuisines you can meld. 

Washington has seen a growing number of top chefs and international restaurateurs like yourself seeking a presence here. What do you think of the trend? 

I think in the coming years we’ll see a lot more big-name chefs, but I also think we’ll get to a point where the market could get saturated. They’ll be more careful as to where they open and when they open. In the last two years the market was maybe underserved, and now it’s getting to the point of … it won’t be over-saturated, but I think we have to be careful. 

Your restaurants often have an entertainment factor, whether it’s DJs, dancing, or a separate lounge. What’s the importance of having that element?

As the dining scene changed in the last ten years with the recession, it was difficult. You had to develop other ways for people to stay in your restaurant, have fun, and spend money. If people are eating and drinking, and then have to go to another venue, we thought ‘why can’t we create that in one place?’ You’d have dinner, go to the basement, have drinks and DJs. You always have nightclub people who want to open restaurants, and they fail because they don’t understand the dynamic of a restaurant. And then you have restaurateurs who say ‘these people who open lounges make so much money, let’s do that,’ and so they take the restaurant, hire a DJ, and they think that’s it. I think the most important piece is that we’re food-driven. If people keep coming back for your food and service in the restaurant, you’re never going to lose that.

Posted at 11:32 AM/ET, 05/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Holy moly, stromboli. By Anna Spiegel
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Charm City, meet Flavor Town: celebrity chef Guy Fieri plans to set up shop in Baltimore. The restaurateur and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host announced plans for Guy Fieri’s Baltimore Kitchen & Bar, a 350-seat restaurant in the upcoming Horseshoe Casino. Both projects will open later this year. 

Fieri’s no stranger to the gambler’s dining scene. Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar debuted in April, and an Atlantic City location is in the works. A release from the casino includes a few early details on the Baltimore spot. Guests can expect around-the-clock service, from breakfast to late-night, with twists on casual fare like wings (or in Fieri-ese, “ain’t no thing butta chicken wing”), burgers (“chilius maximus!”), and share plates (one can only hope for “won-tacos”). Drinkers can opt for eight varieties of shots served through a frozen tap system. The decor, including an outdoor patio, will be done up with repurposed wood and steel. Fieri’s many tattoos will play an inspirational design role in the coasters, napkins, and plate ware. 

Fieri is a culinary icon is his own right, prompting everything from a Saturday Night Live Christmas special to the only New York Times review ever written exclusively in queries. Love him or question him, the Guy’s got enthusiasm. We’ll keep you updated on more details as they develop. 

Posted at 09:14 AM/ET, 05/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Birch & Barley, Buzz Bakery, and more will lose their leading pastry lady. By Anna Spiegel
Chefs Tiffany MacIsaac and Kyle Bailey. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

News of a big chef change came today via Tom Sietsema’s chat: Tiffany MacIsaac, the executive pastry chef for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, is leaving her post after nearly five years. The talented toque was a semifinalist in this year’s James Beard Awards. She is responsible for the pastry programs at NRG spots such as Buzz Bakery, Birch & Barley, GBD, and others. Her husband, Kyle Bailey, remains the executive chef at Birch & Barley.

There’s no definitive word yet on MacIsaac’s next move after she officially leaves in June or on who will replace her. We’ll certainly miss her pretzel breads, crème fraîche biscuits, Campari-grapefruit doughnuts, and much more.

Posted at 01:58 PM/ET, 05/14/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Rasika toque takes home a big prize. By Anna Spiegel
Chef Vikram Sunderam, winner of the 2014 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, is behind the modern Indian dishes at Rasika/Rasika West End. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The James Beard Awards, one of the most prestigious ceremonies in the food world, went down on Monday in New York City, with a local chef taking home a coveted title. Vikram Sunderam, the longtime Rasika/Rasika West End toque, claimed the prize for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Sunderam beat out other area finalists for the accolade, including Restaurant Eve’s Cathal Armstrong and Baltimore chefs Spike Gjerde (Woodberry Kitchen) and Cindy Wolf (Charleston). A full list of winners can be seen here.

This isn’t Sunderam’s first time at the Beards. The Mumbai, India-born toque was also a finalist in 2009, 2012, and 2013 (Komi’s Johnny Monis took home the win last year). Armstrong has been a Best Chef Mid-Atlantic finalist for the past eight years running.

In the Broadcast and New Media, Book, and Journalism awards held Friday, Washingtonian’s Taste section was recognized as a finalist for Food Coverage in a General-Interest Publication. The Wall Street Journal won the category. 

Posted at 09:17 AM/ET, 05/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Taco Bamba/Del Campo chef shares details on Bombazo. By Anna Spiegel
Taco Bamba’s sopes and tacos will find a new home in Bombazo, a cantina specializing in Mexican street fare. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Washington may soon be home to a new Mexican eatery. Victor Albisu, the chef behind the Latin American grill Del Campo and the casual Taco Bamba taqueria, plans to bring a Mexican restaurant specializing in street fare to Ballston. Bombazo (the word means an explosion or big hit) will combine a sit-down cantina and a second Taco Bamba for quick-grab tacos within the space.

Albisu is one of eight semifinalists in the Ballston Restaurant Challenge, and the Bombazo concept is what he entered into the competition for a chance to win a lease and one year’s free rent at 1110 North Glebe Road. A cookoff at the Taste of Arlington on May 18 will help determine which of the eight semifinalists advance; a battle between the top two crowd favorites will determine the final winner on June 4. Even if he doesn’t win the grand prize, Albisu says he plans to pursue the restaurant in the neighborhood.

“I grew up around different cultures of Latin food, and my mission now is to further the ideas of a Latin cuisine,” he says.

Similar to Taco Bamba, he envisions a mixture of traditional dishes and his own riffs on Mexican street fare. You might find a ceviche bar, tamales, tortas, grilled platters, and more, in addition to a lineup of tacos served in the restaurant and for takeout from the taqueria (one welcome difference here: beer and margaritas). Stay tuned for more details as the concept and competition develop.

Posted at 09:37 AM/ET, 05/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The celebrity toque talks favorite spots to bring visitors, party must-dos, and more. By Anna Spiegel
Photograph by Greg Powers.

If Washington has a quintessential chef/host, it’s Mike Isabella. He’s known to throw some of the city’s hottest parties for industry insiders and guests alike, whether at Graffiato’s monthly Industry Takeover, impromptu after-parties following culinary events, or more formal gatherings such as Wednesday’s James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour at Kapnos.

We caught up with Isabella as he prepared for the five-course feast alongside guest chefs he personally tapped for the event—an impressive roster including locals Scott DrewnoVictor Albisu, and Haidar Karoum, as well as Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov and Kevin Spraga, current James Beard Best Chef Northeast nominee Jamie Bissonnette, and Chris Ford, a former local pastry chef transplanted to Bouchon Bakery in Los Angeles. In his element, Isabella joked with the team as they prepared octopus with bone marrow and duck foie gras kabobs, made the rounds once guests started to pour in, and invited the entire 100-plus party to Kapnos’s bar after the three-hour meal for more drinks.

Here, Isabella talks his favorite place to drink margaritas with visiting celebrity chefs, dinner party go-tos (they involve cheese and truffles), and the three guests he’d most like to have over for dinner.

You’re one of DC’s biggest chef/hosts. How did you come into that role?

The one thing is that it’s not about me. It’s about building up this great culinary scene in Washington, and also getting people who might not travel to Boston or Philly to try the other chefs’ food. Local chefs get to meet the out-of-town chefs, and it just opens up more doors for all of us. I just really enjoy it.

What are some of your favorite spots to take visiting chefs?

Daikaya’s great, Toki’s great. I take them to a lot of the main chefs’ restaurants around the city. Obviously everyone wants to stop by a José Andrés restaurant, like Jaleo. Del Campo is one of my favorites. I like to mix it up between people who have longevity, who’ve been in the city a long time, and people who are doing something a little different.

What about favorite bars?

Derek [Brown] has three great bars right here [Eat the Rich, Mockingbird Hill, and Southern Efficiency]. If it’s late-night we go to All Souls. When Angelo [ Sosa] came out last summer I took him to Cantina Marina. I love it; it’s one of my favorite places to go. You’re outside on the water, nothing special; you just get a Corona and a margarita and hang out on the Potomac.

What is it like opening your kitchen to other chefs?

I enjoy it; I’ve never been one of those guys that’s like, “I’m not telling you what goes on in my world.” I like to open the doors. It’s cooking—we all cook; I want to have fun and have these guys feel like they’re at home.

Do you have any rituals for when chefs come into town?

We usually drink bourbon! I love a Michter’s Rye. We’ll see where we end up today. If Le Diplomate was open, I’d bring them to get a nice big [shellfish] plateau and just chill out because it’s a nice day.

Do you and your fellow DC chefs ever get together and cook in your spare time?

We usually do for playoff games, like the Super Bowl, which is probably the biggest. Scott [ Drewno] likes to make bratwurst, we’ll do wings and a few kinds of chili, salsas, and guacamole. When we have people over, we like to do truffled grilled cheese. It’s a mix of truffled cheese, pecorino tartufo, and a little mozzarella, and then I shave a bunch of black truffles in it and on top. A lot of us like the classic, simple food we grew up with, but being chefs we have the ability to get our hands on some really good products.

What are your go-to dishes and drinks for when guests come over in warm weather?

In summertime, my wife likes to make white sangria with peaches and basil. On the Fourth of July we’ll do a green chili and red chili, or go to Red Apron and get different types of hot dogs and sausages.

What’s the best host gift you’ve ever received?

Expensive Champagne. I don’t get too many gifts!

Do you have any dos or don’ts when it comes to hosting?

I always try to say less is more. You get all these ideas, whether you’re cooking with a bunch of chefs or cooking at home for people. I try to make everything very simple, with a very few items.

Where’s your favorite place to be a guest?

I love going out to eat. Obviously from the service side the best is Marcel’s, where we go once or twice a year. They treat us like a king and queen over there. Their service is amazing.

Who taught you how to be a good host?

My wife always enjoys having people over, and cooks everything from hors d’oeuvres to desserts. We’ve been doing that for years; it’s how you get friends together. She definitely does most of the cooking. I’ll help out a little bit here and there, but the menu planning and most of the cooking comes from her.

If you could have three people over for dinner, living or dead, who would it be and what would you cook?

I’d want to have a fun dinner. I’d probably invite Daniel ToshRob Dyrdek from MTV, and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) president Dana White. I’d definitely make some classic pasta, and you have to do steak when you have a guy like Dana White over. Maybe we’d start out with caviar, go into a pasta course, a meat, and of course the wife’s rum baba. She makes an infamous rum baba.

Posted at 10:03 AM/ET, 04/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Toki Underground and Rose’s Luxury join forces for a commemorative meal. By Anna Spiegel
Erik Bruner-Yang and Aaron Silverman team up for a dinner in memory of chef Thang Le, who prepared a beautiful Chinese New Year meal (above) before his passing in 2012. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

If you think finding a seat at Toki Underground or Rose’s Luxury is tough, you can bet a collaborative dinner between the restaurants’ chef/owners will be a sought-after reservation. Toki toque Erik Bruner-Yang and Rose’s Aaron Silverman are joining forces for a meal on April 16. The dinner is hosted in memory of chef Thang Le, who passed away in 2012, and will partially benefit the nonprofit Mission Excellence, an after-school program for inner-city youths.

The meal will be held at Toki Underground, where Le last cooked. The chefs have designed eight courses (see the menu below), with an optional beverage pairing. Reservations are $100 each, and can be made by e-mailing Better book soon.

The Second Annual Bel’le Dinner

nam prik oysters

nam khao crudo

congee | quinoa | pig’s tongue

“spring vegetables”

homemade sourdough and fresh cheese

pork | prawn

local fish

roasted grapes | bamboo shoots

whole quail

seven treasure sticky rice

oolong panna cotta

Posted at 12:04 PM/ET, 04/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Navy Yard’s Mexican eatery gets a new toque. By Anna Spiegel
New Agua 301 chef Will Vivas cooked at Recess Tapas Lounge before heading to Navy Yard. Photograph courtesy of Recess.

The Mexican-themed Agua 301 just opened on the Capitol Riverfront in December, but a new chef has already taken over. As first noted on, opening toque Antonio Burrell has left the kitchen. A spokesperson for the restaurant tells us a replacement has already been found: Will Vivas, formerly the executive chef at Recess Tapas Lounge. Vivas took the helm last Tuesday.

Before coming to Washington, the Venezuelan-born chef ran Vivas restaurant in Belmar, New Jersey. He’ll keep much of Agua’s menu the same—those pork-belly tacos aren’t going anywhere—but diners will also find a number of changes, including more South American dishes inspired by Vivas’s cooking background.

As for Burrell, there’s no word yet on where he’ll land. He’s been known to kitchen-hop in recent years, including stops at Masa 14, El Centro, and Bethesda’s Redwood.

Posted at 01:23 PM/ET, 03/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()