If the 14th Street strip is primed for an Italian invasion, then consider Ghibellina its Amerigo Vespucci. The 114-seat osteria officially opened this week, preceding six soon-to-open Italian spots including Etto from the Standard folks, international pizza chain Piola, Bar di Bari by the Drafting Table crew, and G, Mike Isabella’s sandwich joint that pops up at Graffiato this week. Ghibellina co-owners Ari Gejdenson and Ralph Lee are currently paving the way with their Tuscan-inspired spot offering everything from piatti piccoli (small plates) to a hefty porterhouse steak big enough for a group.
Gejdenson and Lee’s first neighborhood joint, Acqua Al 2, is a branch of an original Florentine restaurant; Ghibellina is closely inspired by another. Gejdenson says he traveled with chef Jonathan Copeland (formerly of Palena and Society Fair) to work in the kitchen at Trattoria Mario, one of Gejdenson’s favorite restaurants while living in the ancient city. There, they practiced making the rustic Tuscan dishes that fill the menu—items such as ribollita, a cannellini bean soup thickened with bread, and potato-stuffed ravioli with hearty beef ragu. You might make a meal of smaller portions of pasta, meat, and seafood, mixing rich offerings like white wine-braised beef pot roast stracotto and ricotta-and-spinach-stuffed girelle pasta with lighter dishes such as citrusy pesto-dressed arugula salad and wood-roasted artichokes tossed with lemon and mint. Larger plates arrive in the form of shellfish stew or a splurge of a steak (depending on how many friends are willing to share): the bistecca alla Fiorentina that clocks in at more than 3 pounds for $85. More in a casual sharing mood? Pizzas get a light char in the wood-fired oven, and are topped with both traditional ingredients—tomato, basil, and buffalo mozzarella, for instance—and more creative combinations such as pea shoots and culatello salumi.
The lofty dining room is designed with both eating and drinking (or waiting) in mind. Leather banquettes and wooden tables are part of the rustic atmosphere, as are two marble-topped bars: one where you can order the full menu, and a circular version that’s reserved solely for sipping wines, beers, and cocktails like the white peach “Ghib-Bellini.” A third place to perch is by the front window, overlooking what’ll eventually be a small outdoor patio. Plans for the circa-1900 building are far from complete. While currently the entry-level floor is the only open, it’ll eventually be joined by two more: a top level that might become a more traditional dining room, and a basement that channels the former occupant, jazz club HR-57, with live music. Stay tuned for more details as they emerge.
Belgian mussels and fries are a ubiquitous dish around Washington, but vlaamse stoverij met rode kool (Flemish beef stew)? Not so much. B Too, the newest spot from Belga Cafe chef/owner Bart Vandaele, isn’t just another spot to quaff Belgian beers and munch on frites, though you’ll find plenty of both. The recent Top Chef competitor’s nearly complete, 175-seat Belgian restaurant is slated to open for dinner on May 7. Here’s what to look for.
It’s an exciting time to be a food fan in Washington: More than a dozen new eateries have recently opened their doors, the Red Hen debuts Tuesday in Bloomingdale, and now chef Frederik De Pue is set to open his second restaurant, Azur, Thursday in the former Café Atlantico space. Those looking for a break from fried chicken and doughnuts, take note: This 135-seat spot is wholly devoted to seafood.
You’ll recognize the lofty three-story building from its José Andrés days, but De Pue has transformed the interior to fit the nautical theme with the help of Belgian interior designer Natascha Folens. Comfy wicker chairs and cushy stools fashioned after bottle corks greet you in the entry-level bar area, a prime spot for sipping one of the many seasonal cocktails named after famous boats. The Magusta 165 may sink your wallet with its $40 price tag, but the cognac-based libation named after a mega-yacht is the most expensive on the list. The $6 Regina Marina is more our cruising speed. You can sip the Aperol and Champagne concoction alongside bar snacks such as baked oysters with chorizo, toast spread with sea urchin butter, or crispy calamari tossed with a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette and chopped peanuts.
Spring has finally arrived, and it’s perfect weather for relaxing on an outdoor patio with a bottle of cold Chablis and a three-tiered platter of freshly shucked oysters, clams, cracked crab, and chilled lobster. Which you can now do at Le Diplomate, a 14th Street spot from Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr, which is finally open after a year of construction.
Nightly dinner service is currently underway, and there’s already plenty of competition for seats on the 60-seat, hedge-lined patio. Chef Adam Schop combines traditional brasserie staples such as French onion soup, hand-chopped steak tartare, beef bourguignon, and moules frites with more modern innovations (here’s the menu). You might start out with tuna carpaccio drizzled with leek vinaigrette or roasted sweetbreads with morels before moving on to house-made pappardelle sauced with wild boar or seared scallops with spring peas and orzo. Simpler dishes—radishes with sea salt and butter, say, followed by savory crepes or an omelet—appeal to the casual weeknight diner.
Restaurants on the 14th Street strip are mainly geared toward the evening crowd, but once Le Diplomate is fully up and running, you’ll find breakfast, brunch, lunch, and mid-afternoon service. While the airy 200-seat eatery is surrounded by windows, the 36-seat garden room, with its glass ceiling and doors opening to the patio, seems particularly suited to reading the paper over a pot of La Colombe coffee and a warm croissant. Later in the day, a stately curving zinc bar or one of the deep semicircular booths promises to be a popular spot for sipping one of the many draft beers, wines, or French-inspired cocktails like a glass of bubbly with Combier Pamplemousse, a grapefruit liqueur. Designer Shawn Hausman—the talent behind see-and-be-seen spots such as Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont and the Standard in New York City—created the chic decor, which manages to feel both buzzy and cozy, thanks to glowing lamps and antiques salvaged from Parisian markets.
The concept was inspired by the corner building, a former laundry facility that reminded Starr of Parc, his French brasserie off Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. While the menus and design are different, the two have a similar feel, especially from the outside with canopied sidewalk seating. Another welcome carryover: an extensive bakery program, with stacks of fresh baguettes and boules greeting you at the door. The loaves pop up on the menu, but you can also make like a Parisian and tuck one under your arm to go.
The restaurant officially opens on Monday, April 15. Until then, enjoy a 10 percent discount during the soft-opening stage. We’ll report back on daytime services as they start.
Le Diplomate. 1601 14th St., NW; 202-332-3333. Current dinner hours: Sunday through Tuesday 5 to 10, Wednesday and Thursday 5 to 11, and Friday and Saturday 5 to midnight.
Now Open: Daikaya Izakaya
Sneak Peek: NoPa Kitchen
Whether you’re in the mood for an exotic white wine rabbit sausage, eggplant-based vegan Italian, or an old-fashioned brat, you’ll find them all at a new sausage shop: Fat Shorty’s, which opened this week in Clarendon.
We first broke the news back in February that restaurateur Aaron Gordon planned to transform his salad-and-sandwich concept, Rabbit, into a Belgian-inspired eatery serving sausages, mussels, and beer. The makeover is complete—you’ll now find long beer-hall-style tables, dangling string lights, antique meat grinders lining the walls, and a ten-seat outdoor patio for drinking oversize steins in the sun.
Back before the fried-chicken-and-doughnut craze had fully hit Washington, the crew over at Birch & Barley/ChurchKey began toying with the two comfort foods. First came the Luther—essentially a sandwich that tucked some crispy bird between two doughnut “buns”—which attracted cultlike fans in droves on Friday and Saturday nights. More recently, in-the-know diners could order a limited number of off-menu fried chicken specials at ChurchKey—essentially a cafeteria tray loaded with different varieties of fried chicken, biscuits, and sides from chef Kyle Bailey, plus Tiffany MacIsaac’s fresh doughnuts. Now the training wheels are off, as GBD (Golden, Brown, Delicious) is poised to debut in Dupont on Friday with the two former specials as menu mainstays, plus so much more.
Morning muffins and bourbon-butterscotch doughnuts
While evening hours bring sit-down service and a bar scene, your first encounter with GBD will be in the morning. The shop opens at 8 AM for drip MadCap coffee and an array of sweets, which you can take to go or consume at one of the 50 seats inside. Pick from nearly a dozen varieties of brioche and cake doughnuts, ranging from classic (freshly fried with a vanilla glaze) to inventive combinations such as a bourbon-butterscotch round topped with house-made bacon, or a citrusy version filled with Key lime cream. A number of MacIsaac’s pastries from sister operation Buzz Bakery are also on display, such as scones and the carrot-zucchini “good morning muffin.” Heartier appetites can nab a fried chicken thigh sandwiched in a sweet potato biscuit with spicy honey.
Food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants may sometimes go head to head vying for customers, but the two entities are far from mutually exclusive. Restaurateurs José Andrés and Darren Lee Norris have brought their food to the streets through Pepe and Kushi-moto, while the vendors behind Pleasant Pops, Porc Mobile, District Taco, and Seoul Food have all opened eateries after proving themselves on the streets. The most recent owner to make the move from truck to table: chef Stephan Boillon of El Floridano who just opened his first restaurant, Mothership, in Park View.
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 Dupont neighborhood has no lack of sports bars, but if rowdy venues like Mad Hatter and Buffalo Billiards feel a bit too college-y for your taste, consider the Gryphon, the latest venture from the team behind Lost Society. As the mythological creature for which it’s named is part eagle and part lion, the new spot is a hybrid of sports bar and gastropub—the idea is to appeal to food fans as much as the crews who come to watch the game. Here’s what to expect.
“We wanted to get out of the pretentious white-tablecloth, take-out-a-second-mortgage-to-have-a-meal game,” says Michael Kosmides. He’s the owner of new K Street spot Look—formerly home to Italian fine-dining restaurant Teatro Goldoni at 1909 K Street, Northwest. The new concept is in soft-opening stages for lunch and dinner this week.
Following in the footsteps of 2941 and Elisir (now Osteria Elisir), the Cities restaurateur is remaking his formally “fancy” restaurant into a more casual concept fit for the times. In place of table trappings and pricey entrées, he has swapped in a tapas-style menu, extended happy hour, and a bold new design that favors interactive light displays and hard surfaces over soft linens. Here are five things to expect from the new place.
Sorry, you won’t find puffin or skyr, despite early reports. The tapas-style menu spans the globe in terms of influence, with everything from yellowfin tuna tartare in wonton cones to saffron risotto with lobster. Sadly for some, the only truly Nordic element of the restaurant is the architect, who’s from Iceland.
2) But the decor recalls the Northern Lights.
Perhaps the Aurora Borealis inspired the interior design, as there are more lights and changing colors in the 150-seat space than in the night sky (or even most nightclubs). The front bar features an interactive light panel that illuminates your cocktail and casts a glow that follows the drink as you move it around. The back stairs will also track your movements with colored panels, while overhead, 30-foot hologram screens project everything from CNN to art displays on the glowing walls. The sign out front will also change hues.