The Georgetown waterfront is better known for its outdoor bars than for cuisine, but chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife and partner, Maria, hope to change that sandals-and-T-shirt persona with Fiola Mare. The elegant 140-seat Italian seafood spot is their largest and possibly grandest to date, joining Fiola and more casual sister spot Casa Luca.
Water informs the vibe as well as the name. The window-walled dining room gazes out onto the Potomac River nearby, while a veranda—enclosed for winter—boasts jaunty blue cushions and warm wood like what you might find on an Italian sailboat. Images of ships float along the walls of two private dining rooms, including one outfitted with a 12-person private chef’s table fit for elaborate off-menu tasting dinners. Two bars bookend the restaurant, one closer to Key Bridge for sipping white-peach Bellinis and watching the sunset, and the other for grabbing a gin and tonic and heading out to the patio in warmer weather.
In Italian seaside-style Trabocchi’s menus change daily. You might pick decadent starts—this is Georgetown, after all—such as wild Belon oysters, Italian caviar, or a Mediterranean-style shellfish platter with Catalina sea urchin, razor clams, and swordfish tartare. Those in the mood for fresh fish can wander up to the open kitchen’s market counter, where whole Dover sole, branzino, Scottish langoustine, and more are weighed by the pound, grilled, and served tableside. Of course, there’s always pasta. Maine lobster ravioli, a Fiola staple, is an early special, alongside Amalfi-style spaghetti with clams and smoked-potato gnocchi with scallops, a dish we always sought out in Trabocchi’s Maestro days.
Even in gray winter months the bright space is a draw at lunch. The Maria Menu, a low-calorie and budget-friendly lineup inspired by the Mediterranean diet, includes three dishes for $24 such as black cod with a Tuscan seafood farrotto and passionfruit sorbet. More indulgent is an Italian-style lobster roll dressed in spicy Calabrese mayonnaise, which you can also find on the small bar menu in the evenings and during weekend brunch. Valet is offered during the latter so guests can avoid the Georgetown parking fray, making those Bellinis and lemon-mascarpone pancakes even sweeter.
Fiola Mare. 3050 K St., NW (entrance at 31st St. and the waterfront); 202-628-0065. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10:30, Friday 5:30 to 11, Saturday 5 to 11, and Sunday 5 to 9:30. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2:30. Brunch Sunday 11:30 to 3.
It’s been a busy few months for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, with the recent debuts of both Bluejacket Brewery/the Arsenal on the Capitol Riverfront and the Iron Gate in Dupont. Next up: the biggest and most ambitious Red Apron Butchery to date, joining sister shops in Union Market and the Mosaic District. While many of the old favorites grace the menu—including craveable sandwiches such as the meatball sub—there are plenty of new elements to look for when the eatery opens on Wednesday.
Tigelle breakfast sandwiches
The Penn Quarter location is the first to sell breakfast sandwiches, and they’re of a variety that’s virtually unknown in DC. Chef Nate Anda discovered Italian tigelle flatbreads while traveling in Tuscany, and imported molds to recreate the English muffin-esque rounds. The fresh breads are thinner and crispier than any Thomas’ creation, and Anda fills them with indulgent ingredients; think a “morning meatball” with redeye gravy, or a riff on the classic morning muffin slathered with maple butter and stuffed with house sausage, American cheese, and a fried egg. Completing the morning pickup: brews from Ceremony Coffee Roasters out of Annapolis.
Atomic Cheese Whiz and Vietnamese dogs
Yes, you’ll be able to order the Red Apron burger, offered here every day instead of just Friday. There’re also plenty of new options from Anda and co-chef Ed Witt, formerly of 701 and 8407 Kitchen. You might try a warm rare roast beef sandwich with house-made “atomic” Cheese Whiz and ranch aïoli or a rotating lineup of Red Apron hot dogs, like the Vietnamese-style spicy frank with Asian slaw and Thai chilies. Office workers who don’t have time to indulge in the “porkstrami” and a beer—or even wait for made-to-order items—can pick from a lineup of ready-to-grab cold sandwiches. Dinner is also a takeaway affair, with rotating items such as rotisserie chickens, racks of pork, and various side dishes.
The other half of the equation on D Street is the Partisan, the adjoining sit-down restaurant slated to open for dinner in a couple of weeks. During the day, half the restaurant’s dining room—about 45 seats—will be devoted to breakfast- and lunch-goers looking to linger over their sandwiches, bottled beers, or glasses of wine. The dining room will turn back over to Partisan in the evenings, but Red Apron’s butcher counter will remain open for ordering fresh cuts of meat and premade items from the deli case.
A chef’s pantry and a butcher case
Have you ever tried sweet potato vinegar? Now you can. A portion of the shop is devoted to the chefs’ favorite pantry items, including finishing salts and oils, spices, and culinary-nerd finds such as Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, Opinel folding knives, and Bathtub Gin preserves inspired by cocktails. Red Apron’s house rubs and brines are also available, and over in the refrigerated section you’ll find the full lineup of charcuterie and pâtés, sauces, stocks, and more. In the market for a giant hunk of dry-aged beef? Yes, you’ll find that too.
More to come
Once the shop is up and running, look for plenty of specials and new additions to the display case. Anda and Witt are currently working on a selection of fresh pastas. And of course, there’s that 80-plus-seat restaurant on the horizon, where you’ll be able to sample many of the meats Red Apron offers.
Red Apron Penn Quarter. 709 D St., NW. Open for breakfast Monday through Friday 7:30 to 11 and lunch Monday through Friday 11 to 2:30. Weekend menu hours are Saturday 9 to 2:30 and Sunday 9 to 5. Butcher counter hours are Monday through Friday 7:30 AM to 8 PM, Saturday 9 to 8, and Sunday 9 to 5.
A grilled-cheese shop by day and wine bar by night is, surprisingly, not a concept many Washington restaurateurs have tackled. So when it was announced last year that GCDC would open blocks from the White House, we were curious to see what melty goodness was planned. The projected February opening has been pushed to early March, but father-and-son owners Bruce and Steven Klores shared a sneak peek of the pre-opening menus with us (see below).
In the afternoon the 42-seat shop will operate as a fast-casual lunch spot, with a menu featuring a variety of classic and unusual grilled cheeses. Many of the latter riff on well-known dishes or sandwiches, such as the Grilled Carbonara—a gooey blend of Gruyère, goat cheese, leeks, and pancetta—or the Kim-Cheese Steak, which mixes cheddar with Korean-style beef and locally made Number 1 Sons kimchee. The house tomato soup can be ordered in a miniature serving as a dipping sauce, or by the bowl. (Vegans, take note: This is one of the few dairy-free options.)
Evenings bring no less fromage, but a few more options. Cheese master Sophie Slesinger garnered a Zagat “30-under-30” inclusion last year for her work at New York’s Saxelby Cheesemongers, and now works with GCDC procuring a seasonal variety of Manchegos and Goudas, blues and Robiolas. Cheese plates are paired with drink suggestions such as bourbon and Champagne, as well as more unusual condiments than the ubiquitous fig spread; think bloomy Boucheron with lemon curd or aged Gouda with pumpkin butter. The crew also teamed up with Righteous Cheese in Union Market for a weekly rotating special of whatever’s exciting on the shelves.
Charcuterie boards and a handful of small plates round out the food menu; the beverage options include about 20 beers along with the wines, from Chapeau Apricot Lambic to Miller High Life. There are also cocktails such as an egg cream spiked with whipped-cream vodka. For a truly un-stodgy experience, order one alongside a bowl of tots, served two ways: American-style, as “nachos,” or Canadian-style, with a poutine-esque mix of bacon, cheese curds, and gravy.
GCDC. 1730 Pennsylvania Ave.; 202-393-4232. Opening early March.
“Even though the name is the Carolina Kitchen, I love Las Vegas, Nevada,” says restaurateur Lance London.
Looking at his newest restaurant, the biggest—and, yes, brightest—of his soon-to-be three Carolina Kitchens, the Sin City inspiration is evident. The original started as a fast-casual spot in Hyattsville, Maryland, but the first DC branch, opening in the new Rhode Island Row development, boasts an almost theatrical grandeur; think gold-lit staircases and ceiling panels, a decorative carousel, and a glass oyster bar.
The menu may be low-country, but you’ll find plenty more over-the-top touches. Mainstays such as the fried lobster tail, smothered chicken and gravy, and Creole salmon are joined by new dishes, including platters heaped with ribs and fried shrimp or steak and lobster. London’s first raw bar turns out freshly shucked oysters, shrimp, Alaskan king crab legs, crab claws, and more. Come dessert, diners can pick between sweet potato pie and a rum-spiked sweet potato milkshake.
The restaurant plans to open on February 28 for dinner, with lunch and brunch to follow soon after. Also on the horizon: the debut of TKO Burger, accessible through Carolina Kitchen. The boxing-themed patty joint, slated to open in mid-March, will be London’s first; other locations are already set for H Street and beyond. As with its adjoining sister restaurant, London has planned whimsical touches for the 115-seat space: Think an illuminated Mike Tyson statue and TVs embedded in the booths for watching boxing matches. Southern-style burgers arrive topped with mac and cheese and fried green tomatoes; there are also buns stuffed with fried chicken and soft-shell crab instead of the customary beef patty. You’ll find more boozy milkshakes to wash it all down, as well as a lemonade station for squeezing the citrusy stuff to order. Stay tuned for an opening date.
The Carolina Kitchen. Rhode Island Row (2350 Washington Place, NE). Open Sunday through Thursday 11 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 11 to midnight; opening hours may vary.
Adams Morgan may conjure images of drunken crowds, a stereotype not necessarily helped by the Reef’s fraught closure last year. Now the new tenants of the three-story building, who also own Ripple in Cleveland Park, are looking to join the ranks of AdMo spots that cater to a calmer clientele with Roofers Union. The team devised a space that combines a bar, sit-down restaurant, and, come spring, a revamped roof deck. Here’s what to look for at every level when it opens Tuesday.
First floor: corn dogs and cocktails
Ripple is known for creative cocktails—remember the Pelvic Floor Rickey?—and you’ll find similar aspirations at Roofers. The name nods to the restaurant’s top deck, though you’ll drink on the bottom floor during the winter debut. Barkeeps in the warmly lit, brick-walled room mix riffs on Old Fashioneds with spiced syrup and orange oil, and pour a variety of moderately priced (mostly $6) craft brews on tap. For snacks, look for dishes such as house-made French onion dip and a house-made andouille corn dog on the limited bar menu; the latter is served with homemade Whiz for all the junk-food connoisseurs.
Second floor: a window-walled restaurant
Reef regulars won’t recognize the second-floor dining room, which accepts reservations. Gone are the fish tanks and blacked-out windows, replaced by clear floor-to-ceiling panes looking out onto 18th Street. Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley devised a more casual menu than the one offered at Ripple, filled with the kind of gastropub-y eats she prefers on her days off. Diners can make a meal of small plates such as local lamb ribs, roasted cauliflower with mint pesto and pickled raisins, and miniature sweetbread po’ boys. You can also dig into heartier entrées. The “stuffed” side of the menu lists house-made sausages in freshly baked pretzel rolls—minus the merguez, which is served over lentils—while “stacked” refers to sandwiches; we like the sound of a crispy chicken thigh glazed with Sriracha and honey. Straightforward entrées like beer-steamed mussels and steak frites round out the options, most of which cost under $20. Newish pastry chef Vanessa Ochoterena whips up homey desserts such as a fudge-pretzel sundae and a tiered cake layered with chocolate and Boston cream. Dinnertime conversation fact: The uniforms hanging from one end of the room are vintage coveralls once worn by roofers.
Third floor: a remade roof deck
The top floor requires a climb up several flights of stairs, but the view of the District skyline is worth it. The roof is currently being remade into a drinking and snacking spot for the spring, with a possible expansion of space. Meek-Bradley plans for a rooftop brunch that may or may not be bottomless but will definitely be sky-high.
Roofers Union. 2446 18th St., NW; 202-232-7663. Open daily at 5.
The best restaurants are great for many occasions—date night, family brunch, drinks with friends—but increasingly we’re seeing places designed with multiple functions in mind. Think spots such as Society Fair or Union Market that combine shopping, drinking, and dining under one roof. The newest member of the club: chef/owner Frederik de Pue’s Menu MBK, a market, bistro bar, and chef’s tasting table spread across three stories. The Table toque opens the ground-floor retail market on Friday, with more dining options to come.
First floor: Menu Market, opening Friday, January 24
Penn Quarter is one of Washington’s busiest restaurant neighborhoods, but when it comes to shopping for the home kitchen, options are limited; it’s one of the primary reasons de Pue scrapped Azur in favor of this concept. While Menu’s retail space will be more like Glen’s Garden Market than Safeway, you can stock up on a number of desirables and leave the bulk run for Costco. The retail space will offer seasonal produce and dairy from local producers, items from District-based companies including Cured DC’s charcuterie, and pantry splurges such as chocolates and infused oils. Ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads, fresh pastas, sauces, and other premade items round out the selection. Caffeine and sweets fiends will also do well with coffee and espresso drinks from Mid-Atlantic roasters and a lineup of pastries from former Astro Doughnuts chef Jason Gehring.
Second floor: Menu Kitchen, opening Thursday, February 20
Just as in the Azur and Café Atlántico days, the second floor houses the kitchen—but unlike in times past, you can eat there. A six-seat counter overlooks the chefs at work, and will be the most formal dining spot in the place. In about a month de Pue and current Table sous chef Keith Cabot will serve set menus based on five primary ingredients; inspirations could range from a seasonal vegetable to a new market product. The price tag: $65 per person (considerably less than that other six-seat chef counter once active at the same address).
Third and fourth floors: BistroBar, opening Thursday, January 30
The living-room-esque top floors provide a comfy place to work on your laptop with a coffee and snack from the market during the day—there’s even free wi-fi—or a spot to lounge in the evenings. The dinner menu in the 42-seat space is equally suited to snacking and drinking or a full meal; think $8 to $14 appetizers/small plates and bistro-style mains such as mussels with saffron rice, wild-mushroom cassoulet, and butter-poached lobster. Barman Robert Yealu favors large-format beers and spirits for sipping, and designed a specialty drink list that includes cocktails and beertails—we like the sound of the Brew and Smoke, with smoked-pepper tequila, Allagash White, mango-mint juice, and a Porter float. Several wines from the list will be sold in the first-floor market should you discover a new favorite.
Menu MBK. 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-347-7491. Market hours: daily 9 to 9. Kitchen chef’s table: reservations available now for 6 and 8:30 seatings Tuesday through Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday). BistroBar: seating available starting at 9 AM; menu served from 5 to close.
Wine bars had their heyday in Washington, but seemed to fall out of favor with the subsequent waves of cocktail dens and beer halls. Still, we may just have a wine bar renaissance on our hands—or at least the start of one—when Flight opens in Penn Quarter on Saturday.
Owners Swati Bose and Kabir Amir set out to create a fresh take on a neighborhood wine spot in the 60-seat space. Yes, you’ll find an ample number of vinos with about 70 labels and 30 offerings by the glass, and familiar faces such as Oregon Pinot Noir and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. But there’s also plenty on the drink menu to keep the wine-weary interested. The husband-and-wife team sources a number of bottles from lesser-known areas including the Balkans, Greece, and Lebanon, as well as smaller growing regions in well-trod wine countries; think France’s Savoie and Jura. Gadget nerds will like the Coravin wine system, which Bose views as a game changer. The accessory allows bartenders to pour wines by the glass without extracting the cork, meaning you can get a taste of pricier varietals that would ordinarily be saved for by-the-bottle purchases.
Chef Bradley Curtis, whose résumé includes stints at DGS Delicatessen and Zaytinya, turns out dishes that are even more unusual than some wines. Ever imagined ordering a Boston baked dinner with your pour of Pinot? Now you can. The menu leans Mediterranean, so even this New England staple of baked beans and brown bread gets spicy linguiça sausage. Vegetarians can also do well here, even beyond the cheese plate. A stuffed squash with chili-lime dressing stands among the mains, while meatless “light bites” include a roasted beet salad with a soft-boiled egg and grape leaves with pepitas and yogurt.
Those longing for a stronger drink will find wine cocktails (we’re calling the new “wocktail” trend now). On opening night you can order a mix of lemon-based grappa, club soda, and crushed mint, with more options to come.
Flight Wine Bar. 777 Sixth St., NW; 202-864-6445. Open Monday through Thursday and Sunday 4 to 11:30, and Friday and Saturday 4 to 1.
“The chef recommends ordering three to four share plates per person.”
If these words make you cringe, then consider heading to the new Medium Rare when it opens on Barracks Row next week. In the age of small-plates dining—not to mention snacks, half entrées, and other portions “meant to share”—owner Mark Bucher’s Americanized steak frites concept is decidedly off-mode. Not only are plates full size, but Bucher also removes entirely the need for menu negotiations. Eat at either Medium Rare and you will be served fresh bread, salad, steak, “secret sauce,” and fries, all for the fixed price of $19.50 per person.
There’s more wiggle room for diners when it comes to homey desserts such as brownie sundaes (priced separately), and brunch, which offers five entrée choices. For vegetarians, there’s an off-menu grilled portobello mushroom with roasted red pepper sauce. But otherwise consistency is the name of the dining game, even between the sister restaurants. The menus and prices at the Cleveland Park and Capitol Hill are identical, though the latter space is slightly bigger, with 75 seats. Bucher says the concept wins fans not with surprise but with a lack thereof, comparing it to a well-worn pair of Levi’s jeans. “It’s not meant to be slick, because it’s not meant to go out of style,” he says. “When you do one thing and you do it really well, it becomes a nice business.”
Medium Rare certainly doesn’t own the idea. L’Entrecôte in Paris is the famed pioneer of the steak frites model, which many eateries have adopted since—remember Georgetown’s Le Steak? Spike Mendelsohn gave it a shot nearby on Capitol Hill with Béarnaise, before expanding the options to encompass a larger bistro theme.
For such a simple design there’s a lot of attention to detail and secrecy involved. Medium Rare’s fries are started a day ahead; potatoes are freshly cut, blanched, refrigerated to draw out moisture, and dunked twice in a secret blend of oils for extra crunch. Butter is brought to room temperature and pots are salted individually before service alongside warm, fresh bread. The “secret sauce” is likely the most involved element; only Bucher and one other person know the formula, and components arrive either unlabeled or mixed together so cooks can’t steal the recipe.
Restaurants that clone themselves often have aspirations for multiple branches, but Bucher says he isn’t planning to take Medium Rare national. Still, you can expect at least one more; Bucher says the concept is bound for a location in Baltimore’s Fells Point sometime this year.
Medium Rare. 515 Eighth St., SE. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. Sunday brunch from 11 to 2:30.
Washingtonians love a good rooftop—a fact area native Alan Pohoryles realized when working at Parker’s in the early ’90s. He’d travel to crowded decks in Adams Morgan and Arlington for an al fresco drink, but wished there was a Bethesda destination. Now there is: Welcome the appropriately named Roof Bethesda, with one of the largest outdoor spaces in the area.
A late December opening doesn’t call to mind an outdoor party, but Pohoryles’s two-story spot includes plenty of indoor seating for chillier weather. What began as a bar concept for the Tommy Joe’s owner morphed into a bar/restaurant space that caters to a sit-down dinner clientele (complete with that increasingly rare bird, the tablecloth), as well as to those who want to perch at the bar in front of seven flat-screen TVs or head outdoors for drinks. The second-floor dining room has 80 seats and another 40 on an adjoining patio, while the rooftop deck offers space for more than 200 across lounge areas, tables, and standing room.
Chef Jed Fox is also a Washington native, who trained at notable restaurants including the Inn at Little Washington and Bistro Bis and recently left a sous-chef position at Ris. The menu—which is fairly concise for the large space—features both Southern and French influences, including dishes such as crispy Chesapeake oysters, shrimp and grits with chorizo and smoked tomatoes, steak frites, and pots of steamed mussels. As the restaurant gets up and running you’ll find brunch and lunch menus, plus more casual bar offerings that will be available in the downtime between lunch and dinner, as well as late-night.
Behind the bar is Josiah Alexander, who also doubles as the pastry chef. On the sweets lineup you’ll find such dishes as a caramelized-banana parfait with house-made salted-caramel ice cream; house concoctions also feature in the specialty cocktails. In addition to classic martinis and mules are sips like beet-infused tequila with salt foam and a gin-based “green refresher” with cucumber ice, perfect for sipping in the sunshine.
Roof Bethesda. 7940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 240-245-7663. Currently open for dinner Monday through Sunday at 5 (call for current hours).
If there’s one thing brothers Eric and Ian Hilton know how to do, it’s open nightlife spots with distinct style. Think about bourbon-heavy American Ice Co., Satellite Room and its rock-diner vibe, and the pubby Brixton—all of which are within an easy bar hop from their latest venture, El Rey. The Mexican-themed watering hole and taqueria promises to bring something new to U Street: a year-round beer garden, made possible by a retractable transparent roof and plenty of heaters. Oh, and nearly the entire structure is fashioned out of shipping containers. Here’s what to expect from “the King,” opening Friday at 5.
The Hiltons aren’t the first to use shipping containers in the design—the Bullpen boasts a number—but no one else in DC has imported five via heavy-duty crane to make up their structure. The heavy metal boxes were used for the kitchen, bar, dining area, bathrooms, and more, and are covered by a retractable roof over the beer garden to bring the outside in (though not too much; Ian says heat lamps keep things toasty, even in the dead of winter). Once the weather warms, the panels will be pulled back so you can sip Pacificos in the sunshine.
Traditional tacos and Natty Boh micheladas
Chef Jorge Pimentel—who once owned the Latin-inspired Sabor’a Street food truck and now helms the Brixton’s kitchen—is behind the menu. Much like the pub, El Rey offers fare designed for drinking and snacking your way through the evening. Eight traditional tacos on your choice of corn or flour tortillas arrive for $3 to $4 a pop, filled with the likes of charred skirt steak, grilled fish, or crispy chicharrón. Rounding out the options are more street eats like tamales, elote (grilled, cheesy corn), and churros dunked in Mexican hot chocolate or dulce de leche caramel. Pair it all with a pitcher of margaritas or sangria, tequila cocktails (we like the sound of the mezcal-infused “short Mexican stiffy”), or a Natty Boh michelada. The Bloody Mary-esque drink swaps beer for vodka, and can soften the harshest of hangovers.
Craving a few tequila-absorbing tacos after the bars close? A taqueria takeout window opening onto U Street should do the trick. The quick-grab section will be open during regular kitchen hours in the opening stages, but eventually you’ll be able to order most menu items an hour after last call: through 3 on weekdays and 4 on weekend nights.
Wrestling and dominos
Most Hilton bars host some form of entertainment, and El Rey is no different. Ian Hilton says the crew will screen Mexican wrestling tournaments early in the week, and have live music on weekend nights (but no mariachi bands, sorry). You may also find domino tournaments run by an enthusiast on the bar staff.
Talk of more Hilton projects
El Rey is likely the Hiltons’ last shipping-container-based bar, says Ian, but don’t expect it to be the brothers’ final venture in the neighborhood. They own a couple of properties on Ninth Street that have yet to be developed, as well as the former Hanoi House space next to Marvin. After several iterations—including the recent Maketto pop-up—the space will likely turn into a casual neighborhood bar with, we’re guessing, a certain Hilton panache.
El Rey. 919 U St., NW. Open Monday through Thursday and Sunday 5 to 2, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 3.