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Former Liberty Tavern chef Liam LaCivita opens a place for al fresco limoncello in summer, fire-side pasta in winter. By Anna Spiegel
Bar Civita serves Italian-American dishes like this lamb leg ragu with house-made noodles in a cozy space. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

Ideally every neighborhood would have a cozy spot for sipping limoncello outside in summer, and cozying up by the fire with a bowl of pasta come winter. Now that’s a reality in Woodley Park with the opening of Bar Civita. The 80-seat restaurant from former Liberty Tavern head chef Liam LaCivita takes over the space formerly occupied by Murphy’s Irish bar. While the team freshened up the 76 year-old building with new paint and larger windows, key attributes remain in tact—including a wood-burning hearth, spacious bar area, and 40-seat patio.

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Posted at 01:10 PM/ET, 05/06/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Tropical cocktails, a Tuna Bar, and plenty of outdoor space from chef Robert Wiedmaier. By Anna Spiegel
Urban Heights opens in Bethesda with Asian fare, island-style cocktails and plenty of outdoor space. Photography by Andrew Propp.

The biggest outdoor dining and drinking space in Bethesda opens Thursday, just in time for summer. Urban Heights, the first Asian restaurant from chef Robert Wiedmaier, debuts in the former Roof Bethesda space. The launch comes on the heels of Villain & Saint, Wiedmaier’s live music venue that served its first meal last week. While the latter brings ribs and rock n’ roll to the scene, Urban Heights mixes Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino influences over two floors, outfitted with a spacious patio and roof deck.

Guests access the window-walled dining room via a bamboo-lined elevator.

Filipino spring rolls, adobo sliders

Chef Cliff Wharton helms the kitchen, and creates dishes influenced by his Filipino family and years as chef de cuisine at TenPenh. Small plates in the $4 to $9 range make up a large portion of the lunch and dinner menus, with classics from the Philippines like crispy lumpia spring rolls alongside less traditional items such as chicken adobo sliders (“My mom would probably cringe at that,” Wharton says of his riff). Guests don’t have to graze, with entrees such as pork belly bánh mì sandwiches at lunch, and whole crispy fish with cucumber salad and tamarind dipping sauce in the evening.

Chef Cliff Wharton makes dishes inspired by his Filipino family, like these chicken adobo sliders.

Tastes from a Tuna Bar

Some restaurants have a raw bar. Urban Heights claims its own version devoted to Wagyu of the Sea. A slab of sushi-grade tuna on ice greets guests at the front of the restaurant, ready to be diced into Hawaiian-style poke, sliced for sashimi with jalapeño-citrus vinaigrette, and wrapped with nori for a crunch tempura-like roll.

Cocktails take inspiration from the islands, like the sake-spiked Rising Sun (left) with lychee liqueur and diced pineapple, or the gin Szechuan sour (right).

Sake punch in the sunshine

The restaurant goes for a transporting island affect, starting with the entrance; guests access the eatery through a bamboo-lined elevator. Two outdoor areas make ideal spots for sipping in the sunshine: an entry-level dining patio set for 40, and a slightly larger roof deck above. Drinkers can pick between Asian draft beers and tropical cocktails like a sake-spiked rum punch or kumquat mojito.

Chef Cliff Wharton (right) with general manager Garth Hamilton; the roof deck bar.

Rooftop pig roasts, Asian-style brunch

Wharton plans to roll out brunch in a few weeks, with dishes like a crab cake Benedict with chili hollandaise. Once summer hits, the rooftop will be the place for Filipino-style pig roasts. In the meantime, head up for happy hour between 3 and 7.

Urban Heights. 7940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. Open for lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 to 2:30; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. Roof deck open Monday through Sunday, 3 to close. Brunch (coming soon), Saturday and Sunday, 11 to 2:30.

Crispy lumpia spring rolls, a traditional Filipino dish.
Bulgogi-style steak salad with chili-lime dressing (right), served outdoors or in the dining room.

Posted at 12:05 PM/ET, 04/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Take a look inside chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Bethesda live music venue and restaurant. By Anna Spiegel
Villain & Saint brings nightly live music and hearty eats to Bethesda. Photography by Andrew Propp.

If you know chef Robert Wiedmaier from Marcel’s, his temple of haute Belgian cuisine in downtown DC, then Villain & Saint might come as a surprise. The Bethesda live music venue and restaurant takes inspiration from Haight-Ashbury instead of Brussels, forgoes chandeliers for wall-mounted lava lamps, and does away with utensils for dishes like deviled eggs and pulled pork shoulder burritos. Fine dining it ain’t, but that's the point.

The bar pours whiskeys, brews, and cocktails like bourbon over bacon ice.

Classic French culinary background aside, Wiedmaier’s tastes gear more towards Led Zeppelin and Harley-Davidson motorcycles; he’s known to ride with other biker/chefs like Bayou Bakery’s David Guas. There’s a hint of his rocker edge at Mussel Bar, but the theme runs full-speed at V&S. Walls show images of Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, or swirl with psychedelic paint. The main stage hosts nightly musical acts at 9 o’clock, ranging from up-and-coming artists to local house bands, and international names like The Hollies frontman Steve Lauri. Sunday brunch jazz shows don’t require a cover, but others may require a $5 to $10 door fee.

Sip cocktails like Fireball cinnamon whiskey mixed with applejack (right) in the funky space.

Wiedmaier teamed up with former Pesce chef Tom Meyer for the menu, which goes beyond regular bar fare. Dishes are broken down into two main categories: Villain, which includes indulgences like buttermilk fried chicken and slow-smoked pork ribs, and Saint, which leans green with vegetarian options that can also act as starters or sides. A selection of snacks and lighter bites includes dishes like deviled eggs or pimento cheese on grilled bread.

Lava lamp lighting provides the backdrop for a variety of vegetarian dishes like deviled eggs (right) and grilled asparagus.

A 25-seat bar plays to the theme with a collection of whiskeys, draft beers, and cocktails such as chocolate-infused bourbon over a bacon-studded ice sphere, or cinnamon Fireball whiskey with Calvados and lemon. Those looking for fresh air can hang on the outdoor patio, which boasts its own bar and tables covered by a wooden pergola. Wiedmaier outfitted the space with flatscreen televisions that’ll play live performances, so the music never stops.

Chef Tom Meyer (left) with chef/owner Robert Wiedmaier.

Villain & Saint. 7141 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-800-4700.

Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 04/17/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
One of the biggest openings of the year from Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang and Durkl’s Will Sharp. By Anna Spiegel
Maketto from Toki Underground's Erik Bruner-Yang and Will Sharp of Durkl brings a mixed retail/restaurant space to H Street NE. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

One of the most anticipated openings of the year is here: Maketto. Toki Underground chef/owner Erik Bruner-Yang and Will Sharp of the Durkl streetwear line are behind the retail-restaurant concept, inspired by vibrant Asian street markets. The latter is more of a guiding vision than a visual theme in the modern two-story, indoor/outdoor space, which like a marketplace acts like a free-flowing venue for browsing, shopping, lounging with a coffee or cocktail, and of course, plenty of eating.

“It’s sort of undefinable to a certain extent,” says Sharp. “We’re asking people to come and experience something new.”

Maketto is open from early morning through the evening, with a variety of experiences to be had. Here’s a sample of what a day may bring.

An outdoor courtyard is set with a communal table for sipping coffee in the daytime, and dining at night.

7 AM: Coffees, pastries, and occasional yoga

Part of the vision behind Maketto is to bring a daytime draw to the nightlife-centric H Street, and also create a home from several independent businesses. Local roaster Chris Vigilante runs a Vigilante Coffee bar fit for bean nerds on the second floor, where siphons brew intensely-flavored fresh cups; you can also order the house Love Boat Espresso, and drinks made with local Trickling Springs milk. Another driving force in the operation is Erica Skolnik of Frenchie’s Artisan Pastries and Desserts, who’s made a name supplying sublime baked goods to local farmer’s markets. As the executive pastry chef at Maketto, she’s set up a bakery counter with almond croissants, cardamom-pistachio morning buns, lemon cream sandwich cookies, pies, and other sweets to sample throughout the day.

A catwalk connects the top floor with an outdoor roof deck. During daylight hours the team plans to lend the space to independent yoga or fitness instructors for classes (stay tuned). At night the patio may also be used for events, or a mingling area after grabbing cocktails inside.

The second-floor Vigilante Coffee bar is the place to grab a fresh brew.

11 AM: Danish sneakers and Cambodian sandwiches

A first-floor retail space greets customers as they walk in, where men’s jackets, hats, and footwear are displayed in sleek glass cases; a space adjoining the upstairs coffee bar is the place to find bags, art books, and grooming products. Though not related to Durkl, whimsical finds can be purchased in an Asian-style vending machine filled with Japanese toys and snacks.

A light, counter-order cafe menu is served from 10 to 3. Though Bruner-Yang’s menu is mostly new, the daytime offerings include some items from the Union Market pop-up and Honeycomb shop, such as steamed pork bao buns and Cambodian num pang sandwiches stuffed with seasonal fillings like grilled meat, ramp aioli, pickled vegetables, and shredded bacon.

The ground-level entrance includes shopping space and a cafe/bar in back.

5 PM: Time for a sipping vinegar, or cocktail

Bottled cocktails will be available during the day for early drinkers, while the full program will begin towards evening hours. Toki barman Colin Sugalsky is behind the cocktails, which include riffs on classics like a Manhattan using fermented Chinese tea, or house creations such as the Pink Kao made from Kaoliang, Taiwan’s national spirit. Fans of drinking vinegars—tangy fruit shrubs with only trace amounts of alcohol—will find a homemade list of flavors like beet, pumpkin, and hibiscus. The vinegars can be sipped solo, mixed with club soda, or made into a cocktail.

Part of Maketto’s interactive nature means guests can wander as they please, taking food and drink to the outdoor courtyard and deck, posting up in two indoor cafe areas, or sipping while they shop.

Sip coffee in the second-floor space during the day, or get table-service for dinner at night.

7 PM: Dinner of leek buns, Taiwanese fried chicken

The menu expands in the evenings, divided between small plates and shareable platters meant to serve two or three. While daytime eating is informal, dinner guests can get full table service in both the first and second-floor cafes, the outdoor courtyard, and the best place to watch the action: a diner-style open kitchen at the back of the lot (about 90 seats in total).

Bruner-Yang and chef de cuisine James Wozniuk turn out the menu of Chinese, Cambodian, and Southeast Asian street foods. Guests can snack on plates of lime-marinated snapper crudo, oyster and scallion pancakes, and pan-fried leek buns. The main event comes in the form of shareable platters, such as seared American Wagyu steak with bao buns and traditional accompaniments, whole crispy fish, or Taiwanese-style fried chicken with buttery milk bread.

Order Taiwanese fried chicken or bao buns in the diner-style open kitchen, with counter seating throughout.

9 PM: Drinks outdoors

In warm weather the outdoor deck and patio will be the place to sip a post-dinner cocktail, though Maketto keeps restaurant hours as opposed to the late bar shift. We have our eye on a spicy-sweet Mala rum Colada for summertime.

Maketto. 1351 H St., NE; 202-838-9972. Open Monday through Wednesday, 7 AM to 10 PM; Thursday 7 AM to 11 PM; Friday and Saturday 7 AM to midnight; Sunday (initial hours) closed at 5 PM. Cafe menu served 10 AM to 3 PM.

Posted at 08:49 AM/ET, 04/10/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Ballston gets a sunny spot for paella on the patio, daily sangria happy hour—no tapas needed. By Anna Spiegel
SER brings traditional Spanish dishes like seafood paella (above), sangria, and a big outdoor patio to Ballston. Photography by Andrew Propp.

It's unusual for a Spanish restaurant to open in Washington without tapas—or any eatery given the popularity of share plates, snacks, and "nibbles." As of this week there's one breaking from the small plate pack: SER, where co-owners Christiana Campos-Candon, Javier Candon, and chef Josu Zubikarai choose to highlight the many other aspects of Spain's vibrant dining culture. The Ballston restaurant, whose name is both an acronym (simple, easy, real) and the verb "to be" hopes to offer something for everyone—outdoor dining and a lunchtime grab-and-go shop, homey servings of paella and exotic eats like lamb sweetbreads and steamed barnacles. And yes, you can still share if desired.

The restaurant soft-opens Thursday, March 5, and offers diners a 20-percent discount while it gets up and running through Wednesday, March 11. The grand opening is slated for Thursday, March 12. Here's what to look for in the sunny, 140-seat space.

Seafood platters and grandmother-style paella.

Chef Josu Zubikarai, a Basque native and the original head toque at DC's Taberna del Alabardero, created a menu (sample copy) that draws from various regions. Guests can start out with platters of meats and cheeses, or more unusual arrangements from the Spanish seafood bar such as fresh oysters with gazpacho granita, octopus picadillo, and crab cocktail. Entrees fall into three main categories: seasonal, frequently changing items like fresh whole fish or a market cut of beef; a rustic lineup "from our grandmothers" such as seafood paella or chicken braised in garlic and white wine; and travel-inspired dishes (pasta tossed with caviar, a cheeseburger with bravas sauce). Certain items are served in large portions for two or more.

Regional dishes include garlic shrimp and effervescent Txakolí wine (left), traditionally poured from on high.

Eels and other eats for the adventurous.

Classics like croquetas and tortilla dot the menu, but there're plenty of options for diners looking to explore traditional Spanish foods less common in the US. Seafood platters can boast steamed gooseneck barnacles or "Spanish caviar," baby eels with garlic and olive oil. Lamb sweetbreads and codfish jaw with salsa verde join the appetizers, while txipirones, squid cooked in a sauce of its own ink, makes for an exotic entree.

The 140-seat space channels Spain's warm coastline, while an outdoor patio fits 100 in warm weather.

Sangria on a 100-seat patio.

The best way to defrost after a long winter: sip sangria on a spacious outdoor patio. Once the weather warms you'll find plenty of space to linger outdoors, where both humans and neighborhood dogs are welcome. Until then drinkers still have plenty of options: effervescent Txakolí wine and Mahou beer, local cider and Sherry, house cocktails, and three kinds of sangria (red, white, and sparkling). The restaurant also plans to serve wine by the boda, a shareable wine bag traditionally fashioned out of goatskin.

Certain dishes are inspired by the owners's family cooking, like cod in an olive oil emulsion (left); a cheese and charcuterie bar is the place to snack and sip wine (right).

Fried chicken sandwiches and DYI salads to go.

Lingering over seafood and cava is the ideal dining scenario, but the restaurant also offers a grab-and-go lunch counter for weekday reality; it's open Monday through Friday until 3. A menu of sandwiches runs the gamut from traditional combinations (Serrano ham and manchego) to creative options such as fried chicken with Spanish bleu cheese, or a PB&J with sliced bananas and persimmons. Diners can also make their own salad combinations with various vegetables and proteins, and grab soups, snacks, and sweets. Making that average Monday better: a Nutella brownie.

A large beverage menu includes Spanish wines and Sherry, beers and cider, house cocktails and three kinds of sangria.

And if you need more incentives: daily happy hour and cheap parking.

While the restaurant isn't far from Ballston's business hub, it's a few blocks from the most highly foot-trafficked areas. The team wants to make the trip easy for potential customers, so offers $2 parking in the adjoining underground garage during dinner hours. Earlier guests are rewarded for their visit with daily happy hour deals from 4 to 7 (sample menu), when the bar serves $5 glasses of sangria, $6 wines, and $3 cañas of beer among other drink specials. The menu also includes $5 snacks like crispy squid with jalapenos, fried potatoes, and stuffed peppers. Just don't start calling SER a tapas restaurant.

SER. 1110 N. Glebe Rd., Ballston; 703-746-9822. Open for lunch, brunch and dinner: Sunday through Thursday, 11 to 10; Friday and Saturday 11 to midnight. Lunch shop open Monday through Friday, 11 to 3.

Sip a sparkling cocktail with desserts like goxua (above), a trifle-like sweet with strawberries, cream, sponge cake, and custard.
Happy hour runs daily, with a variety of cocktail, wine, and beer specials alongside $5 snacks.
Roasted suckling pig for two can be followed by arroz con leche (left), a type of rice pudding.

Posted at 02:54 PM/ET, 03/02/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The first export for the Chicago brewpub brings 90 draft beers and a giant patio to Gaithersburg. By Anna Spiegel
The Old Town Pour House opens in Gaithersburg with 90 draft beers and brew-friendly eats. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

Gaithersburg will get a big beer infusion on Friday when Old Town Pour House opens its doors for a two-day trial run before officially debuting on Monday, March 2. The third location of the brewpub, and first export outside the Chicago area, joins the growing Downtown Crown development. On tap: 90 beers, a giant patio, and a menu of Midwestern favorites like Windy City-style hot dogs and fried cheese curds. Here's what to look for in the 172-seat space.

The beer: Abundant. The bar opens with 85 global craft beers and five favorite standbys like Bud Light, all served at an eye-catching copper bar. Enthusiasts can browse the online menu of wheats and lagers, Belgians and IPAs, and rate individual beers by signing up for a free account. A number of local names are included in the lineup, from Flying Dog to lesser-known producers such as Jailbreak Brewing Company out of Laurel, Baltimore's Union Craft Brewing, and Denizens Brewing Co. from Silver Spring.

The 90 drafts include 85 craft brews, including a number of local names, and five old favorites like Bud Light.

The other potables: Moscow mules in fancy copper mugs, six wines on tap, and an epic-sounding 20-ounce Bloody Mary, which arrives in a heavily garnished goblet that includes a peppered steak medallion, cubed pepper jack cheese, veggies (pickles, tomato, cocktail onions), and a Slim Jim "stir stick."

The food: Brew-friendly. Homesick Midwesterners will find a number of familiar comforts on the all-day menu, including pretzel bites for dipping in Lagunitas IPA beer cheese, mini Chicago dogs with all the traditional fixings, pickle chips, and fried cheese curds. Two new dishes nod to the new coastal location: crabcakes and a fried clam sandwich with smoked-potato aïoli.

An all-day menu includes Midwestern-style eats like mini Chicago dogs and pretzels with beer cheese dipping sauce.

The patio: Big. Thick-skinned Chicagoans might brave the outdoors for a drink if temperatures climb above 40, but patio weather here means 60 degrees and up. Once spring takes over, look for a 92-seat space to sip beer. Inside seating ranges from big booths to high-top tables.

Happy hour, late-night: The bar offers plenty of specials at all hours. Happy hour runs from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday, with deals like $8 Moscow Mule Mondays, a flight of four six-ounce beers ($14), and $2 off wine on Wednesdays, as well as $5 eats such as mini pulled-pork sandwiches and sliders. While the pub stays open until 2 AM daily for drinkers, anyone looking for a late-night bite can find a snack menu with the likes of truffled popcorn, Chicago dogs, and white-bean hummus until midnight on Friday and Saturday, and 11 all other evenings.

Guests can linger late, with the bar open until 2 AM daily and a late-night menu served until 11 or midnight.

The big game: Screened on three 110-inch "video walls," which are as large as they sound. Stay tuned for specials, and what will happen in the event of a Chicago-Washington rivalry.

Old Town Pour House. 212 Ellington Blvd., Gaithersburg; 301-963-6281. Open daily 11 to 2; happy hour Monday through Friday 4 to 7; late-night food menu served Sunday through Thursday until 11, Friday and Saturday until midnight.

Posted at 03:52 PM/ET, 02/26/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
An American bar-restaurant from the Ghibellina team debuts beneath the Italian eatery. By Anna Spiegel
Sotto brings live jazz, smoked meats, and classic cocktails to 14th Street. Photography by Amir Lowery (courtesy of Sotto).

The 14th Street crowd will have a new place to hang next week when Sotto, a bar/restaurant from Ari and Stacy Gejdenson, opens its doors on March 3. The name means "under" in Italian--a tribute to its location beneath sister restaurant Ghibellina--but that's the only major European detail of the subterranean space. While Negronis are poured above, the moody haunt takes its cues from DC history thanks to its former incarnation as one of many homes for the HR-57 jazz club, and offers a menu of regional American cooking. Here's what to look for when it debuts on Tuesday.

Smoked meats, caramel apples

Brisket, ribs, and sausage may sound like fare for a barbecue joint, but chef Keith Cabot is taking a regional American approach. The former Menu MBK chef de cuisine mixes influences from the South--he spent years in Virginia and North Carolina--and the Midwest, particularly items inspired by state fairs he visited with his Minnesotan family. You'll find snacks like caramel corn dusted with chili-lime salt (a cheffy riff on Cracker Jack), alongside mesquite- and hardwood-smoked meats drizzled with a house-made sauce Cabot describes as a cross between Heinz 57 and A1. There's also a lineup of house-made sausages, like lamb merguez with curried cauliflower, and a vegetable-heavy selection of appetizers and sides to make up for the meaty mains (see a menu sample below). Sadly there's no fried Snickers for dessert, but a poached apple with popcorn, molasses, and caramel ice cream should satisfy carnivalesque cravings.

Communal seating throughout includes a bar fashioned out of a single piece of wood.

Communal seating

Plates can be eaten solo or shared--refreshingly in a big, family-style way instead of tiny tapas. There's less choice when it comes to seating. While a hostess will still guide guests to spaces, everything is considered communal. The long bar is fashioned from a single piece of wood, while picnic-style tables and oversize booths provide the other seating. A limited number of reservations will be available for larger parties.

Jazz Age-style cocktails

Barman Daniel Barnes, who also crafts the sips at Ghibellina and sister watering hole Denson Liquor Bar, created a list of seven cocktails inspired by the Jazz Age heyday and the corresponding scene in Washington. The Groover, for example, mixes gin, pineapple juice, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and Cocchi Americano, while the Trolley Car combines spiced rum, blood orange, and bitters.

Look for live blues and jazz nightly once the space is up and running.

Nightly music, and more to come

Once the Sotto team settles in, music fans can hear nightly tunes from small jazz, blues, and neo-soul groups (generally one to three players, given space constraints). The kitchen will remain open until 11:30 on weeknights, and potentially 12:30 on Friday and Saturday, while the space caters to revelers until last call. Much further in the future, the Gejdensons will begin construction on their three Ivy City projects for 2016, which will include a small diner and Italian pizza place similar to Ghibellina. In the meantime, grab a sparkling cocktail and get jazzed on 14th.

Sotto. 1610 14th St., NW; 202-803-2389. Opening hours (March 3): Tuesday through Saturday 6 to 2, Friday and Saturday 6 to 3.

Sample Cocktail Menu:

Right Away

rye / amaro / cardaramo


gin / pineapple juice / dolin blanc / cocchi

Trolley Car

spiced rum / blood orange / angustura

Suit and Tie

vodka, ginger / sweet and sour /angostura

Ed Ellington

scotch / lillet rose / cranberry / orange

Jack Rose

brandy / combier / lime / apple bitters

Sparkling Cocktail
prosecco / plum bitters / sugar

Sample Food Menu:


Ball Park Peanuts & Popcorn

Chili | Lime | Sea Salt

Pretzel Monkey Bread

Apple Mustard

Sotto Potato

Provolone | Chives


Wood-Oven Roasted Winter Squash

Crispy Sage | Brown Butter | Toasted Pepita Granola

Hen of the Wood Mushrooms

Poached Farm Egg | Crispy Farro | Thyme

Brussels Sprouts Salad

Herb Cream Dressing | Garlic Croutons | Pomegranate

Endive & Citrus Salad

Orange | Spiced Hazelnuts | Shaved Radishes



Accompanied by Figs Poached in Red Wine


Accompanied by Curried Cauliflower, Capers and Raisins


Accompanied by Woodfire Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Smoked Meats:

Beef Ribs

Pork Ribs

Beef Brisket


Crispy Local Fish

Roasted Poussin

Parsnip | Mustard Seeds | Persimmons


Braised Kale

Marble Potato Salad

Fennel Gratin


Poached Apple

Popcorn | Molasses Gateau | Caramel Ice Cream

Banana Bread

Candied Pecans | Dulce de Leche | Chocolate

Lemon Curd

Pistachio Crumble | Mint Jelly | Crispy Merengue

Posted at 03:33 PM/ET, 02/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Chef Bryan Voltaggio's diner expands with new menu items.  By Anna Spiegel
Bryan Voltaggio opens the third branch of Family Meal in Ashburn. Photograph courtesy of Family Meal.

A branch of Bryan Voltaggio’s Family Meal debuts in Ashburn on Wednesday, bringing cheffed-up diner fare to the One Loudoun development. Though similar to the flagship in Frederick, Maryland, and newer Baltimore spinoff, the first Virginia location offers a number of new menu items and desserts, thanks to the recent addition of pastry chef Chris Ford to Voltaggio’s restaurant family (which also includes Volt, Aggio, and Lunchbox).

Certain Family Meal staples aren’t going anywhere, such as the crispy fried chicken, pot pie fritters, and all-day breakfast. Voltaggio and the team added to various parts on the Ashburn menu, all keeping in the theme of comfort fare with a twist. Pepperoni, a Voltaggio favorite, makes two appearances: ground into a crispy crust for spinach and artichoke dip, and folded into a burger patty that’s topped with avocado, pepper jack cheese, and a fried egg. New soups are equally hearty, including a beef chili with charred-lime crema, and a robust take on French onion made with braised short ribs.

Fried chicken (above, from the Frederick location) remains a diner staple. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

That’s not to say the menu caters solely to carnivores. One of the fresh creations is a vegetarian Reuben with smoked, pastrami-spiced beets and the usual accompaniments (kraut, homemade Thousand Island, Swiss) on griddled rye. The kitchen also created its own version of Old Bay spice, called Our Bay, which dusts fries as well as a blue-crab soup with pasta shells. If your sweets quota hasn't been met with a thick shake--virgin or boozy--try one of the chewy oatmeal cream pies or devil's food cake for dessert.

The Ashburn branch will eventually open for early birds at 7 and serve meals seven days a week, but will keep soft-opening hours (see below) for another two weeks. Something else to look forward to: Virginians farther south will get a fourth branch of the diner in late March.

Family Meal. 20470 Exchange St., Ashburn; 703-726-9800. Soft-opening hours: Wednesday through Friday 11 to 10, Saturday and Sunday 10:30 to 10 (breakfast served all day).

Posted at 10:43 AM/ET, 02/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Bone-marrow burgers, house punch, and more of what you'll find at Alexandria's newest gastropub. By Anna Spiegel
Mason Social brings a casual ambience and killer cocktails to Alexandria's Parker-Gray neighborhood. Photography courtesy of Mason Social.

Alexandria's Parker-Gray neighborhood is attracting more dining options with the recent additions of Richmond's Sugar Shack doughnut shop and a new home for French bistro Bastille. The newest face: Mason Social, a neighborhood restaurant and bar opening Wednesday from locals Chad and Justin Sparrow, Larry Walston, and Teddy Kim. Here's what to look for at the seasonal American eatery.

The food: Farm-to-pub. Chef Joseph Lennon, most recently a sous chef at Bourbon Steak, creates dishes that often draw from local ingredients and cooking traditions, though in a subtle fashion--the menus aren't filled with farmers' names and "house-made" descriptors. Keeping with the casual neighborhood vibe, you'll find a section of "hold-me-overs" like lamb meatballs and beer-steamed mussels swirled with bone-marrow butter, as well as entrée salads and sandwiches at lunch and dinner--we like the sound of a local beef patty blended with more bone-marrow butter, topped with jack cheese and grilled onions. Diners can also go fancier with entrée like rockfish with winter citrus. A kids' menu, all under $10, caters to the young'uns with chicken fingers or grilled fish.

Gastropub fare like a bone-marrow burger and beer-steamed mussels fill the menu.

The drinks: Punchy. Barman Tony Burke came from Clyde's Restaurant Group, and created a lineup of what co-owner Teddy Kim "creeper drinks" ("you don't taste any alcohol but you're definitely feeling it"). Think along the lines of a house vodka-grapefruit punch--served in a Mason jar, natch--or gin and Fever Tree ginger ale with mint and lemongrass syrup. The bar also pours six craft brews, including Alexandria's Port City and a beer from Burke's native Cincinnati.

The name fun fact: The eatery takes its title from Thomson Mason, who was mayor of Alexandria in the early 19th century, back when the town was still an agrarian community. Design cues also come from the surrounding neighborhood and its industrial roots, so exposed brick and pipes aren't just trendy touches.

The space can stay open until 2 on weekend nights.

New to the neighborhood: Late hours. The Parker-Gray area isn't known for its late-night hangouts, but the Mason team is hoping to draw a crowd of night owls. The bar can stay open until 2 AM, Thursday through Saturday, and until midnight Sunday through Wednesday. The kitchen could remain open after dinner, serving a limited bar menu with burgers or chili-spiked fries. Also look for weekend brunch to start soon.

Mason Social. 728 N. Henry St., Alexandria; 703-548-8800. Open Sunday through Wednesday, 11 to midnight; Thursday through Saturday, 11 to 2.

Posted at 02:12 PM/ET, 02/24/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A throwback bar and brasserie takes over the former Pour House space in Capitol Hill. By Anna Spiegel
Stanton & Greene, a cocktail bar and brasserie, brings American classics to Capitol Hill. Photograph courtesy of Stanton & Greene.

Oysters Rockefeller. French dip sandwiches. Whiskey punch. These are a few of the throwback items you'll find at Stanton & Greene when the bar and brasserie opens on Capitol Hill in the next two weeks. The atmospheric space channels mid-20th-century grandeur over three floors, each outfitted with cocktail bars for pouring creations from barman Erik Holzherr (Wisdom, Church & State). Hill vets Jared Rager and Eli Hengst of Sonoma and August Paro from Beuchert's Saloon came together for the concept, which takes the place of longtime dive Pour House. Here's what to expect.

Retro design: Fans of the former Steelers bar won't recognize the interior, which Paro—a film set designer by trade—remade with mid-19th-century style in mind. The main dining room on the ground floor boasts cognac-hued leather booths, vintage porcelain wall tiles, and a thick marble bar. An oak staircase leads upstairs to a private event space—or overflow room on busy nights—outfitted with an Art Deco bar and skylights accenting the lofty ceiling. A large basement area is still in the works, but Paro says it'll be the most elegant of the three stories.

Surf-and-turf croquettes, brandied lobster: We got a first look at chef Josh Hutter's menu, inspired by classic American dishes from the 1940s. The lineup is meant to be drink-friendly, with hearty appetizers like steak-and-lobster croquettes or oysters Rockefeller, and mains such as a triple-pork burger with bacon-infused patties, bacon aïoli, and crispy strips on top. Weeknight specials include homey eats like pasta and red sauce or fried chicken on Sunday evenings, and Tuesday lobster nights. Look for all-day service once the eatery is up and running, with lunch, happy hour/bar menus, supper, and eventually weekend brunch.

Historically inspired sips: Holzherr's cocktails riff on classics and take their name from District history. Take the L'Enfant martini—named for the planner of the city's layout—which mixes French Chambord, vodka, and Passoa passionfruit liqueur. Drinkers can also sip bourbon milk punch and a twist on the Negroni.

The name fun fact: What's the meaning behind Stanton & Greene anyway? Like many other Hill spots, the name nods to the politicized location. The eatery is close to Stanton Park, named for President Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton. In the green space stands a statue of Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene. We're guessing Edwin & Nathanael just didn't have the same ring to it.

Stanton & Greene. 319 Pennsylvania Ave., SE.

Posted at 11:36 AM/ET, 02/11/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()