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Oyster po' boy sliders, fried chicken, and a genteel cocktail spot for Old Town. By Anna Spiegel
Magnolia's on King brings touches of southern charm to Old Town, Alexandria. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

Alexandria gets a genteel new dining spot on Wednesday when Magnolia’s on King makes its grand debut. The Southern restaurant takes over a nearly 200 year-old building on King Street, spread out over two floors. A 30-seat dining room occupies the first, while drinkers can head up to the lounge above for sipping Old Fashioneds by a working fireplace.

Diners can order fried chicken or shrimp and grits in the airy 30-seat dining room.

Chef Brian Rowe, an alum of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant group, is behind the kitchen’s “Southern immersion cuisine.” The term sounds a little more complicated than it is—essentially riffs on classic dishes, such as oyster po’ boy sliders, sweet tea-brined fried chicken with quinoa hushpuppies, and bison meatloaf (check out the menu). Pastry chef Hans Fogelman, formerly of BLT Steak, follows suit with sweets such as bananas foster bread pudding.

Chef Brian Rowe's "Southern immersion cuisine" riffs on classic dishes, such as spiced shrimp with grits or quinoa hushpuppies.

The draw for drinkers can be found in the second-floor lounge, run by former Rogue 24 barman Zachary Faden. Guests can relax in deep leather chairs in front of a working fireplace and sip cocktails from 1920’s-era crystal stemware, or grab a lounge table overlooking King Street’s foot traffic. Like the food, many of the drinks play on traditional recipes, such as the house concoction: an Old Fashioned made with pineapple syrup and garnished with charred wedges of the fruit. The kitchen serves a small menu of bar snacks, such as "pig fries," crispy pork belly with pimento cheese.

Head upstairs to the bar for the house drink: a pineapple-spiked Old Fashioned.

Magnolia’s on King will initially open for dinner. Sunday brunch will follow in August.

Magnolia’s on King. 703 King St., Alexandria; 703-838-9090. Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9:30; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10. Closed Sunday and Monday.

The restaurant debuts with dinner and drinks, with Sunday brunch to follow.

Posted at 11:50 AM/ET, 06/29/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A crostini bar, free aperitivo hour, and a patio inspired by Cannes. By Anna Spiegel
Fig & Olive brings a taste of southern France to CityCenterDC. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

CityCenterDC gets a chic newcomer with the arrival of Fig & Olive, a glamorous 330-seat inspired by Southern France. The Washington location is the eighth for owner Laurent Halasz, with other branches in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Dinner service begins today, with lunch to follow on Monday, July 6 and weekend brunch starting on Saturday, July 11. Here’s what to look for when you go.

The entry-level bar/lounge boasts a 30-seat marble bar, couches laden with comfy pillows, and a DJ.

A full-time rosemary “mister”

The airy, two-story space is designed to look like a restaurant in southern France, and does the job well: the place feels pulled from Cannes with its terra-cotta ceilings, pristine marble bar, and DJ spinning relaxed beats in the lounge. The most transportive aspect is the smell emanating from a wall of rosemary plants in the second-floor dining room. The herbs require regular misting with a spray bottle and pruning to keep fresh, though the high-maintenance vegetation isn't purely decoration: rosemary seasons whole branzino, flavors roast chicken, and crusts lamb chops that are smoked a la minute at the table.

Pick from over ten varieties of crostini, toasty focaccia breads topped with vegetables, meats, cheeses, and seafood.

A raw bar and a crostini bar

Chefs work behind a portion of the ground floor’s 30-seat bar, plating shellfish plateaus heaped with oysters, clams, king crab legs, and shrimp cocktail. Order a tower, or check out the crostini bar display next to the fin fare. Toasty focaccia breads come topped with 11 combinations like fig, prosciutto, and ricotta cheese, or crab and heirloom tomato.

A second floor dining room is flanked by a bar and rosemary garden.

Abundant olive oils

Anyone following the Mediterranean Diet will feel at home. Chef Frederic Guerin eschews butter for olive oil, and drizzles 30 varieties from across the globe on almost every dish—including green apple sorbet, which arrives with a dash of fruity Spanish oil, and in typically butter-heavy sauce béarnaise. Each meal begins with a sampling of three varieties, brought to the table with complimentary fresh bread. Guests can also purchase the Fig & Olive brand oils to take home.

The fig and gorgonzola tartlet with prosciutto and arugula is one of the restaurant's signatures.

Free cheese

The kitchen’s emphasis on healthy fats doesn’t mean the menu lacks indulgences. Happy “aperitivo” hour includes a complimentary tasting plate with the purchase of any glass of wine or cocktail, like the strawberry-Champagne Piscine. Three platter options include a French, Italian, or Spanish-themed variety of snacks; we like the idea of a Francophile mix of goat cheese, shrimp and avocado-topped crostini, beef tartare, and olives. More of a high-roller than deal-hunter? Try a luxurious côte de boeuf served table-side. The bone-in ribeye is carved for $49 per person and sauced with short rib jus.

Comfy seating ranges from banquettes set with colorful pillows to teakwood furniture on the patio.

French patio space

A 40-seat terrace is designed to mirror lunch in Cannes, with teakwood furniture, an orange-and-white color scheme, and aromatic rosemary and cypress planters. Windows open into the first-floor lounge on pleasant days for an indoor/outdoor feel. The surrounding CityCenterDC landscape may not live up to the Mediterranean, but at least there’re fountains—or for the fashionistas, a giant Hermès directly across the way.

Fig & Olive. 934 Palmer Alley, Northwest; 202-559-5004. Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday, 11 to 11; Friday and Saturday 11 to 1. Lunch (beginning July 6), Monday through Friday, 11 to 4. Brunch (beginning July 11), Saturday and Sunday 11 to 4.

Order a Piscine cocktail during happy hour--Champagne and strawberries--and get a complimentary plate of cheese and crostini.

A raw bar serves shellfish plateaus, tuna carpaccio, and salmon crudo.

The White Room can fit 70 for private events, or seats regular diners on busy evenings.

Almost every dish is accented with olive oil, including this green apple sorbet with citrus.

Posted at 12:13 PM/ET, 06/26/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A relaxed Mediterranean spot arrives in Woodridge. By Anna Spiegel
Nido brings relaxed Mediterranean dining to Woodridge. Photography courtesy of Nido.

One trend we don’t want to see slow down in Washington: the rise of small, chef-driven neighborhood restaurants. Lucky for us, two anticipated newcomers arrived today. First came the Royal, which debuted in Ledroit Park this morning, and now Nido, an 80-seat Mediterranean spot on Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast, which serves its first dinner tonight. The Woodridge neighborhood spot comes courtesy of Boundary Road co-owner Karlos Leopold and business partner Erin Lingle, working alongside former Tabard Inn sous-chef of seven years, Aaron Wright.

Nido, which means “nest” in Italian and Spanish, was inspired by Lingle’s experiences eating in the two countries. The menu, which is limited to dinner as of now, focuses on straightforward preparations of seasonal ingredients.

“The biggest compliment we had at a pre-opening dinner is, ‘this is food that tastes like food!’,” says Lingle. “It's meant to taste like ingredients, the best way we can serve them.”

Entree-size bowls of Basque seafood stew join a menu of small plates and vermouth cocktails.

Diners can start off with a variety of snacks and small plates, or make a meal of the tapas-size portions. Alternatively, pastas such as pappardelle with braised pork and preserved lemon arrive in entree-size bowls. Large platters, such as a Tuscan-style bone-in steak, are meant for a crowd. Though comforts abound, the kitchen also gets ambitious with the likes of linguine with seared chicken livers and spring peas, or grilled octopus and chorizo.

Two bars, one for each floor, specialize in vermouths and cocktails made from the fortified wine. Lingle is currently working on a house variety, but for now guests can sip locally-made rosé Capitoline Vermouth. The neighborhood can also expect brunch to arrive in the coming weeks, served on Saturdays and Sundays.

Nido. 2214 Rhode Island Ave., NE; 202-627-2815. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10:30. Bar open until midnight, Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, and until 1 am on Friday and Saturday. Weekend brunch coming soon.

Posted at 04:32 PM/ET, 06/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
An early-morning to late-night cafe with South American flare and a neighborhood focus. By Anna Spiegel
The Royal opens in Ledroit Park with a morning-to-late-night menu and South American specialties. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

You may have heard that the team behind popular U Street wine bar Vinoteca is opening a Colombian restaurant in Ledroit Park. The news is partially true: the Royal officially opens its doors in DC on Thursday, though not with a strictly South American identity.

“I tell people it’s a small neighborhood tavern,” says co-owner Paul Carlson. “A coffee shop during the day, a cocktail bar at night with some great food. A place we can express the things we like to eat and drink.”

The split-level, 45-seat space includes a light-filled bar and reclaimed church pews for seats.

Carlson’s mother is Colombian, hence the stuffed arepas, choripán breakfast sandwiches, and crispy plantains on the menu; his family is also behind the restaurant, and all live nearby. Joining traditional South American items are others Carlson’s developed a taste for in the hospitality industry—Vinoteca opened in 2007—and favorites of chef Lonnie Zoeller and barman Horus Alvarez: house-made vermouths and French wines, a wood-grilled cheeseburger and whole-animal butchery. The perk of a 45-seat operation with a small-yet-eclectic menu: the mix comes off as homey instead of scattered.

Grilled avocado with quinoa and a plate of arepas play to the menu's South American side.

Service is designed to follow the low-key theme, and cater to locals at all hours, opening early each morning and closing between 1 and 2 am every night (though Mondays are dark for the first few weeks). Commuters can grab toasted bagels and house-made cream cheeses, Counter Culture espresso drinks, and pastries such as roasted plantain bread; guests can also linger in the light-filled space over fried egg arepas and free wi-fi. A day-to-night menu begins at noon. Diners order at the bar, receive a number to display at their table, and dishes arrive. Portions are meant to be snack/appetizer size—think beef empanadas, or grilled avocado with quinoa—or entrees, such as a pork morcilla sausage with roasted potatoes.

A second-level dining room boasts the building's original fireplace.

The relaxed vibe doesn’t translate to an entirely casual approach. The kitchen takes the house-made, whole-animal path—Zoeller has already acquired half a cow, and will serve rotating cuts of wood-grilled steak and freshly-made sausages. Behind the bar you’ll find Alvarez’s homemade sipping vermouth, aged since December, which is poured from a vintage copper fire extinguisher built by Carlson. Another eye-catching bar toy: a hand-crank ice shaver from Guatemala, which churns out the cold stuff to-order for cooling cocktails like an Aguardiente Punch with blackberry puree. Like the food, the drink menu runs the gamut from Uruguayan wine to local beer, gin and tonics, and cachaca cocktails.

A rum and cachaca Ascencion cocktail with hibiscus (left) makes for a potent sip; A vintage fire extinguisher on the bar pours house-made vermouth and Zombie cocktails.

The Royal opens on Thursday with coffee and the afternoon menu, and will move into regular breakfast operations on Friday. Grab one of the eight seats outside of the corner cafe—or settle into a reclaimed church pew indoors—and welcome in the weekend.

The Royal. 501 Florida Ave., NW. Regular hours: open Monday* through Thursday, 7 am to 1 am; Friday 7 am to 2 am; Saturday 8 am to 2 am; Sunday 8 am to 1 am (*closed Mondays for the first few weeks).

A Guatemalan shaved ice machine churns out frozen drinks to-order.

Chef Lonnie Zoeller utilizes whole animals and local produce, like charred seasonal vegetables with buttermilk dressing.

A wood grill sears steaks, avocados, and vegetables for the rustic menu.

Posted at 09:25 AM/ET, 06/25/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
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 ()