One restaurant’s bad fortune is another’s good luck. The eatery that was supposed to open at 700 Sixth Street, Northwest, was a beer-centric project called Townhouse Kitchen—but before it could be completed, the money evaporated. The space became available, and business partners Gus DiMillo, David Wizenberg, and chef Jeff Tunks saw an opportunity to expand their empire. (The team also owns DC Coast, Acadiana, PassionFish, and Fuego Cocina, among other local spots.)
Penn Commons, a sister restaurant of District Commons in Foggy Bottom, will still serve plenty of craft brews through 40 draft lines when it opens Monday. Just as many seats fill the large bar area, a boon for an eatery within blocks of the Verizon Center. A snacking-friendly lounge menu offers the likes of dips and spreads with grilled bread, pulled-pork hand pies, and crispy fried oysters. Also suited for pregamers is a selection of house-ground chuck and brisket burgers—plus veggie and chicken alternatives—taken from Tunks’s menu at Burger Tap & Shake.
The dinner—and eventually lunch and brunch—offerings closely mirror District Commons. New American and Southern influences dominate, from Korean-style pork chops with spicy barbecue sauce to shrimp and grits. At 10 each night, a bell rings for homey, family-style meals served at a communal table. The main difference on the menu here: a Thursday night “sausage fest” with a mix of grilled Stachowski’s meats, homemade kraut, and pretzel bread. A good bet to cap off the evening is a dessert menu with boozy milkshakes and three kinds of sundaes.
Penn Commons. 700 Sixth St., NW; 202-905-2999.
Find Anna Spiegel on Twitter at @annaspiegs.
One of the biggest summer restaurant openings is upon us with the debut of Gypsy Soul, which serves its first dinner on Wednesday night. The Mosaic District eatery is the second for chef RJ Cooper, who also owns Rogue 24 in Shaw. Here’s what to expect at the travel-inspired spot.
The vibe: Modern-rustic, much like the cuisine. The 135-seat space mixes wood floors and tables with exposed pipes and cast metals. An open “show kitchen,” where you can watch Cooper and his chefs at work, is the focal point of the room.
The crowd-pleasing food: A section devoted to macaroni and cheeses, anyone? Many of the robust, Southern-inspired dishes hark back to Cooper’s days at Vidalia, where he earned a James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. You’ll find bread baskets filled with buttery rolls and sage biscuits, jumbo lump crabcakes with homey potato salad, and short ribs atop Carolina-rice risotto. A few items also nod to Cooper’s Detroit upbringing, such as a cheffy version of a Greek diner salad (think barrel-aged feta and house-pickled beets instead of canned).
The more adventurous food: “Beef marrow/sea urchins/antler mustard/ink toast.” Menu descriptions like this one look like they’re off Rogue’s modernist menu, though you won’t find tweezers in the Gypsy kitchen. The actual dish is more rustic than it sounds (translation: roasted bone marrow topped with uni and mustard greens). Lovers of other oddities can find Asian-style lettuce wraps with crispy pig ears and fermented cucumbers, chicken-skin cracklings, and a stuffed pork head.
The drinks: Inspired by travel. Cocktail expert Bryan Tetorakis (aka the “Cheftender”) has carved his own niche at Rogue 24, running a separate drinks tasting menu. Here you’ll find similarly creative sips, such as the Gnome, with vodka, Aperol, black pepper, and liquid arugula. The wine and beer list reads majority local and American. House-made sodas and fresh-brewed peach tea are on tap for the non-drinking crowd, along with a selection of La Colombe coffees.
The conversation piece: Biker-inspired bar stools. The comfy leather perches were modeled after Cooper’s own motorcycle, named Pumpkin for its orange coloring. Another fun fact: His license plate reads “BRAISE.”
On the horizon (short-term): Lunch and brunch. Saturday and Sunday brunch are expected to start the weekend after Labor Day, with afternoon service to follow. Entrée salads and more sandwiches are planned for lunch—we’re looking forward to trying that “redneck cheesesteak”—while brunch will bring Bloody Marys galore and over-the-top dishes such as duck confit hash with duck eggs and foie gras béarnaise, and fried chicken and waffles.
On the horizon (long-term): Big dishes and an ever bigger rooftop. Once the kitchen hits its stride, you’ll find a number of platters for two in each section of the menu, such as whole roast fish, racks of ribs, and slate-roasted 30-ounce rib eye. As for outdoor dining, the restaurant’s 80-seat rooftop is scheduled to debut in spring 2015.
Gypsy Soul. 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax; 703-992-0933. Reservations accepted. Open (currently) for dinner, Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11:30, Sunday 5 to 9. Lunch and brunch to follow.
Find Anna Spiegel on Twitter at @annaspiegs.
The newest addition to DC’s outdoor drinking scene debuts today with the opening of Sauf Haus Bier Hall. The two-story watering hole includes both an indoor bar and an open rooftop, with a Germanic theme throughout. Here’s what you need to know.
The vibe: Oktoberfest in July. While any bar serving beer outside can call itself a beer garden, owner Edwin Villegas (who also owns neighboring Public) wanted to take the concept back to its Bavarian roots. Both the indoor and outdoor spaces boast long wooden picnic benches and German regalia, plus a foosball table where patrons can act out World Cup fantasies in miniature.
The beer: Deutschland is also the focus when it comes to brews. The 16 taps are devoted solely to German beers, such as liters and half-liters of Warsteiner Dunkel, Hofbrau Hefeweizen, and the refreshing Schöfferhofer Grapefruit. A smaller beer and can list includes craft domestics, which are tasty to drink but less fun to pronounce.
The other drinks: Did we mention beer is main theme? House cocktails come in the form of beer-tails, such as a mix of grapefruit, hefeweizen, and house-infused vanilla vodka. A full bar is available, but you’ll only find a single brand of liquor per spirit, such as Tito’s vodka and Patrón tequila.
The food: Soft pretzels. There’s no kitchen to speak of, so you’ll have to head downstairs to Shake Shack for something more substantial during the opening weeks. Once the bar is up and running, you’ll find a cart on the top floor turning out Fells Point Meats brats and franks, and freshly shucked oysters.
The happy hour: Weekly specials include $2 off all drinks from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday.
The entertainment: A few flat-screen televisions on both floors. And occasionally, an accordionist in lederhosen.
On the horizon: Unlike seasonal beer gardens such as Dacha and Garden District, Sauf Haus will be open year-round. Plans include a retractable roof for the deck and warming drinks such as mulled wine for when the weather turns chilly.
Sauf Haus Bier Hall. 1216-A 18th St., NW; 202-466-3355. Doors open at 4.
“I’m attracted to challenging businesses, because they force me to work hard, think hard,” says Paul Ruppert, the managing partner behind Petworth’s newest eatery, Crane & Turtle.
The cozy, 25-seat French-Japanese spot opens Tuesday for dinner, joining Ruppert’s eclectic roster of ventures that include the Passenger and Columbia Room, Hogo, Room 11, and Petworth Citizen. The last stands just across the street from the new restaurant and shares its team, including bar manager Kristi Green and chef Makoto Hamamura. Yet while Citizen’s menu plays to the bar’s laid-back vibe with American-style pub grub and ample beers, the new eatery draws from Hamamura’s more refined cooking background, which includes stints as a sushi chef and French butcher’s apprentice, and most recently, a six-year tenure at CityZen.
That’s not to say the menu aims for over-the-top expensive or stuffy. Ruppert has a background in pioneering bartender- and chef-driven spots in developing areas that still maintain an accessible, neighborhood feel; just think of the Passenger or Room 11 when they opened in then-cocktail deserts in 2009. The dinner-only menu blends flavors from Hamamura’s native Japan with French technique, resulting in dishes such as hay-smoked tuna tataki, crispy soft-shell crab with grapefruit, and a playful poached oyster and pork-cheek ramen with “noodles” fashioned from pork cracklings that soften in the soup. Besides snack-size “amuse de mer,” portions fall into traditional appetizers, entrées, and desserts (we’re eyeing that baked doughnut with green-tea ice cream).
While cocktails are a large focus in Ruppert’s other spots, Green focused on harder-to-find sakes, wines, large-format beers, and ciders for Crane & Turtle. Many play to the delicate flavors of the seafood-driven menu, such as a rose sake or a local heirloom cider from Monkton, Maryland. Spirits center on Japanese and American whiskeys, as well as 15 amaro liqueurs for custom Manhattans.
While many neighborhood places shy away from reservations, Ruppert says Crane & Turtle will take bookings by phone for all but the seven counter stools in the serene blue-and-white patterned dining room, designed by Nick Pimentel. A 15-seat patio, set for a fall debut, will expand the space. Those faced with a wait will eventually be able to browse the shelves at Ruppert’s next “challenging” venture: Upshur Street Books, an 800-square foot shop set to open across the street.
Crane & Turtle. 828 Upshur St., NW; 202-723-2543. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 5 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11; closed Monday.
Get ready for another Italian dining option when Noelia opens in downtown DC. The 238-seat space takes the place of Finemondo, and is the first restaurant from former FBI special agent Kaiser Gill (this is Washington, after all). The eatery is slated to debut toward the end of this week.
Gill tapped Carmen Gianna Piazza to helm the kitchen. The chef spent 22 years in Italy, and owned her own restaurant for four years before heading to Washington to cook at spots such as Cafe Milano, Sette Osteria, and Extra Virgin Modern Italian. The menu boasts a number of traditional dishes, like buffalo mozzarella caprese and lasagna, as well as Piazza’s original creations, such as fettuccine with smoked salmon and caviar or veal filets and raviolini sauced with thyme demi-glace. Lunch-goers will find more entrée salads and panini.
Those looking for evening action can find deejays and live music on a large dance floor on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as an outdoor patio for lingering over a bottle of wine from the Italian-focused list.
Noelia Italian Kitchen. 1319 F St., NW. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2; and dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. The bar will remain open until 2 on Friday and Saturday.
The newest and most anticipated bakery in town, Bread Furst, arrives from a veteran on the food scene: Mark Furstenberg, the master baker who helped bring artisan bread to Washington in the ’90s with Marvelous Market and Breadline.
Though no longer affiliated with either business (coincidentally, the final Marvelous Market closed last week) Furstenberg is most enthusiastic about the new venture, calling it his “dream bakery.” The rustic space features white walls, marble countertops, and hardwood floors and shelving. Diners can watch bakers Ben Arnold and Jack Revelle—former pastry chefs at Restaurant Eve and the White House, respectively—through large glass windows. “It’s beautiful,” Furstenberg says of the space. “It’s planned just the way I wanted it to be—and I’ve had enough experience now to know what I wanted.”
What he wanted this time around was to create a communal place in the residential (and restaurant-scarce) Van Ness location. People can stop by for coffee and pastry on their morning commute, pick up deli-style entrées to take home, and drop by with their kids for frozen treats in the summertime. “Mostly I care about being really immersed in the neighborhood,” Furstenberg says.
Here’s what to look for when you stop by this weekend. Take note: Items have been selling out quickly and may not all be available.
New York expats (and the rest of us), rejoice: Furstenberg serves what he describes as “chewy, not bready” bagels from scratch. They’re made the old-fashioned way, boiled in malt-sweetened water to caramelize the crust, then baked on a hearth. On weekends you can try specialties such as bialys, the bagel’s lesser-known yet delicious cousin, and challah bread on Fridays.
Lunch and dinner to go
Guests can order lunch from a menu of light fare, such as roast beet, fennel, and avocado salads or harissa-spiced chicken sandwiches with chickpea spread. Dinner launches later this month (see a sample menu), with dishes that vary daily. Furstenberg says the offerings will skew Mediterranean and vegetarian, highlighting local produce and whole grains. Still, you may also find comfort dishes like chicken à la king and beef stroganoff.
Beverage director John Flemming is a man whose life, according to Furstenberg, “seems to revolve around coffee.” Order Madcap Coffee Company espresso drinks and drip brews alongside teas and house-made sodas. Don’t plan to linger with a laptop; Furstenberg opted against wi-fi. “I want people to come because they like our breads and our food so much,” he says. “I want people to come here and talk to each other.”
Bread, after all, is the main event. Staples include a country levain, the Palladin—a ciabatta-based recipe and ode to the legendary chef Jean-Louis Palladin—and French baguettes, baked fresh every four hours. You’ll also find ryes, ancient-grain breads, flatbreads, and rich brioche.
Sweets and a soda fountain
The pastry spread includes something for every sweet tooth, from dainty lemon-mint bundt cakes to orange-poppyseed muffins. Croissants, danishes, and doughnuts round out the morning menu, while classic American desserts including apple pies and chocolate chip cookies fill the case throughout the day. Soon the long marble counter will transform into an old-fashioned soda fountain, complete with house-made ice cream.
Though floats, shakes, and egg creams may seem like an odd fit for a serious bread operation, Furstenberg says the soda fountain made sense for the neighborhood. “I wanted to do a classic American bakery,” he says, and that meant doing it all.
Bread Furst. 4434 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-765-1200. Open Monday through Friday 7 to 8, Saturday 8 to 6, and Sunday 9 to 5.
“You either do what people want and hope they’re right,” says Dean Gold, “or do what you want and hope they like it.”
The Dino’s Grotto owner quotes his mentor, a saying that comes to mind on the eve of opening his new Shaw restaurant with wife/partner Kay Zimmerman. The original Dino operated in Cleveland Park for nearly nine years before closing in February. The cozy Italian spot was a local favorite—evidenced, in part, by the $21,000 the team was able to raise in a crowd-funding campaign essential to opening the new eatery. Gold envisions the Grotto as a truer incarnation of the restaurant he always wanted when it opens on May 15. While the original idea for Dino was to be more flexible and more Italian in the dining approach—sharing, snacking—he found patrons wanting a traditional three-course structure.
“We became a different restaurant than I wanted to be because of that,” says Gold.
That’s not to say Gold isn’t listening to customers. Half the menu (a sample, subject to change) is categorized as “Dino regulars,” with dishes such as meatballs in spicy tomato sauce, East Coast cioppino, wild-boar pappardelle, and Jewish-Italian mashups like the duck-schmaltz soup; dishes that regulars expressed sadness over losing, and happiness in regaining, when news came of Dino’s demise and reincarnation (“Social media really allows you to learn what people love,” says Gold). As for event regulars, you can also expect a return of major Jewish holiday celebrations/feasts with Gold’s house-made gefilte fish, Seder meals, and other specialties.
The menu’s other half, “market,” plays more to the idea of flexibility. Here you’ll find seasonal specialties such as a five-deep selection of local vegetable antipasto, morel risotto, and Chesapeake soft-shell crabs. More adventurous ingredients also dot the menu—pickled lamb tongue with salsa verde, bone-in goat pot roast—but you’ll also find several varieties of burgers on ciabatta, from beef to vegan. Offerings in both sections are fewer than at the flagship, making the menu easier to change and source locally, a longtime commitment Dean looks forward to continuing.
The space is also smaller—76-seats compared with 104—but has a larger, basement-level bar area for 24. While snacking and sharing is encouraged across the board, the den is the place to order cicchetti, cheeses, cured meats, and while away a few hours. Barmen Fabian Malone and John Dynan have a homemade focus when it comes to drinks, making Meyer lemon limoncello, infusing rum with peak-of-season blackberries, and sourcing a larger list of whiskeys and mezcals than you might expect for an Italian restaurant. Wine, of course, plays a large role, with a Coravin system that allows the bar to pour pricier and/or older Amarone and Brunello by the glass. In a few weeks look for a late-night menu with dishes such as Italian “pho” made with hearty chicken stock, loaded with meats and noodles, and topped with basil. Gold hopes the guests like it.
Dino’s Grotto. 1914 Ninth St., NW; 202-686-2966. Current hours (as of May 15): Open Monday through Thursday 5 to midnight, Friday and Saturday 5 to 1, and Sunday, 4 to 10.
The team behind Food Wine & Co. and Fish Taco are jumping into the fast-casual burger game with City Burger, a casual patty spot slated to open right on the Bethesda/Chevy Chase border on Wednesday, May 14. We spoke with chef Michael Harr about his plans for the rustic-designed space.
First, the good news (though there really isn’t bad): Most items on the menu run $7 and less. The burgers aren’t fancy like the truffle-accented offerings at Food Wine & Co., but they aren’t no-frills, either. The kitchen uses all-natural, antibiotic- and hormone-free Midwestern beef, and tops the griddled patties with everything from cheddar, bacon, and barbecue sauce in the “pit stop” to a Hawaiian riff with caramelized pineapple and ham. The straightforward Signature will run you $4, arriving with lettuce, onion, and tomato (in season), and a chili-mayo-esque “city sauce.”
If there’s a downside, it may be that the spot only holds 15-odd seats, but the menu is designed with carryout in mind. Other offerings fall in the neighborhood-burger-shack theme: fries dusted with sea salt and herbs, hot dogs produced by a Baltimore butchery including a half-smoke and a beef-pork bauernwurst spread with mustard sauce and cabbage chow-chow. For dessert, Harr makes ice cream and custard in house, spun into creative shakes like the Presley, mixed with caramelized bananas, peanut butter, and bacon.
City Burger. 7015 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase.
At first glance, Compass Rose doesn’t scream Washington: No stars and bars line the walls, no half-smokes appear on the menu. But in less traditional ways it’s one of the more locally leaning spots to open in the 14th Street corridor of late. A small, eclectic menu of international street eats reflects the global nature—and well-traveled background—of many in the city. Chef John Paul Damato, a veteran of José Andrés’s empire, joins a group of owners who also have roots in the area; husband-and-wife duo Rose Previte and David Greene met years ago at the soon-to-close Pour House—he’s now an NPR Morning Edition cohost—and partner Mike Schuster co-owns Trusty’s, Star and Shamrock, and other Capitol Hill spots. Here’s what to look for in the funky 65-seat space, now open on T Street.
Street fare from Argentina to Tunisia
Damato’s kitchen may be small, but it turns out a globe-trotting assortment of dishes inspired by street food and travel. You could start with Georgian khachapuri, a rich cheese bread that Previte and Greene fell in love with during a three-year stint in Russia, then move on to Brazilian red shrimp spiced with pink peppercorns and pineapple or, closer to home, mini sausage corn dogs. A section of snacks provides sustenance for drinkers, but you’re not limited to grazing. Many plates are meal-size, such as the Chilean lomito sandwich stuffed with roast pork, avocado, and spicy nduja sausage.
Georgian “black wine” and house rosewater
The beverage lineup is just as eclectic as the food, with even more unusual finds. Need a date-night conversation starter? Try ordering Lebanese 961 Red Ale from the only microbrewery in the Middle East, or the Georgian house red, nicknamed “black wine” for its deep color and robust taste. On warmer nights you may want to opt for interesting cocktails such as the Summer Night in Beirut, made with Hangar 1 blueberry vodka, fresh lemonade, and house-made rosewater.
The outdoors inside
The cozy space mixes urban and outdoor touches. A large skylight illuminates brick walls lined with potted plants, repurposed wood surfaces, and a blue ceiling meant to evoke the sky. For true al fresco dining, a front patio is set to open this week with about ten seats.
Late-night eats and hours
Two dining rooms and a bar may give the appearance of a restaurant, but Previte says the space was equally designed for snacking and drinking. Stop in for a happy-hour libation, or drop by post-dinner to spend the night sipping Czechvar beers. A late-night menu—a condensed version of the regular offerings—is currently in the works.
A living-room vibe
“My husband and I live upstairs, so it’s kind of an extension of our living room,” says Previte. They searched for a space with an apartment attached, following in the tradition of Previte’s grandfather, who lived above his grocery store for many years. The aim is for a welcoming vibe, a continuation of their experience at the Pour House, where Previte was a server and Greene a regular. (Many in the bar’s extended family of staff and customers attended their wedding.) “With the Pour House is closing at the end of this month, I hope the neighborhood spirit comes over here,” says Previte.
Compass Rose. 1346 T St., NW; 202-506-4765. Open Monday through Thursday 5 to 2, Friday and Saturday 5 to 3, and Sunday 5 to 2.
If you’ve eaten Vietnamese in Virginia over the past two decades, chances are you’ve made at least one trip to Four Sisters. The family-run Falls Church eatery is one of the most popular in the area, its cheerful dining room regularly filling up for 20-plus years. Now the family is set to expand for the first time with Four Sisters Grill, a fast-casual spinoff opening steps from the Clarendon Metro on Thursday.
Chef/co-owner Hoa Lai condensed his menu of 110 items at the flagship to just over 20 dishes for the new space (formerly Fat Shorty’s). The kitchen adapts longtime customer favorites such as papaya salad, black-pepper beef, and bun vermicelli noodle bowls for quick service and carryout. Customers order at the counter and then find one of 70 seats inside the warm-hued space, or can opt for a table on the patio in warmer weather. You might bask in the sun with a Thai iced tea or one of the many beers—both imports such as Saigon Export and American crafts—selected to pair with the food.
Those looking for dishes new to the Four Sisters lineup will find a selection of bánh mì stuffed with meats like grilled chicken and cold cuts with pâté. The Grill sources its baguettes from the Eden Center bakery Song Que, and if the sandwiches are similar, you’re in for some of the best around. Vegetarians can opt for a tofu version, and will find similar meatless options in each section of the menu. One dish you can’t order: pho. Lai says customers have already asked about the signature Vietnamese soup, but he hopes instead to expand their knowledge of other types of dishes.
If this venture proves as well-received as its flagship, Lai says you may see more Four Sisters Grills in the future.
Four Sisters Grill. 3035 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-243-9020. Open daily 11 to 9.