Takoma Park is about to get a new neighborhood—and possibly destination—restaurant. Restaurateur Jeff Black, who’s behind BlackSalt and Pearl Dive, among others, has teamed up with longtime chef and Takoma Park native Danny Wells for a seventh venture. Here’s what to look for in the funky space.
A collaborative menu
You’ll find influences from both Black and Wells on the menu. As at every Black Restaurant Group spot, the kitchen houses a wood-burning grill, local bivalves star on the raw bar, and Addie’s mussels are a mainstay. Wells started as a line cook at the now-closed Rockville restaurant and worked his way up through the ranks at BlackSalt, eventually becoming executive chef at Pearl Dive. Signatures from each stop are present, including Pearl Dive’s wood-grilled oysters with garlic-red-chili butter. Wells says his own style is influenced by ten years with the company, meaning robustly flavored dishes such as whole black bass with pancetta and smoked greens, Portuguese-style fish stew with roasted shellfish and chilies, and citrus-brined brick chicken.
Vegetarian and vegan offerings
Fitting for the neighborhood—and a time when “meat as garnish” is a culinary trend—you’ll find plenty of ways to eat your vegetables. Options change seasonally. You may find roasted acorn squash with chestnuts and brown butter, a smoked-vegetable-studded johnnycake with poblano cream, or an ancient-grain salad tossed with pomegranate seeds and pistachios. Certain veggie items may look like they’re better suited for omnivores—say, braised kale and garbanzo beans with Surryano ham—but Wells says the dishes can be ordered sans meat and/or dairy to taste.
Takoma Park style and a Cash bathroom
One of Washington’s funkier neighborhoods calls for a restaurant with a similar aesthetic. Designer Molly Allen and the team traveled about the East Coast, hunting for vintage finds and salvaged wood. To that end you’ll find (slightly) unlevel floors of North Carolina reclaimed pine, banquets fashioned from reupholstered Victorian sofas, and a classic stereo filled with vintage toys, which Black happens to collect. Johnny Cash fans should head to the unisex bathroom—which isn’t as weird as it sounds—where the musician’s image is plastered on the walls and his music plays exclusively.
A Fascist Killer cocktail—and beer, of course
Noting that a bar stocks craft brews these days is like mentioning the soda on tap. Still, bar manager Brett Robison is more of an expert than most, having worked at a local brewery, written a beer blog (Divine Brew), and continued as an active home-brewer. Cocktail fans aren’t left dry, with a lineup of drinks named after the politically “free-spirited” nature of the neighborhood. Think along the lines of the Fascist Killer and former Takoma Park mayor Sammie Abbott.
Outdoor music and (fingers crossed), a double-decker food bus
While a December opening isn’t ideal for al fresco dining, Republic will debut with a back patio equipped with heat lamps that will eventually seat around 40 diners. Once dinner and the soon-to-come lunch and brunch services are running smoothly, you’ll find live music in the restaurant and outdoors. The patio looks out onto a spacious lot, and Black is currently plotting options for it. Among the considerations: a double-decker bus, a regular bus outfitted with a dining table, or a food truck that’ll hit the streets for lunch. Black is pretty tight-lipped about the concept (and no, it won’t be po’ boys), but says he’s currently partnering with two former college friends for a quick-service operation in his home state of Texas that could be adapted to street vending when it arrives in Washington. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a wagon blasting Cash and serving Sammie Abbotts.
Look out, 14th Street: Washington’s next hot dining neighborhood is on the up. Just on the heels of Bluejacket/the Arsenal’s opening on the Capitol Riverfront, Michelin-starred restaurateur Michael White debuts Osteria Morini Tuesday night. The warm-toned Italian eatery is a near-identical sibling to White’s SoHo original, boasting a hearty menu inspired by the Emilia-Romagna region.
The restaurants’ namesake is Gianluigi Morini, chef/owner of the famed San Domenico restaurant near Bologna where White worked for seven years. The meat-centric menu falls in line with the robust style of the region’s capital city, but also includes a number of seafood dishes as a nod to the waterside location. Hearty bowls of agnolotti sauced with short-rib ragu or seafood stew are far from tapas—but executive chef Matt Adler, who cooked at the Manhattan flagship as well as the Altamarea Group’s Marea and Ai Fiori, suggests sharing multiple dishes instead of the individual appetizer-entrée-dessert approach. You could arguably make a meal from just starters such as wooden boards piled with Italian meats, cheeses, and fresh fry bread; an array of crostini; hearty salads—we like the sound of bitter greens, caramelized onion, and a poached egg; and antipasti like prosciutto-mortadella meatballs or braised baby octopus over polenta.
Still, sticking to appetizers means skipping pasta, and pasta is a White specialty—as former New York Times critic Sam Sifton observed, “Michael White cooks pasta, and people go crazy.” All the pastas are made in-house, including less-common varieties such as rag-like stracci, dainty pipette tubes, and short curls of gramigna. Most arrive with more meats and cheeses, and a sense of indulgence—think truffled ricotta ravioli with prosciutto or a béchamel-laced lasagna with beef, pork, and veal ragu. If you’re in the mood for true decadence, a two-pound New York strip priced at $82 should do the trick. The cut is aged for 40 days by the meat gurus at Pat LaFrieda, the same purveyors behind White’s cultish White Label burger. The Florentine-style behemoth is cooked on a wood-burning grill and served for two (at least) with sweet-sour cipollini onions.
The restaurant is currently only open for dinner, but weekday lunch and weekend brunch are set to start in about three weeks. Look for dishes such as the much-lauded Osteria porchetta, here in sandwich form on house-made bread with shaved fennel, Emmenthaler cheese, and rosemary-mustard aïoli. Also on the horizon: nearby sibling eatery Nicoletta Pizzeria, which will serve takeout pies that can be eaten with beer and wine at patio tables overlooking the river.
Osteria Morini. 301 Water St., SE; 202-484-0660. Current hours: Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. The bar opens at 4 Monday through Saturday, and remains open an hour after dinner concludes.
No one can accuse restaurateur Michael Babin and his team of being lazy. Just on the heels of opening Bluejacket and the Arsenal, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s ambitious brewery/bar/restaurant on the Capitol Riverfront, they’re set to debut Iron Gate Restaurant on Tuesday, November 19, and are taking reservations now. The highly anticipated Dupont Circle venture continues the restaurant’s legacy in Washington, with the Iron Gate having served guests under multiple owners since 1923. Now that the space at 1734 N Street is reopening after a three-year closure and renovation, here’s what to expect.
Italian, Greek, local
If there’s a motto for the new Iron Gate, this might be it. Chef Tony Chittum built two menus—one à-la-carte, another tasting—with an emphasis on Italian and Greek dishes prepared with local (when possible) ingredients. The Chesapeake native left the kitchen at sister operation Vermilion about nine months ago, and spent the sojourn traveling in Greece and Sardinia, visiting farms, and learning techniques for Mediterranean breads and cheeses. You’ll find the research and philosophy put to use in dishes such as grilled bread with whipped ricotta—both house-made—or baked Chincoteague oysters, spinach, and kefalotyri cheese with freshly baked phyllo. (Fun fact: Chittum picked up his phyllo technique from an elderly Greek friend of his wife, whose family still lives on the island of Syros.) The Mediterranean/mid-Atlantic theme also extends to the bar, with a large selection of Greek and southern Italian wines and beers, as well as contributions from Virginia, Maryland, and the Bluejacket brewery.
Romantic interiors and an ever-green patio
“Romantic” is a descriptor often used for Iron Gate: Its structure dates back more than a century, when horse-drawn carriages pulled in through the main gate. Now you’ll find that arched entrance converted into the 26-seat “carriageway,” a front bar and dining space set aglow by wooden chandeliers. Even more atmospheric is the spacious garden patio, covered with century-old wisteria vines and a lofty retractable awning. Though the space isn’t designed to host guests through deep winter, you’ll find outdoor heaters, cozy blankets, and plenty of ouzo to keep al fresco dining an option through cooler months (note: the outdoor space will open later). The main indoor dining room returns to an equine theme, with a cozy, 48-seat spot set up in the former stables. There you’ll find plenty of warm wood and a fireplace.
Two menus in three spaces
As at sister duo restaurant Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, you can opt for more formal or casual dining depending on where you sit. The carriageway and patio will serve an à-la-carte menu*, which boasts a large number of appetizers for the sharing-inclined, as well as full- or half-portion pastas and platters of wood-roasted meats and seafood. The platters arrive with fresh bread, seasonal vegetables, and sauces such as house-made yogurt tzatziki. In the dining room you’ll find a tasting menu that changes nightly, divided by categories like “garden” and “water,” from which you’ll pick four or six courses ($50 and $75, respectively). Regardless of your path, the meal begins with five to eight small mezze such as Nantucket Bay scallop crudo or seasonal dips with fresh bread.
Unusual (and inexpensive) pairings
The Neighborhood Restaurant Group is known for its beers (and its beermaster, Greg Engert), but at Iron Gate there’s also an emphasis on Mediterranean wines and spirits from sommelier Brent Kroll. Since the average guest—or even the aspiring wine buff—could have a difficult time picking a bottle of Greek or Southern Italian wine to their taste, not to mention Slovenian or Croatian, Kroll sent the staff through vino boot camp with 40-page information packets, 20-hour lectures, and flashcards they can view from their iPhones. At the table you’ll find 20 wines by the glass for sampling—divided into helpful categories such as “earthy, spiced, complex” and “light, tart, elegant”—as well as grappa, ouzo, and marsala. Many of the cocktails center on mastika liquor. (Another fun fact: Mastika is flavored with sap from the mastic evergreen.) While you may have to be more adventurous, another perk is the price: Without all the California Cabs and French Burgundies, optional pairings for the tasting menu are $25 and $40 for four and six courses, respectively.
Once the team gets dinner service running smoothly, the restaurant will roll out breakfast, lunch, and brunch. The most important meal of the day will also be the most casual, with Ceremony coffee drinks and pastries that can be taken to go. Brunch will be divided into sweet and savory dishes—think house-made yogurt, baked eggs, sourdough pancakes, and Greek pastries such as bougatsa, honeyed phyllo filled with semolina custard. Aspirations for lunch include what Chittum calls a “real gyro”: fresh pita stuffed with spit-roasted pork, more of that house yogurt, and fries.
“This is the first place I have an immersion circulator, but I like fire and I like food,” says Chittum. “That’s what we’re about.”
Iron Gate. 1734 N St., NW; 202-524-5202. Open Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. Call for opening hours.
*These are sample menus, which are subject to multiple changes.
Washington is getting its fare share of New York imports, from an outpost of Daniel Boulud’s DBGB to a Southeast Asian spot from the Fatty Crew Hospitality Group. And now there’s Water & Wall, chef Tim Ma’s newly opened restaurant that mixes Big Apple inspirations with a homegrown neighborhood vibe.
The Arlington eatery’s name nods to the intersection of Water and Wall streets in the Financial District, where Ma and wife/business partner Joey Hernandez lived while he attended the French Culinary Institute. Ma, then an engineer, didn’t aspire to the work-hard, play-hard lifestyle of twentysomething New York City line cooks, and the couple spent time in the apartment planning their Washington venture. Both seem to have a touch of the New York. Maple Ave Restaurant, their first, seems more Brooklyn than Vienna, with fewer than 30 seats and a diverse menu that lists roasted bone marrow alongside Burmese chicken salad. The new spot is a considerable expansion, with 40-odd tables, plus what Ma describes as a few “New York Mafia-style” booths. The design from Studio Ideya also reflects the couple’s former Manhattan home; designer Sucha Khamsuwan even visited the eponymous intersection for inspiration.
“Anything goes as long as it’s enjoyable,” says Rose’s Luxury chef-owner Aaron Silverman, standing in his kitchen on opening night.
This (non) guiding principle extends throughout the Capitol Hill restaurant, which opened Wednesday and is named for Silverman’s grandmother. The 100-year-old building on Barrack’s Row exudes the feel of an eclectic townhouse, with each dining space possessing its own feel. The same menu is served throughout, but you might be seated in the first-floor atrium amid potted plants and dangling string lights, perch on white leather stools across from the open kitchen and its wood-burning stove, or gather at the rooftop picnic table in warmer weather. Climb the narrow staircase and you’ll find a living-room-esque bar on the second floor, set with a trim couch for drinks before dinner. Despite spreading out over the entire structure, the rooms only seat around 75 diners total.
The menu is just as diverse as the decor, and similarly concise in size. Silverman’s résumé includes impressive stops at restaurants such as McCrady’s in Charleston and New York’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and Insieme, and you can spot influences of all. Small dishes dominate. You might start with Vietnamese pâté, chicken liver mousse crowned with Asian herbs and a layer of fat skimmed from Silverman’s pork pho (coming soon). A section of pastas such as spaghetti with a savory combination of strawberry ragout and ricotta or classic cacio e pepe speak to the chef’s Italian training, while smoked beef ribs with house-made peach vinegar head back to South Carolina.
Nice tan, Washington. While you were sunning yourself on the beach, Mai Tai in hand, we were sweating it out here in town—running from new restaurant to new restaurant to bring you previews of the must-try spots that have recently opened or are just about to. The good news: There is a lot of great stuff to check out. Oh, and swimsuit season is officially over—go get a homemade pop tart already.
Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks, the duo behind Jackie’s, Sidebar, Quarry House Tavern, and El Chucho, are opening this little spot in the former Cajun Experience space next to Lauriol Plaza. Chef Diana Davila-Boldin designed the menu of small plates; LaMont Mitchell is the acting chef. There are really cool drinks on the bar, including a pickleback Jell-o shot, an orange crush, and two on-tap tiki drinks. Charley debuts officially on Thursday.
Bar Charley is the latest endeavor from El Chucho/Jackie’s/Quarry House Tavern team Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks. It takes over that funny little bar the Cajun Experience, now defunct, at 1825 18th Street, Northwest. Unlike its raucous, margarita-slinging neighbor Lauriol Plaza, Charley is meant to be a mellow spot for sipping and snacking. El Chucho designer Mick Mier created a look that is vintage but not kitschy, with a refined gray-green and pale pink color scheme. Antique chandeliers and pops of peacock-patterned Chinese wallpaper complete the elegant feel. Mercifully, none of the wood comes from an abandoned barn in Pennsylvania, though the bar stools and chairs were salvaged from the previous tenant.
Diana Davila-Boldin was the chef at Jackie’s and then El Chucho before she moved back to her hometown of Chicago a few months ago. When Greenbaum and Banks secured the Bar Charley space, they asked her to create the opening menu for them. They have since recruited Lamont Mitchell, last of Redwood in Bethesda, to come aboard. Greenbaum says Mitchell will gradually add his own touches to the small-plate offerings. The current menu has seven sections, including cheeses, sandwiches—such as a lobster roll and a bison sloppy joe—vegetarian options, seafood, and meat. For eschewers of small plates, there’s an oven-grilled steak with fries, kimchee ketchup, and compressed-duck sauce and a whole fish with potato purée; both dishes are big enough for two people to share.
Thally, a new restaurant in Shaw, opens Tuesday. The design and furniture—simple and solid—reflect the menu, which chef/co-owner Ron Tanaka developed with neighborhood residents in mind. The chef says the people who live around the area anchored by the convention center tend to be homeowners in long-term relationships, and the restaurant will give them a mellow place to hang out that’s not too expensive (entrée prices hover in the teens and low $20s). Tanaka, whose last gig was helming the kitchen at New Heights in Woodley Park, was the first chef at wine bar Cork on 14th Street, another restaurant designed with a neighborhood in mind.
One of Tanaka’s favorite selections on the menu combines Swiss chard with Tarbais beans, fennel, mushrooms, and slow-cooked shallot chips sweetened with simple syrup. It’s meat- and dairy-free, but the chef says he didn’t even realize that until he had already created the dish, as great texture and flavor combinations dictated all of his menu decisions. And he says he likes the food to have a natural look, as if the ingredients had floated gently down from the sky onto the plates. The menu will change seasonally and is based on available ingredients.
Thally will begin with dinner service only, eventually adding weekend lunch to the schedule.
Thally. 1316 Ninth St., NW; 202-733-3849.
Yes, Washington boasts a slew of burger joints ranging in size, style, and level of casualness. Still, the growing NoMa neighborhood isn’t yet saturated with easygoing restaurants, not to mention low-key bars where you can drop by during happy hour or late night. So it will no doubt welcome Timothy Dean Burger, a fast-casual restaurant and bar now open at 250 K Street, Northeast.
You may recognize the Washington-born Dean from his Top Chef: DC appearance or his TDB eatery in Largo, Maryland. The District location is similar but has a more expansive menu, plus ample beers and wines and a full bar.
Grilled (bipartisan) burgers
Dean says grilling the burgers over a live flame is what differentiates his patties from the pack—plus a fattier blend for juicier bites and a 21-spice rub kicked up with cayenne, allspice, and jerk seasonings. Pick your own toppings to pile on the brioche bun, or go with house combinations named after Washington figures past and present, like the Sonia (Sotomayor) From the Bronx, with avocado and roasted mushrooms or the fried-egg-topped Thomas Jefferson. More of a pescetarian? Try the RGIII—a seared ahi tuna filet decked with fried onions and chili aïoli—or a Cajun catfish sandwich.
Calling G a “sandwich shop” is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, sandwiches are the focus of Mike Isabella’s latest eatery (at least during the day), but few other operations roast whole goats for their subs or switch from chicken Parms to four-course tasting menus come dinnertime. Those familiar with the New York dining scene will automatically think of Torrisi Italian Specialties, which started as a daytime Italian deli turned nighttime prix-fixe spot, as the closest comparison. The association isn’t unwarranted; Isabella credits the Torrisi team as one the main inspirations behind his latest project, though there’s no formal affiliation. Here’s what to look for in the many faces of the new venture.
Classics (with a twist) and suckling-pig sandwiches
Perhaps more than any other Isabella-owned restaurant, G has a menu that connects directly with various areas of his background: Italian-American, Jersey, and Greek influences are all represented (as well as a section of “fresh & healthy” items from the Fit for Hope ringleader). Classics like the chicken Parm and meatball sub still get a twist; the former contains a sauce of braised chicken thighs beneath the crispy breast, while the meatballs in the latter are perked up with a generous amount of lemon zest, mint, and chilies, and topped with pork-neck gravy. The whole, wood-roasted meats from the adjoining Kapnos also make an appearance, including spiced baby goat dressed with harissa and a suckling pig-wich with apple mostarda.