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The French-Japanese eatery debuts in Petworth. By Anna Spiegel
Crane & Turtle brings refined French-Japanese fare to a 25-seat Petworth space. Photographs by Sam Vasfi.

“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

Chef Makoto Hamamura spent six years at CityZen, and creates fusion dishes such as hay-smoked tuna tataki.

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. 

A focused beverage menu centers around large-format beers, sakes, ciders, and Japanese whiskey.

Posted at 02:56 PM/ET, 06/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Pastas and dancing for the downtown crowd. By Anna Spiegel
Noelia brings Italian dining and late night dancing to downtown. Photography by Andrew Propp.

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.

A large 238-seat space includes two private dining areas, including a 14-seat room for smaller parties.
Chef Carmen Gianna Piazza, formerly of Sette Osteria, is behind dishes such as scallops with risotto and seared tuna with caponata.

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.

Once guests have finished with dinner on weekend nights they can hit the 1,400-square-foot dance floor.

Posted at 02:13 PM/ET, 06/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Old-fashioned bagels, a soda fountain, and breads galore from Mark Furstenberg. By Vicky Gan
Bread Furst debuts with a range of baked goods, lunch and dinner items, and more to come (like these tasty-looking croissants). Photographs courtesy of Bread Furst.

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.”

Breads are made fresh, including levain and French-style baguettes baked every four hours.

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.

Fresh bagels

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.

Mornings may bring doughnuts and croissants, while pastries such as apple pies and chocolate chip cookies are ready all day.

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.

Serious brews

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 first

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.

Posted at 02:23 PM/ET, 05/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A Cleveland Park favorite relocates to Shaw. By Anna Spiegel
Dino’s Grotto brings many of the Cleveland Park’s original dishes and events to Shaw. Photographs by Jeff Elkins.

“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. 

Co-owner Dean Gold plans to put several more adventurous dishes on the menu, from sustainable Spanish octopus to goat.

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. 

Look for house-made spirits including Meyer lemon limoncello and blackberry-infused rum, and a late-night menu in the bar area.

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. 

Posted at 09:09 AM/ET, 05/08/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
City-sauced patties, half-smokes, and house-made shakes from the Food Wine & Co. team. By Anna Spiegel
City Burger aims for wallet-friendly eats with dishes $7 and below, including the signature City Burger. Photographs by Michael Harr.

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.

Chef Michael Harr sources hot dogs and sausages from a Baltimore butcher, like this one topped with mustard sauce and chow-chow.

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.”

Fries arrive dusted with sea salt and herbs, which you can match with a house-made custard shake.

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.

Posted at 02:11 PM/ET, 05/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Eclectic street fare and international drinking for the 14th Street corridor. By Anna Spiegel
Compass Rose mixes eclectic street fare and drinks with a homey vibe. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

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.

Order anything from Moroccan steamed mussels to pupusas or Lebanese kefta in one of the two dining rooms. 

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.

One of the many offerings from Georgia: cheesy egg-topped khachapuri bread, best accompanied by robust Georgian black wine. Photograph by Scott Henrichsen.

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.

Sip a signature Compass Rose (left) with Georgian sparkling, pomegranate, and house rosewater while tucked into a cozy enclave. 

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 second dining area boasts an “Al’s Market” wall mural, a nod to Previte’s grandfather, who lived above his grocery store. The couple currently live above their eatery, too. 

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.

Posted at 03:03 PM/ET, 04/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The longtime Vietnamese favorite expands after 20-plus years. By Anna Spiegel
Four Sisters Grill debuts in Clarendon as a casual spinoff of the Falls Church institution. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

Signatures from the flagship restaurant, such as black-pepper beef and crispy spring rolls, have been adapted for the new menu.

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.

The 70-seat dining room mirrors the original restaurant’s with warm tones, though customers here order at the counter.

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.

Posted at 12:28 PM/ET, 04/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Spiked slushies, playful desserts, and ample happy hour for 14th Street’s newest addition. By Anna Spiegel
Red Light melds cocktails, bubbly on tap, and indulgent desserts in a bar space that nods to burlesque. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

When we broke the news of Red Light’s arrival on 14th Street back in February, the dessert/cocktail bar was just a Wonka-ish idea on the horizon. Now the team—restaurateur Aaron Gordon, former Komi pastry chef Robert Underwood, and brother barmen Ari and Micah Wilder—are set for an April 10 April 12 debut*. Here’s what to look out for on your first drinking and dessert-ing venture.

Boozy Shirleys and spiked ice 

The Wilders are serious about cocktails, but the menu includes a healthy dose of fun—as do the bar toys, judging from the Sno Wizard shaved-ice machine sitting on the counter. The contraption shears fruit-studded ice to order for slushies topped with seasonal nectars, ice wine, and Aperol. Fans of drinkable desserts can also scoop a rum-spiked “cake shake” with house-made ice cream, or opt for sweet sips such as a Dirty Shirley, a riff on a Shirley Temple with gin, cherry liqueur, homemade ginger ale, and brandied cherries. Those lacking a sugar tooth will find on-tap cocktails, including classics such as Sazeracs and Negronis, and a number of Champagne cocktails.

Brothers Ari (left) and Micah Wilder (far right) worked with former Komi pastry chef Robert Underwood to devise cocktail and dessert menus that play off one another.

You next date “meal”

Wooing with dessert isn’t a new idea, but now you have a place essentially dedicated to it (unless, of course, your escort takes too many looks at the corseted woman hovering in the mirror above the bar, one of the quirky nods to the Red Light name). Though Underwood didn’t craft a menu with courtship in mind, all sweets are meant to share. Think playful combinations such as black-and-tan doughnuts with a stout-chocolate center, or cookies and “milk,” a White Russian-esque egg cream with vodka, rum, cognac, and mole bitters. On the savory side is cheese fondue with house breads and fruits for dunking. Really want to prove commitment? Take the time for the $22 prix-fixe, which includes a sweet bite to start, the dessert or soufflé of the day, petit fours, and a paired glass of something boozy.

A roomy patio with a slushie stand

The space itself is fairly cozy, with 30 seats filling a dark, wood-accented room that hints at a burlesque vibe without veering into brothel-kitsch. In warm weather, the patio adds another 45 spots and features a shaved-ice stand for making those boozy slushies to order. On the run? Stop by on weekend afternoons for virgin versions topped with house nectars or fresh juices.

The “red light” references are few in the wood-accented space, with two oversize red leather chairs and a corseted woman hovering in the mirror above the bar.

Happy hour, early and late, every day

The old “never too much of a good thing” adage definitely applies to happy hour, and you’ll find plenty of it here. Half-off specials on wines, all on-tap bubbly and beers, and one specialty cocktail apply from 4 to 7, and then again from 11 to close for night owls. The bar plans to offer the hours of happiness seven days a week, making your Saturday-night drinking that much cheerier.

Summer will bring more of a fruit focus, with desserts such as this goat-cheese custard with pineapple three ways and fruit-studded shaved ice topped with ice wine and Aperol.

Looking ahead: booze to go 

Thanks to a new DC law, you may be able to take that Sazerac on the road (though not in an open container; this isn’t New Orleans). The Wilder brothers plan to bottle their three on-tap cocktails for tableside service and hope to eventually provide sealed, portable containers for those who prefer to sip at home. Aspiring barkeeps may also be able to purchase their bitters, syrups, and other cocktail accoutrement soon.

Red Light. 1401 R St., NW; 202-234-0400. Open Monday through Thursday 4 to midnight, Friday and Saturday noon to 2 AM, and Sunday noon to midnight.

*This post has been updated to reflect new information from the owners. 

Posted at 11:28 AM/ET, 04/03/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Market-style street food and Thai cocktails come to Foggy Bottom. By Anna Spiegel
Soi 38 brings Thai-inspired cocktails and unusual dishes inspired by Bangkok’s street markets to Foggy Bottom. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

Though the District boasts a good number Thai restaurants, not many have menus that venture beyond pad Thai and other mainstays (though the suburbs are rich with variety for those willing to travel). Hoping to expand the scene are Bangkok natives Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip, the husband-and-wife team behind Soi 38. The Foggy Bottom eatery, debuting April 15, is named after one of the largest night markets in the couple’s home city, and will offer a menu inspired by the street fare served there. 

This isn’t to say you won’t find familiar dishes; the couple also own the nearby Thai Place, whose menu reads more mainstream. Still, Ongsangkoon says they want to introduce guests to lesser-known recipes they make for their family, as well as the Northern Thai specialties chef Mitchai Pankham prepared at his restaurant back home. You might start with herb-marinated grilled pork neck or crispy rolls stuffed with Chinese sausage and crab. For the most adventurous, there’s slow-cooked pork liver tossed with toasted rice, chilies, and mint; another preparation with crispy shrimp and cashews plays to tamer tastes. Catering to all palates is another market staple: an entrée of Thai fried chicken with vinegary chili sauce for dipping.

Chef Mitchai Pankham ran a restaurant in his native Northern Thailand, and plans to recreate traditional dishes like khao soi curry noodles.
Fans of fiery food can opt for pad cha talay, one of the spiciest platters, heaped with fresh seafood, red chilies, and young peppercorns.

Ongsangkoon and Khanthongthip’s young son is gluten-intolerant, so you’ll find a number of wheat-free dishes labeled on the menu. A good place to start is curries—including gaeng nom, a light, fiery toss of shrimp, tamarind, and vegetables—and hot pots served over a live flame, such as a fragrant lemongrass version simmered overnight with bone-in pork spare ribs. Pankham’s Northern-style dishes lean heartier; think traditional khao soi, a curry egg-noodle dish topped with chicken legs, crispy noodles, and Thai pickles. Those in the know can also ask for off-menu specialties such as bacon-fat-fried rice topped with a runny egg, or beef boat noodle soup in cooler weather.

The restaurant’s decor also reflects the lively night markets, with dark walls covered in gold graffiti by Baltimore-based street artist Gaia. Dragons and elephants parade around the warmly lit space, while a dragon-ish eye peers out over the bar. Popular barman JP Caceres is behind the cocktails, including unusual sips such as shareable teapots of whiskey-tamarind punch, rum-spiked Thai coffees, and spicy Singapore Slings on draft.

Thai spots aren’t renowned for desserts besides mango and sticky rice, but here you’ll find a comparative wealth of options for finishing a meal. The kitchen churns its own ice cream, including dairy-free fresh Thai coconut topped with crunchy peanuts, and a Thai tea flavor. Plan to scoop the cooling sweets on a 52-seat patio in warmer weather.

Baltimore-based street artist Gaia designed golden murals (left) to dance across the walls. A dragon eye looks over bar-goers sipping whiskey-tamarind punch and Singapore slings on draft.
The earth-toned dining room is lit by floor-to-ceiling windows by day, but glows come nighttime.
Large groups can reserve one of two spacious tables, or diners can eat communally (think market-style) during busy hours.

Soi 38. 2101 L St., NW; 202-558-9215. Opening for lunch and dinner on April 15.

Posted at 02:16 PM/ET, 04/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
R&R Taqueria’s talented chef goes from gas station to Dupont Circle. By Anna Spiegel
R&R Taqueria chef Rodrigo Albarran brings a taste of Mexico City to Dupont Circle. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

We’re longtime fans of R&R Taqueria—along with Guy Fieri and countless others—but the drive to the original, at a gas station in Elkridge, Maryland, isn’t for everyone. Luckily, fans can get a taste of chef Rodrigo Albarran’s Mexican cooking just steps from the Dupont Circle Metro with Mission, now open. Here’s what to look for when you head over this weekend.

Margaritas on the patio or beneath the skylight

Rodrigo, who still splits time between his two R&R locations and the new spot, partnered with Mason Inn and George owners Fritz Brogan and Reed Landry for the concept. The restaurant is a new move for all three—it’s much bigger in scope than a stools-only taqueria, and a departure from the duo’s booze-only bars. The three worked with their team to transform the seemingly subterranean former One Lounge space into a rustic Mexican eatery, sporting pristine white walls and dark wood floors. A large skylight—more like a sky-ceiling—above the bar allows plenty of sunshine, while you can catch direct rays on a 50-seat patio in warmer weather.

A skylight over the 25-seat bar lets in the sunshine, while guests will also be able to sip margaritas on a 50-seat outdoor patio.

Tacos y hamburguesas

A larger space means a bigger menu for Rodrigo. You’ll find some similar dishes from the chef’s repertoire of Mexico City-style cooking, including fresh tortillas stuffed with pork carnitas and homey pozole. Still, the dinner-only (for now) menu includes many more options, including a variety of seafood specialties such as ceviche, soup stewed with whole clams, and crispy mahi-mahi tacos. Vegetarians can also do well here with poblano pepper-potato tacos and chiles rellenos, while meat lovers can opt for racks of ribs with adobe barbecue sauce and a fiery burger topped with über-spicy ghost peppers.

A large menu boasts everything from tacos to ribs to ceviche (pictured left). Bigger parties can take their meals in several private spaces, like this brick-walled room.

Pour-your-own tequila shots

Brogan points out that Mission is the first bar (see the drink menu) in DC to have Corona on tap, which you can sip alongside small or large pitchers of frozen margs and other Mexican-restaurant staples. But the 50-deep list of tequilas and mezcals is the star of the bar. All can be ordered in eight-ounce carafes for pouring your dining companions shots at the table.

Enchiladas with chicken and pasilla chilies stuffed into fresh tortillas are among the many Mexico City-inspired dishes.

Happy hour and late-night service

Night owls looking for a late dinner can drop in for the full menu until 11 on weekdays and midnight on weekends. After the kitchen wraps up, a deejay will play on certain nights, taking things back to the lounge days. Guests can also head up to the second-floor bar to sip margaritas into the wee hours. Happy hour runs between 5 and 7:30 and currently includes $3 Tecates and $6.50 house margaritas; more drink and food specials are in the works.

You won’t find kitschy sombreros in the rustic dining room, accented with dark wood and leather banquettes.

Looking ahead: lunch, bottomless brunch

No Dupont spot is complete without bottomless brunch, which Mission plans to launch this summer (bubbly and/or tequila to be determined). You’ll see lunch service debut earlier, as well as online reservations through OpenTable.

Mission. 1606 20th St., NW. 202-525-2010. Current hours (subject to change): Open daily 5 to midnight.

A cozy telephone room upstairs provides a quiet space for making calls and a charger to juice up your phone.

Posted at 02:28 PM/ET, 03/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()