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Southern fare and an expansive outdoor space for Norfolk Avenue. By Anna Spiegel
Roof Bethesda spans two stories, including an indoor seated dining room and a spacious rooftop for 200. Photographs by Jeff Elkins.

Washingtonians love a good rooftop—a fact area native Alan Pohoryles realized when working at Parker’s in the early ’90s. He’d travel to crowded decks in Adams Morgan and Arlington for an al fresco drink, but wished there was a Bethesda destination. Now there is: Welcome the appropriately named Roof Bethesda, with one of the largest outdoor spaces in the area.

A late December opening doesn’t call to mind an outdoor party, but Pohoryles’s two-story spot includes plenty of indoor seating for chillier weather. What began as a bar concept for the Tommy Joe’s owner morphed into a bar/restaurant space that caters to a sit-down dinner clientele (complete with that increasingly rare bird, the tablecloth), as well as to those who want to perch at the bar in front of seven flat-screen TVs or head outdoors for drinks. The second-floor dining room has 80 seats and another 40 on an adjoining patio, while the rooftop deck offers space for more than 200 across lounge areas, tables, and standing room.

You’ll find French and Southern influences on both the casual bar menus and those fit for a sit-down meal.
Shrimp and grits with chorizo and smoked tomatoes is one of chef Jed Fox’s specialties.

Chef Jed Fox is also a Washington native, who trained at notable restaurants including the Inn at Little Washington and Bistro Bis and recently left a sous-chef position at Ris. The menu—which is fairly concise for the large space—features both Southern and French influences, including dishes such as crispy Chesapeake oysters, shrimp and grits with chorizo and smoked tomatoes, steak frites, and pots of steamed mussels. As the restaurant gets up and running you’ll find brunch and lunch menus, plus more casual bar offerings that will be available in the downtime between lunch and dinner, as well as late-night.

Behind the bar is Josiah Alexander, who also doubles as the pastry chef. On the sweets lineup you’ll find such dishes as a caramelized-banana parfait with house-made salted-caramel ice cream; house concoctions also feature in the specialty cocktails. In addition to classic martinis and mules are sips like beet-infused tequila with salt foam and a gin-based “green refresher” with cucumber ice, perfect for sipping in the sunshine.

Come summer you can sip a margarita and nibble lighter fare like sliders and ceviche on the roof deck.
House-made ice creams in flavors such as Moroccan mint accompany desserts, including this mousse-filled chocolate sphere with a warm raspberry sauce topping.
The expansive roof deck is outfitted with lounge areas, high-top tables, and seats for dining.

Roof Bethesda. 7940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 240-245-7663. Currently open for dinner Monday through Sunday at 5 (call for current hours).

Posted at 11:46 AM/ET, 01/14/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Hilton brothers’ latest hotspot opens Friday. By Anna Spiegel
El Rey brings shipping-container chic and a year-round beer garden to U Street. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

If there’s one thing brothers Eric and Ian Hilton know how to do, it’s open nightlife spots with distinct style. Think about bourbon-heavy American Ice Co., Satellite Room and its rock-diner vibe, and the pubby Brixton—all of which are within an easy bar hop from their latest venture, El Rey. The Mexican-themed watering hole and taqueria promises to bring something new to U Street: a year-round beer garden, made possible by a retractable transparent roof and plenty of heaters. Oh, and nearly the entire structure is fashioned out of shipping containers. Here’s what to expect from “the King,” opening Friday at 5.

Shipping-container chic

The Hiltons aren’t the first to use shipping containers in the design—the Bullpen boasts a number—but no one else in DC has imported five via heavy-duty crane to make up their structure. The heavy metal boxes were used for the kitchen, bar, dining area, bathrooms, and more, and are covered by a retractable roof over the beer garden to bring the outside in (though not too much; Ian says heat lamps keep things toasty, even in the dead of winter). Once the weather warms, the panels will be pulled back so you can sip Pacificos in the sunshine.

A retractable roof keeps things toasty in winter and opens to the sky for summer sipping. Photograph by Patrick Onofre.
Five large shipping containers make up most of the structure, including the bar where you can sip tequila cocktails. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

Traditional tacos and Natty Boh micheladas

Chef Jorge Pimentel—who once owned the Latin-inspired Sabor’a Street food truck and now helms the Brixton’s kitchen—is behind the menu. Much like the pub, El Rey offers fare designed for drinking and snacking your way through the evening. Eight traditional tacos on your choice of corn or flour tortillas arrive for $3 to $4 a pop, filled with the likes of charred skirt steak, grilled fish, or crispy chicharrón. Rounding out the options are more street eats like tamales, elote (grilled, cheesy corn), and churros dunked in Mexican hot chocolate or dulce de leche caramel. Pair it all with a pitcher of margaritas or sangria, tequila cocktails (we like the sound of the mezcal-infused “short Mexican stiffy”), or a Natty Boh michelada. The Bloody Mary-esque drink swaps beer for vodka, and can soften the harshest of hangovers.

Traditional street fare makes up most of the taqueria menu, such as seared skirt steak tacos with chopped onion, cilantro, and pickled radishes. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

Late-night takeout

Craving a few tequila-absorbing tacos after the bars close? A taqueria takeout window opening onto U Street should do the trick. The quick-grab section will be open during regular kitchen hours in the opening stages, but eventually you’ll be able to order most menu items an hour after last call: through 3 on weekdays and 4 on weekend nights.

Wrestling and dominos

Most Hilton bars host some form of entertainment, and El Rey is no different. Ian Hilton says the crew will screen Mexican wrestling tournaments early in the week, and have live music on weekend nights (but no mariachi bands, sorry). You may also find domino tournaments run by an enthusiast on the bar staff.

Craving late-night carnitas? A takeout window on U Street will eventually stay open until 4 on weekend nights. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
Rounding out the taco menu are items like chips and various salsas, tamales, and cinnamon-dusted churros with chocolate dunking sauce. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

Talk of more Hilton projects

El Rey is likely the Hiltons’ last shipping-container-based bar, says Ian, but don’t expect it to be the brothers’ final venture in the neighborhood. They own a couple of properties on Ninth Street that have yet to be developed, as well as the former Hanoi House space next to Marvin. After several iterations—including the recent Maketto pop-up—the space will likely turn into a casual neighborhood bar with, we’re guessing, a certain Hilton panache.

El Rey. 919 U St., NW. Open Monday through Thursday and Sunday 5 to 2, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 3.

Posted at 10:12 AM/ET, 01/10/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Chef John Mooney opens a restaurant and rooftop garden in Union Market. By Anna Spiegel
Bidwell prepares to open as Union Market’s first big restaurant—and one equipped with a rooftop garden. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

With its array of vendors and tasting counters, Union Market is already a food lover’s paradise, and it’s about to get even better. Welcome Bidwell, chef John Mooney’s 120-seat restaurant set to open for dinner on Thursday.

Mooney, who also helms Bell Book & Candle in New York’s West Village, got a start in DC cooking at Red Sage and Raku in their respective heydays. Since then, he’s worked in India, Ireland, and New York, and Bidwell’s eclectic menu contains influences from all three, plus some from Mooney’s Midwestern background. You might start with deep-fried deviled eggs kicked up with plenty of mustard and dunked in house-made ranch dressing, or Swedish meatballs fashioned from a family friend’s recipe. Small plates are a good idea if you’re planning a progressive dine through the market—Mooney says the lobster tacos are a must—but a variety of entrées will please the non-grazing crowd. With a tagline like “responsibly sourced,” you can expect plenty of local ingredients, plus in-house preparations of everything from burrata cheese to Thousand Island dressing inspired by a 100-year-old recipe.

Sit down for a full meal in the 120-seat dining room, or graze at the bar before hitting the market.
(Left) A “bivalves” section of the menu includes a choice of oysters or clams roasted with garlic butter, bacon, and Parmesan. (Right) Like most everything else, this creamy cheese is made in house and changes garnishes based on the season.

A large portion of the menu carries over from Mooney’s Manhattan spot, including signatures like the “gin and tonic” wild salmon that he quick-cures in juniper and lime, sears, and serves with caramelized cauliflower and herbs from the rooftop garden. Another element the two restaurants share: aeroponic greenhouses, which grow produce with air and mist instead of soil. Bidwell’s plot is larger, and will officially start churning out vegetables, fruit, and herbs in March. The year-round haul of tomatoes, eggplants, lettuces, and peppers will show up in everything from salads to pickles to cocktails. For now we like the sound of the “chef’s soup of the day”: a dirty gin martini with house-blue-cheese-stuffed olives that got its name from Mooney’s grandfather, who called such concoctions “loudmouth soup.”

(Left) Irish-American onion soup riffs on the traditional French version using vegetable stock and smoked cheddar. (Right) Tomatillos will be a year-round staple in the rooftop greenhouse, and will appear in dishes such as these lobster tacos with avocado-tomatillo salsa.
The house burger may be a simple patty melt, but you’ll find seeded rye, aged cheddar, and house-made Thousand Island dressing borrowed from a century-old recipe.

Bidwell opens Thursday for dinner, with lunch and brunch to follow. Also keep your eye out for fun events such as an outdoor pig roast and moonlighting guest chefs.

Cheat Sheet

The chef recommends: crispy deviled eggs; fried oysters with green chili-buttermilk sauce; lobster tacos; gin-and-tonic salmon; raclette grilled cheese with a slow-poached egg (“I eat one of those a week,” says Mooney).

Unexpected vegetarian dish: Irish-American onion soup, a riff on the classic French made with vegetable stock and smoked Irish cheddar.

Drink this week: Chilly weather calls for a cup of glogg, spiced warm wine with port and brandy.

Fun fact: Bidwell refers to John Bidwell, a US army general and farmer in the 1800s. He developed the Bidwell melon, and is said to have harvested California’s first commercial raisin crop.

Reservations: Available, but not required.

Bidwell. 1309 Fifth St., SE; 202-547-0172. Current dinner hours are Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 5:30 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11.

Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 01/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The latest Shaw bar from Derek Brown debuts this weekend. By Anna Spiegel
Southern Efficiency serves up whiskey and down home eats from chef Julien Shapiro (left), J.P. Fetherston (center) and Derek Brown. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

When Southern Efficiency officially opens on Saturday, it’ll be the third bar on the 1800 block of Seventh Street, Northwest for Derek Brown. Like the sherry-themed Mockingbird Hill and oyster-cocktail den Eat the Rich, the new spot is small with a keen focus. In this case, Brown and his team have turned their eye towards the South.

“Sherry appeals to my intellect,” says Brown. “The cocktails and oysters at Eat the Rich appeal to my gullet. But whiskey speaks to my heart.”

Country tunes drawl from the sound system, old tractor seats top the stools, and curved wooden ceiling beams give the impression of drinking inside a bourbon barrel. Chef Julien Shapiro looked to circa-1950s Southern eateries for menu inspiration (see a sample below), and you’ll find more unusual dishes than the ubiquitous fried chicken or shrimp and grits. The sample drink list of 30-odd American whiskeys, bourbons, and Scotches also contains rarer finds, but bartender J.P. Fetherston has a taste for the often under-appreciated classics like Wild Turkey and Evan Williams. Strong drinkers can sample flights, while house-made sodas and cider are on offer as mixers. You might try switchel—Brown describes the gingery non-alcoholic brew as 19th century Gatorade—which Fetherston spikes with blackstrap. His house-smoked cola and white whiskey cocktail on-tap is also well worth a try for those skeptical of the un-aged stuff. Regardless of drink preference, northern charm is nowhere to be seen.

Southern Efficiency. 1841 Seventh St., NW. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 12:30; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 1:30; Sunday 5 to 11:30.

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Posted at 01:31 PM/ET, 12/20/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Pitcher margaritas, crispy fish tacos, and daily happy hour for Navy Yard. By Anna Spiegel
Agua 301 is the newest restaurant to join the burgeoning restaurant scene around the Navy Yard. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

If you haven’t been to Navy Yard since baseball season ended, you might not recognize the dining landscape (or even know that there is one). Two of the year’s bigger openings, the Bluejacket brewery and Osteria Morini, debuted over the past month. Now comes Agua 301, a modern Mexican eatery by the Zest American Bistro owners that’s helmed by former Masa 14/El Centro chef, Antonio Burrell. The 106-seat space is set to serve its first dinner on Saturday.

The warm-hued interior seems fitting for the water views from its large front windows. Come spring, guests can relax on a 44-seat outdoor patio with pitchers of margaritas or sangria. For now you’ll have to stick to the chili-infused dishes for warmth. Of course there’s fresh-made guacamole to start—plus one de la dia, currently a version studded with pomegranate seeds—ceviches, and a variety of bocaditos, or small bites, like grilled oysters with chorizo, tuna tartare tostadas, and beef barbacoa flautas (described on the menu “like a Philly cheesesteak,” albeit a Mexican one with caramelized onions, roasted poblanos, and queso fundido).

Crispy fish tacos or kimchi-topped carne asada are also more snack-like (generally $7 for two).Thankfully, for the small plates-adverse, the offerings aren’t all “meant to share.” One of Burrell’s favorites, short rib mole chichilo, is particularly fitting for a late December debut. The meat is braised in chilies and coffee, sauced with a robust mole, and served over polenta-like nixtal made from the same cornmeal used in the tortillas. You’ll find similar portioning when lunch and brunch start in the coming weeks, with the likes of huevos rancheros, ginger butter-topped pumpkin pancakes, and a double-decker hamburguesa with chorizo and beef patties, beans, avocado, and a fried egg. The latter should come in handy after taking advantage of the daily happy hour.

A pork belly entree riffs on al pastor tacos with achiote barbecue sauce. Photograph by Andrew Propp.
A warm-hued interior keeps things sunny during winter, while a 44-seat patio is set for margarita drinking in the spring. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

301 Water St., SW; 202-484-0301. Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday, 3:30 to 10 PM; Friday and Saturday 3:30 to 11 PM. Happy hour 3:30 to 7 PM daily. Lunch (starting December 28) Monday through Friday, 11 AM to 3 PM. Brunch (starting January 1) Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 AM to 3 PM.

Posted at 11:25 AM/ET, 12/19/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Chefs Roberto Donna and Amy Brandwein debut a Piedmontese eatery. By Anna Spiegel
Alba Osteria’s leading toques, Amy Brandwein and Roberto Donna, first worked together at Galileo. Photographs by Jeff Elkins.

In a wave of Italian newcomers, Roberto Donna is among the old guard. The veteran toque pioneered Italian fine dining in Washington with Galileo and has cooked all over the spectrum, from elaborate tasting menus in Galileo’s Laboratorio to wood-fired pizzas at his current post at Al Dente. You'll find a mix of both at the latter’s sister restaurant, Alba Osteria, opening December 30. Located in an area of Mt. Vernon Triangle more densely populated with apartment and office buildings than restaurants, the eatery was planned with neighborhood needs in mind; think anything from a quick pizza to a decadent dinner, and of course, an extensive happy hour. Here are five things to expect from owner Hakan Ilhan’s latest. 

Piedmontese cooking 

The name Alba refers to a town in Donna’s native Piedmont, and you'll find dishes prepared in the hearty style of the region; it’s well known for truffles, egg-rich pastas, and Barolo wine. Chef Amy Brandwein, most recently of the shuttered Casa Nonna, was chosen as chef de cuisine and reunited with Donna after acting as his executive chef at Galileo. The two concocted lunch and dinner menus full of robust dishes. You might start with a variety of meats and cheeses accompanied by hazelnut honey and fry bread, snack on small plates, or go in for decadent-sounding pastas like braised beef agnolotti with bone marrow and spinach gnocchi with sausage ragu. Meat and fish entrees make up the smallest portion of the menu to leave room for specials, such as swordfish with parsley and capers or roasted lamb. 

Pizza or foie gras (or foie gras-topped pizza)

A trait of neighborhood restaurants is their versatility, and you can find multiple dining experiences under Alba’s roof. You could drop by during lunch for a quick salad or pork shoulder panini, or take home one of the many wood-fired pizzas for dinner. On the other side of the spectrum, linger over wine and a fontina pie topped with chestnuts and truffles, or really go overboard by adding seared foie gras. Yes, goose liver lovers can add the luxurious offal to any dish (within reason). A good candidate: beef tenderloin with porcinis and marsala. 

An oak-fired pizza oven turns out pies in about a minute due to its high-heat.

A space divided 

With 226 seats (including 63 on an outdoor patio come spring), the modern-industrial eatery isn’t your average corner nook. Helping the atmosphere feel more intimate are sectioned spaces throughout, like a pizza bar, an off-set dining room enclosed in a wine cage, and a 12-person communal table for upcoming chef dinners. Fun fact: the window-like partitions dividing the dining room are actually early 20th century windows taken from the American Crayon Factory in Sandusky, Ohio. 

Happy hour

You can belly up to the square-shaped bar for 20 beers and four wines on tap, plus plenty more by the glass and bottle. The details are still being finalized on the happy hour items, but look for specials on drinks and eats alike. You may even snag free mortadella sausage.

A four-sided bar is the place to sips 20 beers and four wines on tap.

French-press soup 

A number of unusual dishes dot the menu, such as capunet (cabbage-wrapped braised duck) and batsoa (braised pig’s feet fried until crisp). Possibly the most fun: zuppa alla cavanesana. The bowl arrives with a round of fontina bread pudding, plus a French press filled with beef consommé and vegetables alongside. Press the soup, release some of the vegetable flavor, pour, and you’re ready to eat. 

The large 226-seat restaurant feels less expansive due to its many partitions, like these glass windows taken from the American Crayon Factory in Ohio. 

Alba Osteria. 425 Eye St., NW; 202-733-4454. Open Monday through Friday, 11 to 4; dinner Sunday through Thursday, 4 to midnight; Friday and Saturday 4 to 1. 

Posted at 11:57 AM/ET, 12/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Inside Jeff Black and Danny Wells’s funky Takoma Park eatery. By Anna Spiegel
Restaurateur Jeff Black and longtime chef Danny Wells bring an eclectic new eatery to Takoma Park. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

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.

(Left) Vintage finds—banquettes fashioned out of Victorian sofas, salvaged-wood floors—give the space a funky vibe. (Right) Settle in for a wood-grilled burger and cocktails inspired by the neighborhood’s free spirited attitude—Fascist Killer, anyone?

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.

(Left) The collaborative menu from Danny Wells and Jeff Black includes BRG signatures such as Addie’s mussels, wood-grilled oysters, and a raw bar. (Right) Robustly flavored dishes are the focus, such as Portuguese-style fish stew flavored with piri-piri chilies and smoked paprika.
Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty on the menu, while omnivores can opt for the likes of whole grilled fish or smoked ribs.

Posted at 10:59 AM/ET, 12/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Michelin-starred restaurateur Michael White lands in Washington. By Anna Spiegel
Osteria Morini, a near-identical sibling to the Manhattan original, is restaurateur Michael White's first venture in Washington. Photographs by Jeff Elkins.

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.

Happy hour is planned for the bar area, with snacks like arancini to pair with 20 wines by the glass.

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.

Even the salads are hearty, like this mix of bitter greens, crispy guanciale, and a poached egg.
All pastas are made in-house, including more unusual varieties such as gramigna (above) with pork sausage, tomato, and cream.
Thick-cut meats are cooked over a wood burning grill, like this pork chop braciola with pears and Swiss chard.

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.

Pastry chef Alex Levin creates light, sweet finishes, including ten varieties of house-made granita and a lemon torta.
White procures specialty steaks from the meat masters at Pat LaFrieda, which dry-ages the beef for 40 days.

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.

Posted at 12:20 PM/ET, 11/19/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Inside one of fall’s hottest openings. By Anna Spiegel
The historic Iron Gate channels a romantic feel and Mediterranean taste. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

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.

Chef Tony Chittum makes much on the premises, from pasta and bread to yogurt and cheese.

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.

Diners can pick between four- and six-course tasting menus, or go à-la-carte in the garden.

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.

Day-to-night service

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.”

Red Apron chef Nate Anda creates specialty charcuterie for the sister restaurant, including salamis scented with Greek fennel seeds.
The main dining room boasts plenty of warm wood, glowing chandeliers, and a fireplace.

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.

Posted at 10:27 AM/ET, 11/14/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A second restaurant from the crew behind Maple Ave debuts in Arlington. By Anna Spiegel
Water & Wall blends a range of influences, from New York-inspired decor to French and Burmese dishes. Photographs by Andrew Propp.

Conspire with your fellow diners in what Ma calls “New York Mafia-style” booths.

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.

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Posted at 09:41 AM/ET, 11/12/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()