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A wave of spring openings brings highly-anticipated debuts, casual neighborhood spots, and plenty of variety. By Anna Spiegel
Urban Heights adobo chicken sliders on the roof deck, one of the many new dishes on the scene. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Spring brought a wave of restaurant openings, and there’s a strong variety among the new spots. Celebrity chef José Andrés went fast-casual, Robert Wiedmaier opened two firsts—a live music venue and rooftop Asian eatery—and the long-awaited Maketto brought a mixed retail/restaurant/bar concept to H Street. Have fun exploring—we certainly have so far.

All Set

8630 Fenton St., Silver Spring

Lobster rolls and Sunday fried chicken suppers are all set at this nautically-chic New England eatery, named after the popular phrase. A 24-seat patio is the place for fried clams and dark n’ stormy cocktails in warm weather.

Beefsteak

800 22nd St., NW

It’s all about the veggies at José Andrés’s first fast-casual venture, which goes beyond the salad bar with cooked-to-order seasonal vegetable bowls mixed with a variety of grains, sauces, and yes, a few meats (chicken, house-cured salmon). A Dupont Circle location is slated to open this summer.

All Set brings a nautically-chic look and New England seafood boils to Silver Spring. Photograph courtesy of All Set.


Bonchon Navy Yard

1015 Half St., SE

The Korean fried chicken chain with a cult-like following opened its first branch in the District. Look for a large bar area with Asian and American craft drafts, new dishes like bulgogi sliders, and a separate takeout counter for grabbing spicy and soy-garlic wings on the go.

Clarity

442 Maple Ave E., Vienna

One of the most anticipated openings for Virginia comes from industry vets Jonathan Krinn and Jason Maddens, who met working at the high-end incarnation of 2941. The duo goes casual and cozy for their own restaurant, serving dishes like salmon crudo, fresh tagliatelle with veal meatballs, and roast chicken.

Afghan chef Shamim Popal serves classics like meat-filled dumplings at Lapis.


Lapis

1847 Columbia Rd., NW

The Popal family (Café Bonaparte, Malmaison) channeled their roots when transforming Napoleon Bistro into a Afghan restaurant. Mother Shamim Popal helms the kitchen, turning out flatbreads and steamed dumplings, rice dishes and kebabs. Drinkers can try creative cocktails like the Afghan 75, Champagne spiced with cardamom syrup, or house pomegranate-rose soda.

Maketto

1351 H St., NE

Chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground is behind this ambitious market/restaurant, which mixes a coffee shop and bakery, men’s street wear from Durkl, and a Southeast Asian bar/restaurant. Drop by during the day for Cambodian sandwiches and pork buns, or in the evenings for a larger menu of small plates and shareable platters such as Taiwanese fried chicken. A courtyard patio and deck are guaranteed hotspots for summer.

Maketto combines a men's retail shop with Southeast Asian fare from Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

Maki Shop

1522 14th St., NW

Former Kushi chef/owner Darren Lee Norris is behind this modern Japanese joint, which specializes in ready-to-eat hand rolls. Customers pick creative combinations from a display case, such as Hawaiian poke tuna with black rice, roasted wild mushrooms, or sous-vide short rib with kimchi. Round out a meal with miso soup and side salads.

Maxime

2915 M St., NW

This Georgetown spot in the former Guards space serves a simple bistro menu, with classics like escargots, steamed mussels, and creme brûlée. At the center: La Formule, a $19.95 prix-fixe menu that includes fresh bread, salad, a half-pound steak with house sauce, and frites (fish and vegetarian alternatives are available). Feeling fancy? Foie gras can be added for $6.

Chef Peter Chang dishes up Szechuan specialties like fried pork belly with chilies. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Peter Chang Rockville

20-A Maryland Ave., Rockville

Lauded Szechuan chef Peter Chang is busy in Washington, having opened his first local eatery in Arlington, followed closely by the Maryland branch. The menus are nearly identical—balloon-like chive pancakes, cumin lamb chops, fried pork belly—with location-specific dishes among the daily specials.

Songbyrd Record Café

2477 18th St., NW

Coffee lovers, music enthusiasts, and sandwich seekers mingle in this funky Adams Morgan spot, which combines a vinyl record shop and cafe. Grab an organic brew and braised pork shoulder with melty gruyere on sourdough, and browse through 300-plus albums. A 1947 Voice-o-Graph is available for recording your own tunes or jokes.

Songbyrd Record Café pours organic coffees and serves creative sandwiches alongside an extensive collection of vinyl records. Photograph courtesy of Songbyrd.


Urban Heights

940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda

Bethesda’s biggest outdoor dining and drinking spot has arrived courtesy of chef Robert Wiedmaier, who transformed the former Roof Bethesda space into an airy Asian restaurant. Guests can pick between a dining room patio and roof deck for island-inspired cocktails, and dishes like Filipino spring rolls or crispy whole fish from former TenPenh chef Cliff Wharton. Make sure to check out the Tuna Bar, which centers around sushi-grade fish for tartars and sashimi.

Villain & Saint

7141 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda

Its been a big two weeks for Robert Wiedmaier, having just opened Urban Heights (above) after the debut of his live music venue, Villain & Saint. Nightly performances and jazz brunch play on the restaurant’s stage, while the kitchen turns out chef-y bar fare such as slow-smoked ribs, deviled eggs with feta, and a lineup of “saintly” vegetarian dishes. Fitting for a space with lava lamps on the wall, the bar pours drinks like Bye-Bye Miss American pie with house-made fireball.

Urban Heights serves island-style drinks on a large patio and roof deck. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Posted at 11:25 AM/ET, 04/24/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Tropical cocktails, a Tuna Bar, and plenty of outdoor space from chef Robert Wiedmaier. By Anna Spiegel
Urban Heights opens in Bethesda with Asian fare, island-style cocktails and plenty of outdoor space. Photography by Andrew Propp.

The biggest outdoor dining and drinking space in Bethesda opens Thursday, just in time for summer. Urban Heights, the first Asian restaurant from chef Robert Wiedmaier, debuts in the former Roof Bethesda space. The launch comes on the heels of Villain & Saint, Wiedmaier’s live music venue that served its first meal last week. While the latter brings ribs and rock n’ roll to the scene, Urban Heights mixes Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino influences over two floors, outfitted with a spacious patio and roof deck.

Guests access the window-walled dining room via a bamboo-lined elevator.

Filipino spring rolls, adobo sliders

Chef Cliff Wharton helms the kitchen, and creates dishes influenced by his Filipino family and years as chef de cuisine at TenPenh. Small plates in the $4 to $9 range make up a large portion of the lunch and dinner menus, with classics from the Philippines like crispy lumpia spring rolls alongside less traditional items such as chicken adobo sliders (“My mom would probably cringe at that,” Wharton says of his riff). Guests don’t have to graze, with entrees such as pork belly bánh mì sandwiches at lunch, and whole crispy fish with cucumber salad and tamarind dipping sauce in the evening.

Chef Cliff Wharton makes dishes inspired by his Filipino family, like these chicken adobo sliders.

Tastes from a Tuna Bar

Some restaurants have a raw bar. Urban Heights claims its own version devoted to Wagyu of the Sea. A slab of sushi-grade tuna on ice greets guests at the front of the restaurant, ready to be diced into Hawaiian-style poke, sliced for sashimi with jalapeño-citrus vinaigrette, and wrapped with nori for a crunch tempura-like roll.

Cocktails take inspiration from the islands, like the sake-spiked Rising Sun (left) with lychee liqueur and diced pineapple, or the gin Szechuan sour (right).

Sake punch in the sunshine

The restaurant goes for a transporting island affect, starting with the entrance; guests access the eatery through a bamboo-lined elevator. Two outdoor areas make ideal spots for sipping in the sunshine: an entry-level dining patio set for 40, and a slightly larger roof deck above. Drinkers can pick between Asian draft beers and tropical cocktails like a sake-spiked rum punch or kumquat mojito.

Chef Cliff Wharton (right) with general manager Garth Hamilton; the roof deck bar.

Rooftop pig roasts, Asian-style brunch

Wharton plans to roll out brunch in a few weeks, with dishes like a crab cake Benedict with chili hollandaise. Once summer hits, the rooftop will be the place for Filipino-style pig roasts. In the meantime, head up for happy hour between 3 and 7.

Urban Heights. 7940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. Open for lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 to 2:30; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. Roof deck open Monday through Sunday, 3 to close. Brunch (coming soon), Saturday and Sunday, 11 to 2:30.

Crispy lumpia spring rolls, a traditional Filipino dish.
Bulgogi-style steak salad with chili-lime dressing (right), served outdoors or in the dining room.

Posted at 12:05 PM/ET, 04/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Yes to José Andrés, no to fake cheese nachos. By Anna Spiegel
Luke's Lobster is among the many local restaurants serving at Sweetlife. Photograph by Dakota Fine.

The 2015 Sweetlife Festival is back on May 30 and 31 with big-name headliners like Kendrick Lamar and Calvin Harris, plus plenty of culinary talent in the mix. Momofuku Milk Bar is set to serve sweets, José Andrés will dish up a specialty sandwich, and New York’s Blue Hill concocted a “wastED” burger for the occasion. The one thing you won’t find: soda and hot dogs.

The culinary format is slightly different this year. Sweetgreen has taken over all concessions, banishing plebeian festival fare like Sprite and fake cheese nachos in favor of craft foods and drinks, and of course, salads. Sustenance is divided into five categories: a chef’s corner, where you’ll find the likes of Andrés and Erik Bruner-Yang (Toki/Maketto); concessions by Luke’s Lobster, Shake Shack, and others; “roadies,” i.e. food trucks such as Takorean; a marketplace for quick-grabs from Dolcezza and other artisanal vendors; and the Tavern, pouring craft brews and local wines.

Still missing soda and tube meat? Too bad. Tickets are on sale now, ranging from $97.50 for one-day general admission to $225 for VIP.

Posted at 11:37 AM/ET, 04/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The chef expands beyond $40 set menus at night. By Anna Spiegel
G's sandwich shop will continue during the day, while evenings bring set menus or a la carte options.

Chef Mike Isabella is changing up the format for G, which has operated as a sandwich shop by day, and prix-fixe dinner spot at night since opening in 2013. Starting Wednesday, May 6, evenings will bring both a $40 set menu and à la carte options to the 40-seat space. The change follows on the heels of the Yona pop-up, which wraps up on May 2.

The new lineup from chef de cuisine Elliot Drew features a range of antipasti and pastas, as well as a meat, fish, or vegetarian secondi and sides. Portions are similar to those at the adjoining Kapnos, in that they’re designed with sharing in mind. Dishes will change seasonally—spring brings options like snapper crudo with fennel pesto, bucatini carbonara with sweetbreads and fava beans, and Florentine-style grilled cauliflower with black garlic aioli.

The daytime sandwich shop format remains unchanged, as does the set $40 Sunday Gravy Menu. Reservations will continue to be taken for dinner.

Posted at 10:55 AM/ET, 04/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Hot sandwiches, cool vinyl, and a 1947-style recording studio for Adams Morgan. By Anna Spiegel
Songbyrd Record Café mixes a vinyl record shop, coffee house, and sandwich spot in Adams Morgan. Photography courtesy of Songbyrd.

Adams Morgan has an interesting new hangout, and it’s not just for the evening crowds. Songbyrd Record Café just opened in the former Showboat Lounge space, mixing elements of a retail vinyl record store with a coffee house and sandwich shop. Owners and AdMo locals Alisha Edmonson and Joe Lapan are behind the project, as well as the upcoming “music house” adjoining the cafe. Here's what to look for when you go.

Mumbo slice and jumbo slice

Chef Matthew Richardson (previously of 1905 and the Argonaut) is behind the all-day-and-night cafe menu, which will be served from lunch through close. Skip the Jumbo Slice remorse and try Songbyrd’s version of the AdMo icon, a toasty focaccia pepperoni pizza—or even better, the Mumbo Slice, topped with a mustardy mumbo sauce, provolone, roasted pineapple, and chopped pork. Sandwiches made with house-roasted meats and fresh sauces fill the rest of the menu, such as a veggie muffaletta with olive tapenade or crispy chicken schnitzel with hot pickles.

Unfussy coffee

Edmonson comes from a coffee background—her family owned a coffee roastery in Oregon, and she was trained to brew by a chemist. Still don’t expect latte art. “I’m just going simple and good,” says Edmonson. The cafe currently serves Equal Exchange, a fair trade organic coffee from small-batch producers in Africa and South American, and imported a Nuova Simonelli machine from Italy to brew espresso drinks.

Customers can record their own records in the Voice-o-Graph booth.

A 1947-style recording studio

The centerpiece of the shop is a 1947 Voice-o-Graph, one of the few in the country. Originally the phone booth-like machines were conceived as a way to make short recordings, and were popular during wartime as a way to send messages to loved ones. Songbyrd’s machine has been outfitted with new amps and can record up to three minutes and ten seconds; users can take home their own 45-rpm records for $15 a pop.

Plenty of vinyl

If making your own music or jokes isn’t appealing, the shop has a collection of roughly 350 vinyl records to browse. The collection emphasizes soul, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and indie artists, with a few other genres mixed in.

More music to come

While the Record Café is up and running, plans for the adjoining space are still in the works. The owners are remaining fairly tight-lipped about the project until more details are finalized, but one can expect alcohol service and another menu from Richardson by early summer.

“We’re trying to restore the space into something that’s beautiful and brilliant, and music-centric,” says Edmonson.

Songbyrd Record Café. 2477 18th St., NW. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 10 to 10; Friday and Saturday 10 to midnight. Closed temporarily on Mondays.

Posted at 12:21 PM/ET, 04/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Plus a newly-expanded menu for all locations. By Anna Spiegel
One of Takorean's new menu items: roasted cauliflower with spiced kale slaw. Photograph courtesy of Takorean.

Good news for Korean taco fans: Takorean will open its first Downtown DC eatery this summer at 13th and F Streets, Northwest. Originally a food truck concept—and the first to bring Asian-style tacos to the DC roadways—founder Mike Lenard has expanded to brick-and-mortar locations in Union Market and Navy Yard. His third will be in the Eat at National Place food hall near Warner Theater.

Takorean’s core dishes have remained relatively the same since its beginning in 2010, with options like bulgogi beef or chili chicken stuffed into warm corn tortillas with kimchi slaw. Along with the announcement of the new location, Lenard is launching an expanded menu at all branches. Vegetarians can now pick between glazed tofu and a seasonal vegetable as the main filling; roasted cauliflower with soy-orange glaze is the pick for spring. Other additions include brown rice bowls, Korean-style salsa roja spiked with spicy gochujang sauce, and toppings like vegan avocado crema or an organic soft egg.

The Eat at National Place location is slated to open in early summer.

Posted at 08:54 AM/ET, 04/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Szechuan specialties from the chef with a cult-like following. By Anna Spiegel
Peter Chang serves Szechuan specialties like this pan-fried pork belly with garlic and chilies. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Szechuan chef Peter Chang isn’t wasting time building the Washington arm of his growing empire. Just a month after opening an Arlington location--his first in the area—a sister Rockville restaurant is ready to serve the public.

The Rockville Town Square eatery is the seventh in a growing chain, and serves a near-identical menu of Szechuan specialities such as chive pancakes, ma po tofu, and cumin lamb chops; look for location-specific dishes among the daily specials. Business partner Gen Lee says alcohol and wine are arriving soon, but customers can bring their own beverages in the meantime. The dining room is open for lunch and dinnner.

This isn’t the last opening Washingtonians will see from Chang. A fine dining version of the restaurant may open in Navy Yard. Stay tuned.

20-A Maryland Ave., Rockville; 301-838-9188. Open for lunch and dinner.

Posted at 04:13 PM/ET, 04/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Ice cream tacos, pot pairing menus, and more deals to satisfy the munchies. By Anna Spiegel
Ice cream and cheesecake "taco chocos" at Room 11, designed to satisfy the munchies. Photograph courtesy of Room 11.

A fun faux-holidays is upon us, and we’re not talking National Pineapple Upside-Down Cake day. April 20th is also 4/20, a celebration of all things cannabis. Now that the possession of marijuana is legal in the District, a number of bars and restaurants celebrate with specials and munchies-friendly dishes. Note that these deals are still enjoyable if you're just high on life, or pineapple upside-down cakes.

Taco Chocos return to Room 11

3234 11th St., NW

The Chipwhich has nothing on these house-made dessert tacos, which come in two flavors: chocolate peanut butter ice cream in a pretzel taco shell, or a cheesecake version stuffed in a waffle cone, dipped in chocolate, and topped with cookie dough chunks ($10 each). If that’s too much to handle, the bar also sells crinkle-cut potato chips covered in chocolate.

Amsterdam Falafelshop's “marijuana pairing” menu

2425 18th St., NW

Everyone knows bacon-wrapped pb&j works well with a bong hit. Now you can take pot pairing to the next level at the original Adams Morgan falafel joint, which serves a special menu designed to match various strains of marijuana. The nuances of zesty Lemon Haze matched with brightness of pickled cauliflower may be lost on some, but hey, it’s more fun than foie gras and Sauternes.

Waldos’ Special Ale tapping at Churchkey

1337 14th St., NW

Certain IPAs already smell a little like marijuana (or in industry terms, “herbaceous”), but this one is specifically made with bud on the brain. Lagunitas creates a special brew for 4/20 each year, and you can get the first taste at Churchkey alongside a number of other beers from the brewery. Admission is free, and pours are priced individually.

Ice cream burritos at Ben & Jerry’s

Multiple locations

Ramen burritos may have been a disaster, but we have much higher hopes for Ben & Jerry's dessert version. Customers pick two flavors, which are then topped with fudge and cookie crumbs, and wrapped in a chewy waffle cone. The Vermont-based ice cream chain releases the “BRRR-ito!” just in time for 4/20 fun.

Posted at 10:21 AM/ET, 04/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A Beer Disneyland, Filipino restaurant, and vegan/goth bar fight to become a reality. By Anna Spiegel
Bardo Brewpub (pictured above) may expand to a "BeerDisneyLand" near Nationals Park. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Crowd funding campaigns can be a convenient way for aspiring business owners to turn a concept into a reality—just look at Crumbs & Whiskers, Washington’s first cat cafe that raised over $35,800 on Kickstarter in less than a month, far surpassing its opening goal for a space in Georgetown. Who will the public support next? We took a look at three aspiring restaurant bar/concepts jockeying for your dollar, and the chance to exist.

Project: Bardo Riverfront

Concept: A 10,000 square-foot “BeerDisneyLand” in Navy Yard from Bardo Brewpub. Dreams are high, and low: a floating movie screen in the Anacostia River, a bike shop and parking for 500 cycles, a kayak ramp, and indoor toilets.

Goal: $200,000 by April 26.

What the minimum contribution earns: $20 gets you four pints of beer—though $25 garners a cool MarionBerry t-shirt from the 90’s.

Give the max: $5,000 guarantees a takeover of Brewsneyland, 100 pitchers included.

Raised thus far: $4,235, or a mere two percent

Likely outcome: Raising $195,765 in ten days is a stretch, but Indiegogo’s flexible funding allows the campaign to keep whatever money is earned, even if the goal isn’t reached. You may be drinking and flushing at Bardo in the future.

Project: Bad Saint

Concept: A hip Filipino restaurant in Columbia Heights. The space has already been secured, but it has issues (termites, limited space). A successful campaign will help with opening costs.

Goal: $38,500 by April 29.

What the minimum contribution earns: Give $10, and get a link to Bad Saint’s Spotify playlist (arguably better than the $20 prize, a signed postcard).

Give the max: $5,000 earns a custom-designed dinner for four, plus four items of swag. The package excludes alcohol, per Kickstarter rules. Pricey, or in foodie terms, roughly the cost of 12 all-inclusive meals at MiniBar with beverage pairings.

Raised thus far: $12,771

Likely outcome: The restaurant is opening regardless, but they’ll have to sell a lot more Spotify playlists. Kickstarter doesn’t let a campaign collect unless they’ve reached the full goal.

Project: The Living End Saloon

Concept: An all-vegan gothic/punk/dive bar with local booze and meatless pub fare. The project is in the early stages, and has yet to find a home.

Goal: $30,000 by May 5.

What the minimum contribution earns: A free draft beer for $25. Hey, it’s better than a postcard.

Give the max: Pledge $1,000 and you can name a mushroom burger. Just don’t call it Cows Taste Better.

Raised thus far: $2,305

Likely outcome: There may not be enough portabello patty lovers in Washington to fully fund the campaign, but never underestimate vegans on a mission. TLE may find a way.

Posted at 10:40 AM/ET, 04/17/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Take a look inside chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Bethesda live music venue and restaurant. By Anna Spiegel
Villain & Saint brings nightly live music and hearty eats to Bethesda. Photography by Andrew Propp.

If you know chef Robert Wiedmaier from Marcel’s, his temple of haute Belgian cuisine in downtown DC, then Villain & Saint might come as a surprise. The Bethesda live music venue and restaurant takes inspiration from Haight-Ashbury instead of Brussels, forgoes chandeliers for wall-mounted lava lamps, and does away with utensils for dishes like deviled eggs and pulled pork shoulder burritos. Fine dining it ain’t, but that's the point.

The bar pours whiskeys, brews, and cocktails like bourbon over bacon ice.

Classic French culinary background aside, Wiedmaier’s tastes gear more towards Led Zeppelin and Harley-Davidson motorcycles; he’s known to ride with other biker/chefs like Bayou Bakery’s David Guas. There’s a hint of his rocker edge at Mussel Bar, but the theme runs full-speed at V&S. Walls show images of Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, or swirl with psychedelic paint. The main stage hosts nightly musical acts at 9 o’clock, ranging from up-and-coming artists to local house bands, and international names like The Hollies frontman Steve Lauri. Sunday brunch jazz shows don’t require a cover, but others may require a $5 to $10 door fee.

Sip cocktails like Fireball cinnamon whiskey mixed with applejack (right) in the funky space.

Wiedmaier teamed up with former Pesce chef Tom Meyer for the menu, which goes beyond regular bar fare. Dishes are broken down into two main categories: Villain, which includes indulgences like buttermilk fried chicken and slow-smoked pork ribs, and Saint, which leans green with vegetarian options that can also act as starters or sides. A selection of snacks and lighter bites includes dishes like deviled eggs or pimento cheese on grilled bread.

Lava lamp lighting provides the backdrop for a variety of vegetarian dishes like deviled eggs (right) and grilled asparagus.

A 25-seat bar plays to the theme with a collection of whiskeys, draft beers, and cocktails such as chocolate-infused bourbon over a bacon-studded ice sphere, or cinnamon Fireball whiskey with Calvados and lemon. Those looking for fresh air can hang on the outdoor patio, which boasts its own bar and tables covered by a wooden pergola. Wiedmaier outfitted the space with flatscreen televisions that’ll play live performances, so the music never stops.

Chef Tom Meyer (left) with chef/owner Robert Wiedmaier.

Villain & Saint. 7141 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-800-4700.

Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 04/17/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()