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Alain Ducasse bows—plus trendy pub grub

CommonWealth aims to recreate a British gastropub with refined tavern fare and a raft of London-inspired touches. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

Need more proof of Washington’s emergence as a food capital? Alain Ducasse has added a DC location to his collection of restaurants around the world—the others are in Tokyo, Paris, Monaco, Las Vegas, and New York. His 14 Michelin stars have diners chattering in anticipation of Adour, his restaurant in the refurbished St. Regis hotel (923 16th St., NW; 202-509-8000). Expect luxe French cooking and exquisite wine pairings—but don’t expect to see much of Ducasse. The traveling culinary titan has installed several protégés and some local talent: former Marcel’s sommelier Ramon Narvaez and ex–1789 pastry chef Fabrice Bendano.

The other big story: spinoffs. This month the Northern Virginia–based Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Evening Star Cafe, Tallula/EatBar, Vermilion, Rustico, Buzz) will open its first DC ventures, a boutique-beer bar, ChurchKey, and a restaurant, Birch & Barley (1337 14th St., NW). Meanwhile, Jeff Tunks’s Passion Food Hospitality (TenPenh, DC Coast, Ceiba, Acadiana) is branching out into Virginia with Reston’s PassionFish (11960 Democracy Dr.; 703-230-3474). Also competing for fish fans in Reston: Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food (11927 Democracy Dr.; 703-437-0800), a seafood-and-sushi concept from Virginia’s Great American Restaurants group. The name honors the group’s much-loved chef/co-owner Bill Jackson, who died this past spring.

Chef Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle and Old Town) continues to embellish her portfolio. Her new Columbia Heights spot, CommonWealth (1400 Irving St., NW; 202-265-1400), is serving up old-fashioned British pub fare—Scotch eggs, bangers and mash, mushy peas—albeit with high-quality ingredients. Not everyone is happy: Some neighbors, hoping for a cheap watering hole, are griping about the prices.

Just down the street, a team of local restaurant veterans—and first-time restaurateurs—is bringing Leeds some competition with Royal Blue Bistro (3113 14th St., NW). Rissa Pagsibigan, who managed the dining rooms of Corduroy and Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert, will be running the Mediterranean-inspired kitchen.

A restaurant that preceded the wave of gentrification in Columbia Heights, the taco joint Taqueria Distrito Federal, has spawned a second location, in DC’s Petworth (805 Kennedy St., NW; 202-276-7331). Owner Luis Marroquin’s new outpost is more atmospheric than its sibling, but the tacos and tortas are just as cheap and tasty.

Fish tacos and margaritas are the intended draw at the new Surfside in Glover Park (2444 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-337-0004), the creation of David Scribner—owner of Jetties sandwich shop and chef at Dahlia, which closed in DC’s Spring Valley last year.

With restaurants of every size and variety, Wheaton has never lacked for great food. But Greek eats? Leo Mathios, former owner of Barnaby’s Restaurant and Sports Pub, is bidding to change that with Taverna Kefi (11301 Fern St., Wheaton; 301-933-3338). The home-style classics on the menu are dishes he grew up eating as a boy in Greece.

This appeared in the October, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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