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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
One of the more famous quotes ascribed to John F. Kennedy—“Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm”—didn’t commend the District’s political climate. But when it comes to eating and drinking, “Southern efficiency” isn’t a negative reference. In the literal sense it’s the name of the newest Shaw bar from Derek Brown and Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s Travis Croxton, who also recently opened the oyster-cocktail den Eat the Rich next door to sherry-heavy Mockingbird Hill. More figuratively, the pullquote name means a down home vibe for Brown’s third venture in the burgeoning neighborhood.
Once the spot at 1841 Seventh Street, Northwest soft-opens on Friday, you’ll be able to sip over 30 Southern whiskies, jarred and on-tap cocktails (think a mix of smoked cola and white whiskey), house-made apple-celery soda, and brews from below the Mason-Dixon line. Columbia Room vet J.P. Fetherston helms the bar, while Eat the Rich’s Julien Shapiro dishes up plates inspired by Southern diners and lunch counters like deviled eggs, fried catfish, and peanut soup.
According to a release from the restaurant, you’ll be able to get a sneak-peek of the concept during a “Southern Whiskey 101” class, held on Wednesday and Thursday evening. Each of two nightly sessions will cover the history and production of one of the South’s greatest exports, as well as tastings of “classic and unusual whiskies” from Kentucky to the Carolinas.
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.
Restaurant-market hybrids are a trend on the rise, and one we’d like to see even more of. Just think of BlackSalt, Red Apron, Society Fair, Union Market, and the upcoming Menu; places that bring together marketing and dining, and enrich the overall eating experience. Welcome the newest concept: Urban Butcher, a butchery, restaurant, and coffee shop opening Thursday (note that the market and dinner launch first, with lunch, brunch, and daytime coffee service to follow in 2014). Here’s what to expect from chef-owner Raynold Mendizabal.
Fresh and cured meats
There’s no disguising it: this is a meat-lover’s paradise. Mendizabal trained as a butcher and formerly operated Rogue States, and is putting his knives to use. A glass display case brims with fresh cuts, house-made sausages, pates, and terrines. Unusual finds include heritage pigs, like Ossabaw from Virginia’s Autumn Olive Farms and Old Spot Gloucester from Whistle Pig Hollow near Baltimore. House-made charcuterie is currently curing in the glass-enclosed meat cellar, and true to stereotype, good things like hams and salamis take time. Come late winter you’ll find more house-made charcuterie like bresaola and porcini salami, and hams from the likes of Berkshire and Tamworth pigs by summer.
The restaurant is currently only open for dinner in the 50-seat dining room and bar, but you’ll find plenty of options. The entire menu was designed with sharing in mind. You might snack on house ham and salami croquettes, Chinese barbecue pork ribs, and lamb-hummus flat bread, or go in for larger plates such hanger steak frites with fried garlic and smoked butter, or 48-hour ox brisket. Those in need of a meat-break can opt for dishes like ahi tuna ceviche and grilled calamari, or a selection of American-made cheeses.
Market-to-table steaks and nightly pig
Ever wanted to eat a hefty steak directly from the butcher case? Now you can. All the beefy cuts can be ordered for the table, and rounded out with sides like mascarpone polenta or Brussels sprouts with garlic and soy butter. If you’re more of a pork fan, show up for the suckling pig served nightly at 8 pm.
A 20-seat bar fashioned from old doors is the spot for drinkers. You’ll find a rotating selection of beers, both local and international, and about 15 wines by the glass from the 100 bottle-deep list (see the drink menu). Cocktails riff on the classics, such as a lavender margarita and rum-based “Butcher’s Negroni.” You won’t find a happy hour, per se, but that isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Mendizabal marked certain permanent items at happy hour-esque prices like $5 glasses of wine, house beer, and $6 grilled sausages.
A funky coffee shop
Come 2014 you’ll find a 30-seat coffee shop operating during the daytime (it’ll turn into a lounge area at night). The space’s funky decor fits. A mix of vintage pieces, colorful overstuffed armchairs, and metallic seats fill the rooms. Garage door-windows open onto the street, and in warmer weather, enjoy a 50-seat patio.
The Urban Butcher. 8226 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-585-5800. Monday through Thursday, 5 to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 2; Sunday TBD (call ahead for specifics).
Washington has its fair share of French restaurants, but those with Swiss influence? Not as many (though we’re partial to the two Swiss Bakery locations in Virginia). Now comes more details on Silo, a 70-seat spot near Mt. Vernon Square set to open shortly after Christmas. The kitchen will be helmed by former C.F. Folks chef George Vetsch, most recently in the news for helming the stalwart luncheonette’s kitchen when it received James Beard’s America’s Classic Award (and then, of course, departing shortly after).
Vetsch has teamed up with first-time owner Reza Akhavan, who formerly managed the Front Page and Shaw's Tavern. According to a release from the restaurant, the menu will comprise of “modern American” dishes with influences from Switzerland and France (Vetsch is Swiss-born and French-trained). Dishes include potato-crusted branzino with tomato and olives, kohlrabi soup with Appenzeller cheese fondue, and mussels gratinée with a vermouth-leek sauce. Stay tuned for the opening date.
Silo. 919 5th St., NW; 202-309-0073.
Beer lovers, take note: there’s a new haunt for you. A branch of Philadelphia’s City Tap House opens in Penn Quarter today with 40 draft brews, plus an additional 20 by the bottle and two cask ales. Unlike a number of brew spots that assemble an impressive drink list but offer more generic fare like burgers and pizzas, adventurous eaters will find everything from lamb necks to foie gras.
Back to the beer for a moment, brew guy Andy Farrell aims to offer something for everyone in the 180-seat space. A few familiar names dot the list, including Sierra Nevada and Allagash, as well as local lines like Port City, 3 Stars, and DC Brau. The menu is divided by flavor profiles like “dark roasty malts” and “citrusy and light” wheats to encourage exploration into more unusual sips without getting entirely lost (smoky Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, anyone?). As for happy hour, plans are still in the works, but you may just find yourself calling and arranging specific discounts. Given the scarcity of 9-to-5 schedules, the team hopes to offer a deal where larger groups (i.e. your 15 fun coworkers) can call ahead and arrange for happy hour pricing at a nontypical hour, like 7 to 9.
The dinner menu follows a similar eclectic model, with lunch and brunch coming soon. Options run hearty. You might start with foie gras French toast or a kale salad studded with pomegranate seeds, followed by bucatini tossed with a bacon-y rabbit bolognese or Duroc pork collar over cheddar grits. Cast iron mussels like a mixture with spicy chorizo and poblano peppers arrive in single or shareable portions. You’ll also find daily specials, such as tomahawk steaks or seasonally rotating fish.
It’s difficult to recognize the former 901 Restaurant space. Gone are the clubby curtains and fire displays, replaced by warm wooden walls and floors, a copper bar, and glass-enclosed keg wall filled with various brews. Several flat-screen televisions hang around the bar and dining room (it’s a beer spot, after all). Let’s just hope things don’t get “interesting” when the Caps play the Flyers nearby.
City Tap House. 901 9th Street, NW; 202-644-9433.
Takoma Park is about to get a new neighborhood—and possibly destination—restaurant. Restaurateur Jeff Black, who’s behind BlackSalt and Pearl Dive, among others, has teamed up with longtime chef and Takoma Park native Danny Wells for a seventh venture. Here’s what to look for in the funky space.
A collaborative menu
You’ll find influences from both Black and Wells on the menu. As at every Black Restaurant Group spot, the kitchen houses a wood-burning grill, local bivalves star on the raw bar, and Addie’s mussels are a mainstay. Wells started as a line cook at the now-closed Rockville restaurant and worked his way up through the ranks at BlackSalt, eventually becoming executive chef at Pearl Dive. Signatures from each stop are present, including Pearl Dive’s wood-grilled oysters with garlic-red-chili butter. Wells says his own style is influenced by ten years with the company, meaning robustly flavored dishes such as whole black bass with pancetta and smoked greens, Portuguese-style fish stew with roasted shellfish and chilies, and citrus-brined brick chicken.
Vegetarian and vegan offerings
Fitting for the neighborhood—and a time when “meat as garnish” is a culinary trend—you’ll find plenty of ways to eat your vegetables. Options change seasonally. You may find roasted acorn squash with chestnuts and brown butter, a smoked-vegetable-studded johnnycake with poblano cream, or an ancient-grain salad tossed with pomegranate seeds and pistachios. Certain veggie items may look like they’re better suited for omnivores—say, braised kale and garbanzo beans with Surryano ham—but Wells says the dishes can be ordered sans meat and/or dairy to taste.
Takoma Park style and a Cash bathroom
One of Washington’s funkier neighborhoods calls for a restaurant with a similar aesthetic. Designer Molly Allen and the team traveled about the East Coast, hunting for vintage finds and salvaged wood. To that end you’ll find (slightly) unlevel floors of North Carolina reclaimed pine, banquets fashioned from reupholstered Victorian sofas, and a classic stereo filled with vintage toys, which Black happens to collect. Johnny Cash fans should head to the unisex bathroom—which isn’t as weird as it sounds—where the musician’s image is plastered on the walls and his music plays exclusively.
A Fascist Killer cocktail—and beer, of course
Noting that a bar stocks craft brews these days is like mentioning the soda on tap. Still, bar manager Brett Robison is more of an expert than most, having worked at a local brewery, written a beer blog (Divine Brew), and continued as an active home-brewer. Cocktail fans aren’t left dry, with a lineup of drinks named after the politically “free-spirited” nature of the neighborhood. Think along the lines of the Fascist Killer and former Takoma Park mayor Sammie Abbott.
Outdoor music and (fingers crossed), a double-decker food bus
While a December opening isn’t ideal for al fresco dining, Republic will debut with a back patio equipped with heat lamps that will eventually seat around 40 diners. Once dinner and the soon-to-come lunch and brunch services are running smoothly, you’ll find live music in the restaurant and outdoors. The patio looks out onto a spacious lot, and Black is currently plotting options for it. Among the considerations: a double-decker bus, a regular bus outfitted with a dining table, or a food truck that’ll hit the streets for lunch. Black is pretty tight-lipped about the concept (and no, it won’t be po’ boys), but says he’s currently partnering with two former college friends for a quick-service operation in his home state of Texas that could be adapted to street vending when it arrives in Washington. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a wagon blasting Cash and serving Sammie Abbotts.
The area around 1800 M Street, Northwest, isn’t lacking in sandwiches, with Taylor Gourmet, Bub and Pop’s, TakEatEasy, the New Orleans Po Boy Shop, DGS Delicatessen, and the Greek Deli all within a three-block radius—not to mention the national suspects such as Potbelly and Au Bon Pain. Still, there’s something about Delaware-based Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop that seems to generate excitement. To start, the chain is giving away free sandwiches to the first 50 people in line when the shop opens Thursday at 11. Certain homesick Delawarians are also psyched for the arrival.
Even if you’ve never craved the trademark Bobbie, here’s what to look for.
Subs with fun names
We’re not at the level of a “double double animal-style” In-n-Out Burger (sigh), but the menu gets creative. There’s a Capastrami (Capriottese for a hot pastrami Reuben), the Thanksgiving-themed Bobbie with turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, and the double-decker Cran-Slam Club—basically a Bobbie with a ham sandwich on top (hello, Thanksgiveaster). You can also order a tuna sandwich and ruin all the fun.
House- and bakery-made ingredients
Tired of watching Subway prisoners(strikethrough) employees peel cheese from a plastic sheet? You’ll find from-scratch touches here. Meats such as turkey and roast beef are slow-roasted on premises, while meatballs for an Italian-style sub are braised overnight. Bread is also delivered daily from Hyattsville’s Uptown Bakers.
Vegetarians will find soy “turkey” subs and “chicken” cheesesteaks, as well as a veggie cheeseburger. Certain items can be veganized by removing the cheese.
Unlike most sandwich chains, the M Street location won’t shutter in the evening. You’ll be able to get a late-late-night Italian sub fix until 3:30 AM on opening day, and Thursday through Saturday going forward. Multiple locations are in the works, potentially including shops in Rosslyn, Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Bethesda, Rockville, and Reston.
And possibly more Joe Biden
The VP may deviate from his Pete’s Apizza habit. Capriotti’s claims to be Biden’s hometown favorite, having delivered sandwiches for pre-debate and inaugural lunches. You may even catch Biden waiting in line for his free Bobbie.
UPDATE 1:20 PM: Make that definitely more Joe Biden. The Vice President was among the first customers at the opening this morning. According to the restaurant’s publicist, who tweeted the below picture earlier today, the VP ordered two medium Italian subs—no onions, Italian hot peppers on the side—to take to the President.
Biden also picked up a Bobbie and a large Italian sub for his staff. Could a presidential appearance be next? The duo are known to like their trips to local sandwich shops.
Come December, you can get a taste of Menu at Table—and no, we don’t mean Table’s menu. Chef Frederik De Pue—who’s fond of naming restaurants after the inanimate objects within—is set to debut his next venture, called Menu, in January. Guests can get a sneak preview during a three-day pop-up at his Shaw bistro December 9 through 11.
The upcoming market/wine bar/restaurant will be housed in the same lofty Penn Quarter space where De Pue briefly operated Azur. The ground floor will operate as a specialized grocery and coffee bar, while the upper levels provide more of a sit-down experience with a wine bar and restaurant. Dishes from the latter will be previewed at Table in a three-course $45 menu, including desserts from newly hired pastry chef Jason Gehring (formerly the fried-dough master at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken). Will Menu boast an in-house bakery (called Oven) for European-style beignets? We can only hope so.
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.