The rumors are true: Reality stars Giuliana and Bill Rancic are opening a restaurant in Washington. Giuliana, a Bethesda native, announced on The Tommy Show that she and her husband are planning to debut a branch of their Chicago-based RPM Italian here.
We first became aware of the expansion after the season six premiere of Giuliana and Bill, wherein the couple scout potential spaces for their restaurant around town. There’s no word yet on how close the DC version will stay to the Windy City original, which is a collaborative project with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (which is also behind Maggiano’s, Mon Ami Gabi, and Wildfire in our area). You can see a copy of the original restaurant’s menu online; it includes everything from fairly moderately priced pastas to a $118 steak for two.
While some are skeptical about the number of celebrity- and celebrity-chef-driven eateries opening in Washington—Chris Bukowski’s “lady-friendly” sports bar, anyone?—there’s some hope for RPM: Michelle Obama seems to be a fan.
Update: This post previously stated that RPM was going into the space that formerly housed Buddha Bar. In fact, a lease has not yet been signed. Stay tuned for more information.
Washington should not expect a new place from Michel Richard, at least within the year. The Central and former Citronelle toque hosted New York’s culinary glitterati at an opening fete on Wednesday for Pommes Palais and Villard Michel Richard, beaming for photographers with Martha Stewart, Daniel Boulud, and former New York Times critic Mimi Sheraton. With two concepts debuting in the New York Palace hotel, there’s reason to smile.
Richard says he was approached by a former business partner who also has ties to the Palace, which towers over a prime block of Madison Avenue near Rockefeller Center. The property, built by railroad financier Henry Villard in 1882, recently underwent a $140 million renovation that transformed the space from a historic (and slightly worn) time capsule to modern palatial grounds. Pomme Palais is characteristic of the new look: a sleek, counter-order cafe featuring well-known Richard dishes such as the goat cheese Caesar and the 72-hour braised short rib, here in sandwich form for easy takeaway. Richard’s more formal restaurant adopts the founder’s name and aesthetic, housed in the 19th-century Villard Mansion. While other parts of the hotel got full makeovers, the Italian Renaissance-style building is a preserved historic landmark. Like Richard himself, the restaurant projects an over-the-top, grand feel with playful twists thrown in from designer Jeffrey Beers—think oversize black-and-white portraits of actresses set in illuminated gold leaf frames that lean against the wood-paneled walls. Or, for that matter, a Champagne-fueled debut that pairs live violin music with Icona Pop and Rihanna over the sound system.
Villard itself is a restaurant divided: A larger, more casual French-American bistro will serve fare reminiscent of Central, including crossover signatures such as French onion soup, “faux gras,” and the lobster burger. Those longing for the Citronelle days will want to reserve a table in the 46-seat gallery, whose dinnertime prix-fixe tasting menus will mimic those of the erstwhile restaurant and even boast familiar dishes, like the mosaic surf-and-turf and creme brûlée napoleon. Asked whether he’d reopen Citronelle, one of Washington’s most iconic dining spots, Richard seemed doubtful. He says a concept as grand as the Villard wouldn’t work in DC, where fine dining is “not dead—diminished.” Still ever playful, the chef says he’ll be back in Washington after a year of ensuring things are running smoothly in Manhattan. “I will open a nice place in DC,” he says.
Much of the New York-based press around the opening mentions Richard’s 65 years, including three early ones in New York when he first arrived from France in 1974. There are admiring skeptics. Thomas Keller told the Times, “I don’t know why he’s doing this at 65 . . . I love Michel, but New York can be unkind.” Still the party was abuzz about the level of grandeur, the passed caviar, and Richard’s eggless “eggceptional” sweets. Richard was front and center, posing with guests and signing autographs, his enthusiasm infectious.
“At first I was worried about Michel coming up here, but this place is grand,” remarked Marcel’s chef/owner Robert Wiedmaier, who says he believes Richard will do well in the city.
He is, after all, the master of surprise.
“Anything goes as long as it’s enjoyable,” says Rose’s Luxury chef-owner Aaron Silverman, standing in his kitchen on opening night.
This (non) guiding principle extends throughout the Capitol Hill restaurant, which opened Wednesday and is named for Silverman’s grandmother. The 100-year-old building on Barrack’s Row exudes the feel of an eclectic townhouse, with each dining space possessing its own feel. The same menu is served throughout, but you might be seated in the first-floor atrium amid potted plants and dangling string lights, perch on white leather stools across from the open kitchen and its wood-burning stove, or gather at the rooftop picnic table in warmer weather. Climb the narrow staircase and you’ll find a living-room-esque bar on the second floor, set with a trim couch for drinks before dinner. Despite spreading out over the entire structure, the rooms only seat around 75 diners total.
The menu is just as diverse as the decor, and similarly concise in size. Silverman’s résumé includes impressive stops at restaurants such as McCrady’s in Charleston and New York’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and Insieme, and you can spot influences of all. Small dishes dominate. You might start with Vietnamese pâté, chicken liver mousse crowned with Asian herbs and a layer of fat skimmed from Silverman’s pork pho (coming soon). A section of pastas such as spaghetti with a savory combination of strawberry ragout and ricotta or classic cacio e pepe speak to the chef’s Italian training, while smoked beef ribs with house-made peach vinegar head back to South Carolina.
The weekend forecast is sunny and mild, making it prime outdoor-beer-drinking weather. On the agenda: a trip to La Piazza, the new Bethesda birreria at Cesco Osteria. Owner Francesco Ricchi redesigned the patio, fashioning it into a space for sipping local craft brews and snacking on bar bites.
This isn’t the first renovation for the Cesco team. Ricchi moved the 15-year-old Tuscan eatery to a larger, more central space on Bethesda Row last year, and debuted the adjoining Co2 Lounge to appeal to a younger crowd. La Piazza was imagined with a similar goal in mind, with Ricchi’s daughter and son-in-law partnering on the project. You’ll find beers such as DC Brau El Hefe Speaks and Flying Dog Dogtoberfest, all $6 and under, as well as similarly affordable bites. The menu includes dishes like thin-crust pizzettes, a sausage platter with warm focaccia, and two types of fried dough: salt-dusted savory sticks and bomboloni, miniature doughnuts filled with vanilla custard cream.
To complement the locally focused menu, the space was built with sustainability in mind. You’ll settle in at picnic-style tables and high-tops made from recycled wood, which are lit by dangling string lights at night.
La Piazza. 7401 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 202-841-9114. Open Tuesday and Wednesday 3 to 10, Thursday through Saturday 3 to 1, and Sunday noon to 10. Closed Monday.
Given the casual state of dining, plenty of restaurateurs opt for low-key accompaniments to their finer-dining establishments—think Mike Isabella’s Kapnos and adjoining sandwich shop G and Victor Albisu’s (Del Campo) Taco Bamba. Chef Dennis Friedman is getting into a similar game with Newton’s Noodles, a 70-seat, fast-casual spinoff of his Bethesda restaurant, Newton’s Table. While you could mistake the place for an Asian-style Chipotle (like, um, Chipotle’s Asian-style spinoff, Shophouse), Friedman has taken several different approaches to stand out. Here’s what to look for when the spot opens this week.
Restaurant favorites made to order
Newton’s Table regulars might recognize the lineup at the noodle shop. Friedman says the menu is made up of customer favorites from the dressier restaurant. The focus is “fuzu,” a noodle dish (with a made-up name) that Friedman says he’s tweaked for years. Guests still customize their bowls by picking between buckwheat soba noodles or gluten-free rice noodles and adding various veggies, proteins, and toppings. The overall flavor of the dish is similar to Friedman’s original concept, whether you choose the original soy-based sauce or a newer coconut-curry creation. Ingredients such as shrimp, scallops, chicken, and vegetables are cooked to order for your bowl.
Appetizers that can grow into entrées
Starters include duck confit spring rolls, crispy soy-glazed chicken, and sesame-crusted ahi tuna lightly fried and served rare with soy-mustard dipping sauce. Any starter item can be enlarged to a main course portion, or served family-style for three or four people. Dishes such as the aforementioned tuna and chicken are rounded out with either white or brown rice.
Move over, sporks. The signature utensil at Newton’s Noodles is the chork, a hybrid fork-chopstick combination that can be used three ways. The chopstick-challenged can use the fork end to twirl noodles or try their hand at the Asian utensil by keeping the chork intact (which feels kind of like eating with long tweezers). If chopsticks are your go-to, just break the whole thing in half and use them the regular way.
A liquor license is in the works for Newton’s, and Friedman expects to roll out beer, wine, and sparkling sake in about three months. In the meantime, pick up a Pattycake for dessert. The rum cake is from a recipe by Friedman’s wife, Patty. (See what he did there?)
Delivery to go, patio to stay
Down the road, a delivery option will accommodate the neighborhood’s main denizens: college students and office workers. (Diners in a hurry are welcome to call in orders when the restaurant opens.) Come spring, look for a 40-seat patio to debut. Another new feature you eventually may see: numerous Newton’s Noodles. Friedman says he plans to open a branch at the University of Maryland and two in Virginia in 2015, after which he hopes to expand the concept beyond the local market.
Newton’s Noodles. 1129 20th St., NW; 202-827-3907. Open Monday to Friday 10 to 9 and Saturday 11 to 4. Closed Sunday.
Yes, it’s September, but with temperatures climbing into the ’90s, it feels more like the height of summer. Take advantage of the warm weather by checking out the beachy Nantucket’s Reef, which opened last week in Rockville.
Chef Steve Deffineaugh’s family was behind the now-closed Fred & Harry’s Seafood in Silver Spring, which operated for more than 50 years. Deffineaugh and partner Christian Ekberg have gone more New England-focused for their seafood house. The interior of the 146-seat eatery is done up like one you might find overlooking Nantucket Sound, with hardwood floors, pale blue walls, and plenty of nautical touches in form of wooden whales, flags, and model ships. The lunch and dinner menus also lean toward the ocean, with a selection of raw and baked oysters, bacon-spiked clam chowder, classic crab-stuffed cod, and baskets of crispy fish and shellfish. Naturally, New England lobster is also in the mix, with broiled tails, lobster mac and cheese, and classic Maine- and Connecticut-style rolls. A whoopie pie should take you back up North for dessert.
Currently an outdoor patio holds six tables, but look for an expansion come next spring. In the meantime you can post up with a fresh lime margarita or a cold cocktail fashioned from Nantucket Nectar juices. Unlike many places that restrict happy hour to the bar, deals extend throughout the restaurant, meaning you can take down $1 oysters in the great outdoors alongside $3 glasses of wine and draft beers from 4 to 7. Because what says summer like 4 o’clock happy hour?
Nantucket’s Reef. 9755 Traville Gateway Dr., Rockville. 301-279-7333. Open Sunday through Thursday 11 to 10, Friday and Saturday 11 to 11. Happy hour Monday through Thursday 4 to 7.
Prolific restaurateur Richard Sandoval—who’s behind Masa 14, Zengo, Ambar, and more—just debuted his first sister eatery in the area: a sibling for 14th Street Mexican spot El Centro D.F. It’s spread out over two floors in the former Third Edition space and has a spacious patio for savoring the last days of summery weather over margaritas. While the two restaurants share many similarities, there are a number of new elements at the Georgetown spot.
One of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the summer, if not the year, is upon us: Doi Moi, a contemporary Southeast Asian restaurant from the team behind Proof and Estadio, is set to open its doors on Tuesday. We got one of the first looks inside the 135-seat eatery.
While neighboring Estadio boasts dark wood surfaces for the moody feel of a Barcelona bar, Griz Dwight of GrizForm Design took an airier approach to Doi Moi with ample windows, a mosaic marble tile floor, and pure white surfaces. Fitting for the name’s English translation, literally “new change,” the 14th Street space inhabits both a recently built structure and the adjoining old Whitman-Walker clinic. Dwight hoped the aesthetic would match the bright cuisine of Southeast Asia, and went for a more modern look than the ubiquitous exposed brick and pipes—as he says, “no historic this or nostalgic that.” You might grab a table in the main dining room ringed by smoked white oak benches or, if you’re lucky, snag two seats at the L-shaped counter looking into the kitchen.
The newest addition to the 14th Street restaurant corridor debuted Monday: Ted’s Bulletin, a sister location to the Capitol Hill original known for house-made pop-tarts, all-day breakfast, and alcohol-enhanced milkshakes. This is the second venture in the neighborhood for the Matchbox Food Group; the team opened a branch of Matchbox there last fall. It’s planning a third Ted’s location for Reston toward the end of the year. Here’s what to expect at Ted’s number two.
Homesick Midwesterners, take note: This new concept is geared toward you. The team behind neighborhood eatery Kangaroo Boxing Club released more details today on Ivy & Coney, the Shaw bar they’re opening at 1537 Seventh Street, Northwest. The gist, per the release, is that it “brings the atmosphere of a Chicago corner bar with Detroit prices and Midwestern hospitality to our ever-diverse capital.” In other words, this may be the cheapest and friendliest spot in the neighb (unless, of course, the Bears and Lions are playing on Sunday).
The concept came about because of the hometowns of the restaurant team, who hail from the Windy City, Detroit, and Washington. You’ll find a mix of Midwestern delicacies, such as Italian beef, Cracker Jack, and hot dogs of both the Chicago and lesser-known Detroit Coney variety (traditionally topped with beanless chili, yellow mustard, and onions). Wash it all down with brews like Goose Island 312 and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, or go a bit fancier with spirits from your very own liquor locker. Though details are still vague, customers will be able to buy bottles of booze—“at a highly discounted service rate”—that they can store for mixing beverages or drinking straight.
If you’re a fan of the idea, you could help out the crew before they open in the fall. Like Pleasant Pops market, Mothership, and other small neighborhood joints, the team has set up a crowdfunding site. According to the webpage, the extra money is less of an opening necessity and more of a way to pay for added perks, like high-definition TVs, wall paintings, and even a roof deck. Rewards for contributions range from a high five for $1 to free food and drinks for five years for a $10,000 gift (you better really like hot dogs). Stay tuned for more details closer to opening.