When we heard that Morou Ouattara, chef/owner of the recently closed Farrah Olivia in Alexandria, was going to open an Italian restaurant, we didn’t know what to expect. Would the chef, known for his ultra-modern dishes—shocked escolar with soy pearls, cured duck breast with pickled-kumquat liquid—send out deconstructed lasagna with tomato-sauce powder?
No, it turns out. Ouattara says he didn’t trade Farrah Olivia in for Kora—he wanted to keep his Old Town restaurant open, but he couldn’t negotiate a lease with his landlord. He’s currently scouting spaces in downtown DC to reopen it. Kora was created with his older brother, Amadou, a 22-year veteran of Italian cuisine who’s worked under some of Washington’s best-known Italian chefs, including Roberto Donna and Francisco Ricci.
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“Italian is something that brings people into a restaurant,” said Morou. It’s why so many of Washington’s newest eateries have lots of pasta and pizza on their menus: They’re comforting foods that are attractive to cash-strapped diners, and they’re cheap overhead for restaurateurs. For Kora, that means familiar dishes such as veal scaloppine and pizza. All the recipes come from Amadou, but Morou will be in the kitchen as well, and about half the cooks are from Farrah Olivia. Morou said he’ll be in charge of a small bar menu in the coming weeks.
To achieve an equally comforting—and cozy—atmosphere, Morou’s wife, Heather, decided on a deep-purple theme to warm up the grand space that was once Oyamel and most recently Donna’s Bebo Trattoria. They moved Bebo’s pizza oven closer to the bar to make room for a small waiting area with black leather couches.
There’s also a smile-inducing, Warhol-like portrait of the person who inspired the restaurant’s name: the Ouattaras’ three-year-old daughter (the original photo for the picture was taken by Morou—on his iPhone). It’s one of a few touches that remind us that although this restaurant is a departure for Ouattara, he’s still a presence here. After all, the eggplant gazpacho is garnished with tomato pearls.
Kora, 2250-B Crystal Dr., Arlington; 571-431-7090; korarestaurant.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner, Sunday for brunch. Appetizers $7 to $8, entrées $10 to $18.