Check Out New Penn Quarter Seafood Spot Azur

A nautical-themed restaurant opens in the former Café Atlantico space.

By: Anna Spiegel

It’s an exciting time to be a food fan in Washington: More than a dozen new eateries have recently opened their doors, the Red Hen debuts Tuesday in Bloomingdale, and now chef Frederik De Pue is set to open his second restaurant, Azur, Thursday in the former Café Atlantico space. Those looking for a break from fried chicken and doughnuts, take note: This 135-seat spot is wholly devoted to seafood.

You’ll recognize the lofty three-story building from its José Andrés days, but De Pue has transformed the interior to fit the nautical theme with the help of Belgian interior designer Natascha Folens. Comfy wicker chairs and cushy stools fashioned after bottle corks greet you in the entry-level bar area, a prime spot for sipping one of the many seasonal cocktails named after famous boats. The Magusta 165 may sink your wallet with its $40 price tag, but the cognac-based libation named after a mega-yacht is the most expensive on the list. The $6 Regina Marina is more our cruising speed. You can sip the Aperol and Champagne concoction alongside bar snacks such as baked oysters with chorizo, toast spread with sea urchin butter, or crispy calamari tossed with a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette and chopped peanuts.

European-style seafood borrows from a variety of influences, from Spanish octopus with pork belly and black curry to Bangkok-style shellfish cooked with coconut broth and lemongrass. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

The full menu is available throughout the restaurant, but you may want to climb the stairs past the effervescent chandelier to the second- and third-floor dining areas for dinner. Colorful tables imprinted with various aquatic creatures reflect the variety of seafood offerings. You might start off with appetizers such as shiso-accented lobster bisque or crispy Maryland crab with yuzu and crème fraîche, or claim a stool at the six-seat raw bar on the second floor—a.k.a. the original Minibar—for raw oysters or one of the many varieties of caviar (like the cocktails, the roe ranges from splurge-worthy white sturgeon to more budget-friendly salmon). The European-style fin fare rotates based on what’s available, or the diner’s choice in certain preparations. You may find a variety of fish baked en croûte de sel (salt crust), which helps keep the flesh wonderfully moist. A separate en cocotte section—shellfish cooked in a casserole pot—allows you to pick from mussels, clams, or lobster in a variety of preparations. Here you can go as simple as Belgian-inspired moules frites steamed in beer and buttered leeks or hit the other end of the spectrum with lobster Veracruz-style with chorizo and pasilla chili broth.

Vegetarians and non-seafood fans may feel lost in the sea of options. Spring pea agnolotti, roast lamb, and romesco-sauced chicken are currently the entrée choices for those hoping to avoid the ocean entirely. De Pue’s first restaurant, Table, may better fit the bill for the non-pescetarians in the crowd.

Azur. 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-347-7491. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday 5 to midnight, and Thursday through Saturday 5 PM to 2 AM. Closed Monday.

A separate menu in the sidewalk-level bar area boasts snacks like baked oysters and calamari, and cocktails named after famous ships. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
You can’t swing a buoy without hitting a nautical touch in the restaurant, including this bubble-like chandelier that bobs gently in the breeze. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.