With a red crocodile-skin bar, white marble fireplaces, waterfall illusions on the walls, and capiz-shell chandeliers, Oya–slated to open in February–doesn't look like your average restaurant. Errol Lawrence, who grew up in DC and has run restaurants in Los Angeles, wants his Chinatown space to be both "a party every night" in the lounge area and a fine-dining destination.
Lawrence lured St. Lucia-born chef Kingsley John from New York, where he worked for eight years under renowned Aquavit chef Marcus Samuelsson. John says his menu is "all over the place," showing his Caribbean roots but also Samuelsson's Swedish influence. Take the jerk-salmon gravlax flatbread: John uses the gravlax and espresso-mustard sauce Samuelsson taught him, then sprinkles it with jerk spices and lays it on the type of flatbread he grew up with. Other appetizers include baby-conch salad with pineapple sorbet and jerk-salmon avocado rolls.
Featured dinner entrées are pimiento-crusted duck with taro root; smoked lamb chops with green bananas and black-eyed peas; and a crispy whole fish surrounded by dill broth. At lunch there's curried goat, and mango barbecue chicken with callalou. Lunch entrées are $12 to $23, dinner main courses $18 to $35.
John hired Aquavit's Jean-Rony Fougere to craft the desserts. Look for chilled coconut soup with passionfruit dumplings, and a chocolate-mousse dome with spiced caramel.
Oya's favorite liquor is rum. Aquavit bar master Christian Post is helping John concoct a palette of infused rums. One cocktail blends spiced rum with ginger beer and sorrel. And flights of rum sorbets will be served in the lounge.
10/06 update: Kingsley John has left Oya and the menu has undergone several changes.
Oya: 777 Ninth St., NW; 202-393-1400; oyadc.com.
Open weekdays for lunch and dinner. A late-night menu is served until 1 AM.