An Early Look at Leek American Bistro (Pictures)

The era of free bread is not dead. The new Ballston spot combines old-school amenities with a very of-the-moment menu.

The Leek salad at Leek American Bistro. Photographs by Dakota Fine.

In a time of bare tables and surcharged water, it’s surprising to find a casual restaurant with plans for pressed linens and a complimentary basket brimming with house-made breads. “This is just me being old-school” says chef Nathan Spittal of Leek American Bistro, which he’s opening with business partner Joe D’Jassebi. “We like tablecloth casual. And who eats without bread?”

Spittal cut his chops in the Washington restaurant scene over the past 15 years at spots like the Caucus Room and (now closed) Nathan’s, and Leek is right on trend. The restaurant will feature “new American” cuisine: a melting pot of kitchen traditions where Korean short ribs or tuna tartare are just as mainstream USA as an old-fashioned burger. You’ll find all of the above on the menu, divided into starters, mains, and “handhelds” (sandwiches), as well as homages to the American North (a Maine lobster roll), South (shrimp over cheddar grits with tasso ham), and in between (the Iowa Skinny—fried pork shank sandwiched inside an Amoroso Bakery kaiser roll with jack cheese and a swipe of sweet-sour mustard). Fans of Spittal’s defunct food truck, BBQ Bandidos, will recognize the pulled-pork biscuits: house-made green chili biscuits layered with fresh apple jam and Carolina-style slow-cooked pork.

The menu features a recommended wine—often from Virginia—for
every dish on the menu, and there are craft brews and high-end bourbon
or tequila picks, too. The last two are recommended neat or on the
rocks, though diners can choose to have them mixed into a cocktail
instead. Night owls at the 20-seat bar will find an abbreviated
late-night menu. Pastry chef Nydea Aviles is behind the
traditional focaccia and French rolls that make up the bread basket, as
well as unusual dessert items such as corn-studded panna cotta with
poblano crème anglaise and a tortilla tuile. The restaurant is slated to
open next week; stay tuned for an exact opening date.

Leek American Bistro. 801 North Quincy St., Arlington; 571-312-4036.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.