Food

Mike Isabella Opens His Most Ambitious Restaurant Yet: Arroz

The Spanish eatery inside the Marriott Marquis debuts Monday
Arroz from Mike Isabella serves ambitious Spanish fare. Photograph by Greg Powers

Since opening Graffiato six years ago, restaurateur Mike Isabella has rapidly built an empire that currently includes eight full-service restaurants that range from Mexican (Pepita) to Mediterranean (Kapnos)—not to mention a handful of concessions at airports and Nationals Park, and a forthcoming upscale food hall in Tysons Galleria. When Arroz opens on Monday, the Spanish restaurant will be charting still-new territory as Isabella’s most high-end concept to date.

“There are so many Spanish restaurants in DC, so we thought, ‘How do we do this differently?,’” says Isabella.

The entryway off of the Marriott Marquis lobby.

For one, the food and drink menus draw from Portugal and Morocco as well as southern Spain—and you won’t find tapas (though sharing is still encouraged). Chef Michael Rafidi most recently helmed the kitchen at RN74, restaurateur Michael Mina’s French restaurant in San Francisco, and gets fanciful when it comes to riffing on Spanish classics. Pan con tomate arrives with warm smoked bone marrow and oxtail marmalade for slathering, while the house egg tortilla is filled with confit potatoes and morel mushrooms. The kitchen even makes its own saffron fideo noodles tossed with cockles and linguica sausage and topped with sea urchin foam. For splurges, diners can opt for dishes like a foie gras parfait with pickled kumquats or a mammoth 28-ounce bone-in ribeye ($78) with patatas braves and Harissa butter.

The 138-seat dining room feels airy thanks to a wall of windows and bright white-and-blue accents.
Diners can snack on pinxtos like anchovies with seaweed bread (far right).

The 138-seat dining room also offers larger share plates, including a variety of rice dishes (the restaurant’s name means “rice” in Spanish). There’s no paella—at least by name. Instead, Rafidi makes what he calls “essentially fried rice” by simmering the grains in aromatic broth, letting them dry, and then finishing them so the rice is both crispy on the top and bottom. Pans are topped with seasonal ingredients like dry-aged duck breast or crispy Maryland soft-shell crabs, squid, and “crab fat” aioli. For dessert, tables can share a chocolate tagine presented in the traditional pot.

The bar pours creative cocktails and three sangrias, like this white wine version with gin, pear, and cardamom.

Naturally, the 28-seat bar pours three styles of sangria on tap: red, white, or rosé, all of which can be ordered by the pitcher (in this case, a custom-made glass porron). Barman Taha Ismail also crafted five kinds of sherry cocktails, and others using flavors from the kitchen such as the “kasbah” with vodka, apricot liqueur, and ras el hanout-spiced oil. Arroz also offers the most extensive wine selection of any Isabella venture, with an emphasis on Spanish and Portuguese varietals, 30 offerings by the glass, and a reserve list for bigger spenders.

Arroz will initially open for dinner only with lunch and weekend brunch to follow. Look for a sidewalk patio to debut later this spring or early summer.

Arroz. 901 Massachusetts Ave., NW (enter through the Marriott Marquis lobby); 202-869-3300. Open for dinner March 27: Sunday to Wednesday, 5 to 10 pm; Thursday through Saturday, 5 to 11 pm.

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Anna Spiegel
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.