Food

Frank Ruta and Aggie Chin Depart Downtown Fine Dining Destination Mirabelle in a Massive Shakeup

Taking over: former sommelier Jennifer Knowles and Alinea vet Keith Bombaugh.
Pastry chef Aggie Chin (left) and Frank Ruta depart Mirabelle in a massive shakeup. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

There’s been a massive shakeup at downtown fine dining destination Mirabelle, as first reported by Don Rockwell. Founding veteran chef Frank Ruta and pastry chef Aggie Chin are out, and their last day in the kitchen is Saturday. The ultra-luxe French restaurant near the White House, which is owned by restaurateur Hakan Ilhan (Ottoman Taverna, Alba Osteria), is going into the hands of former wine director/general manager Jennifer Knowles, who will resume those duties (she’d left last year to open Mike Isabella’s Requin). She’s bringing back bartender Zach Faden to work on cocktails, and pastry cook* Zoe Ezrailson to handle desserts. 

Keith Bombaugh, a protege of Boston’s Barbara Lynch who went on to become a sous chef at Chicago’s famed Alinea, is leading the kitchen. His opening menus, which include three ($75) to 12 course ($195) prix-fixe in addition to a la carte, show plenty of affection for French, Mid-Atlantic, and New England flavors. No more $26 ham sandwich on the lunch menu, but you will find Maryland crab toast, a croque madame popover, and a Cape Cod duo of clams with fried bellies and steamers. The opulent dessert and Armagnac/spirits carts are there to stay. Knowles says she wants to make the restaurant more user-friendly—a place to duck into for a quick lunch, a shellfish tower, or some bar snacks, in addition to elaborate dinners. 

Mirabelle opened to plenty of acclaim—I awarded it three stars in May of 2017 and called Ruta’s poached foie gras the single best bite of food I had had so far that year. But the restaurant suffered consistency issues. My last meal there earlier this year was erratic, very expensive, and incredibly lengthy at over three hours for three courses.

Ruta and Chin’s departures were “purely a business decision,” says Knowles. “There was an inability to consistantly meet food and labor costs.” The often half-empty dining room didn’t help. 

The restaurant will shut down this weekend and reopen for lunch and dinner August 7th. No word yet on what’s next for veteran chef Ruta, whose classical French and Mediterranean-accented cooking has many loyal fans, or pastry talent Chin, whose Mirabelle desserts were featured on our most recent Best of Washington list. 

*Correction: The original post stated that Ezrailson was once Chin’s #2 at Mirabelle; she had been a pastry cook there.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.