Himitsu has racked up plenty of accolades since the tiny Petworth space debuted two years ago. Chef and co-owner Kevin Tien was a finalist for the James Beard “Rising Star Chef” award this year, while the restaurant landed in the fourth spot on Washingtonian‘s 100 Best restaurants ranking. Now, the 31-year-old is planning his second restaurant: Emilie’s.
The new place, as blog Barred in DC initially reported, will be located at the corner of 11th St. and Pennsylvania Ave, SE at the base of a new Capitol Hill condo building that will also house the revived Frager’s hardware store. Tien is partnering with Sam Shoja, owner of the local Jinya Ramen Bar franchises, for the venture, which is expected to open in the second half of 2019.
The globally minded menu will feature fresh pastas, house-baked breads, plus pickles and other ferments from an “incubation room.” A daily changing a la carte menu will focus on what’s fresh and seasonal from purveyors, while a larger selection of dishes will be presented on trays and carts that circulate through the dining room.
Sound like dim sum? Tien doesn’t want to call it that. “I’ve been trying really hard to break perceptions of what Asian food and cuisine can be here it Himitsu,” he says. “It’s tough as an Asian chef because everyone has these preconceived notions on how the food should be. I want people to see me just as a chef and not an Asian chef.”
One cart will be fashioned as a mobile raw bar with oysters from all over the country shucked tableside. Another cart or tray will focus on panchan-style pickles, but not limited to Korean flavors.
The menu will also include a few family-style dishes. One highlight: a beef rib seasoned with Asian spices and served with various lettuces and an array of condiments that range from Vietnamese and Korean sauces to Greek tzatziki.
Everything will be prepared from a kitchen in the center of the 70-seat dining room. “If we’re doing anything with the food, you’ll see it,” Tien says. The carts will follow set lanes through the restaurant that circle through the kitchen. Kitchen counter seats will give diners the most direct view, but even those in the bar area will get a glimpse too. A ten-seat private dining room will be available for small groups. Expect a patio for al fresco dining.
The space will feature big wraparound windows, so Tien says he wants bring the outside in with lots of plants in the decor. He adds that the restaurant aims to have the same comfortable “come as you are” atmosphere as Himitsu. One big difference: Emilie’s will accept reservations. The restaurant will start as dinner only, but will expand to lunch if the neighborhood wants and can support it.
A small portion of the profits will be donated to charity (although Tien hasn’t yet decided if he’ll focus on one group or rotate them). Tien says he was inspired in part by Aaron Silverman‘s Rose’s Luxury, which donates 25 cents from every meal to an organization that helps feed kids around the world.
“I definitely want to become a chef like Aaron Silverman, like José Andrés, like all these amazing people that I’ve had the chance to work for. Giving back is part of it,” Tien says.
Tien will continue to oversee the menu at Himitsu and is looking for a chef de cuisine to help at Emilie’s. His Himitsu partner, Carlie Steiner, is not involved in the new restaurant.
Tien says Emilie’s is dedicated to his “uncle” Joey Fleur, who died from cancer two years ago. “He wasn’t an uncle by blood but a really close family friend when my family came over from Vietnam after the Vietnam war,” Tien says. “He was actually best friends with my uncle, and they grew up together. His family always looked after us and took care of us to help us get used to American customs and traditions.” The name Emilie ran through Fleur’s family, from his grandmother to his daughter; Emily is also the name of Tien’s fiancée.
Growing up, Tien’s family and Fleur’s family had dinner together almost every Sunday. The chef says it was his family’s way to show off their native cuisine, and Fleur’s way to show them his family’s German cuisine. It was the same blending of cultures he captures in his cooking today.
“The idea of dining with the people you love, and the power of food, and just being able to create all those memories—we want to be able to create that in the restaurant as well,” Tien says.