Rasika Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj Is Opening a Modern Mediterranean Spot in Penn Quarter

Bajaj will close Nopa brasserie on Jan. 1 to make room for his new restaurant, Olivia.

Olivia will open in Penn Quarter with mod-Med dishes like this dill tzatziki with trout roe. Photography courtesy of Olivia

The new year will mean a new Penn Quarter restaurant for Ashok Bajaj’s empire. Nopa, his five year-old American brasserie, will shutter on January 1 for a full concept and design revamp. The space will reopen on January 10 as Olivia, a lush modern Mediterranean spot helmed by longtime Nopa head chef Matt Kuhn.

“I wanted more of an identity to the restaurant,” says Bajaj, who’s been planning the new theme for over a year.

A redesign will bring airy, coastal touches to the space and more live plants. Rendering courtesy of Martin Vahtra, Projects Design Associates.

The transformation is tangential to Bajaj’s recent reconfiguration of Ardeo+Bardeo into the Israeli-themed Sababa in Cleveland Park. At Olivia, the kitchen will turn toward the western Mediterranean for inspiration, drawing from Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Greece, and Tunisia. Dishes are designed to be shared—from smaller portions of dips with homemade breads to platter-size whole roasted branzino. That said, the split-adverse could commandeer one of the many meat, fish, or vegetable plates as an entree (think a lamb burger with manchego and zhug, or Portuguese-style seafood stew).

Kuhn, an alum of Fig in Charleston, adds his own modern touch throughout, whether it’s dill-cucumber tzatziki topped with briny pops of trout roe; warm burrata smothered in zhug and crispy crumbs; or or chickpea tagliatelle with mushroom “bolognese.” (Bajaj eats largely vegetarian, so like at his other restaurants, meatless options are plentiful.) Prices start at $5 for snacks and generally run up to $28 for platters.

Olivia modern Mediterranean restaurant Penn Quarter Ashok Bajaj
Vegetarians have plenty of options, such as this charred cauliflower with squash hummus, dukkah, pomegranate, and pickled carrots.

Designer Martin Vahtra will remake the 160-seat restaurant, adding coastal touches like white-washed wood, hanging lanterns, and ample live greenery. The 30-seat bar/lounge channels vintage Casablanca in look and downtown DC in programming (those pre-Caps/Wizards happy hours aren’t going anywhere). Initially, the restaurant will be only open for dinner, but there are plans to expand the hours for lunch in mid-January and eventually brunch.

Galician-style carpaccio with paprika aioli.

Olivia’s opening won’t be the only major debut for Bajaj in 2019. The restaurateur recently purchased the historic Dupont Circle building that was home to Nora for 40 years and will open a new concept there next year. And not everything old is new again. His first-ever DC restaurant, Bombay Club, celebrates its 30th birthday in January. 

Olivia. 800 F St., NW.

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.