Take a Sneak Peek Inside Emilie’s, Chef Kevin Tien’s Cart-Driven Restaurant Opening on Capitol Hill This Fall

Oyster carts, butter carts, meat carts...

Emilie's will open on Capitol Hill this fall. Renderings courtesy of HapstakDemetriou+

Founding Himitsu chef Kevin Tien and his team are getting ready to roll out Emilie’s on Capitol Hill in late September/early October—and roll they will. The design of the modern American restaurant, located near Barracks Row at 1101 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, focuses around an open kitchen and circulating dining room carts that’ll carry fresh-shucked oysters; hot and cold composed dishes; large family-style platters of whole fish and cuts of meat; and a “spreads, breads, and butters” cart  to accompany homemade loaves.

Washingtonian got a first look at the renderings for the 70-seat space designed by HapstakDemetriou+, the DC-based firm whose client roster includes Fiola Mare and Rose’s Luxury among many others. Tien says the dining experience is meant to be interactive, whether you’re dropping in for happy hour at the bar and grabbing a few snacks from the carts or splurging on a celebratory meal (a big 80-seat patio will open in warm weather). Menu items are still in the works as the team recently traveled to Los Angeles, exploring everything from taco shops to tasting menus for inspiration. A house-made bread program and fermentation room are a definite. Cart items may range from $3 for small accoutrement like pickles or butter to $15 for dishes like house-made tofu topped with crab, and go upwards for large platters. 

The 30-seat bar and lounge area.

The cuisine will be eclectic—reflective of the 32-year-old chef’s background as an American of Vietnamese descent who grew up in Louisiana. Before opening Himitsu in 2016—at which Tien gained James Beard nods and national accolades—he cooked at Japanese sushi spot Uchi, Oyamel, and Momofuku CCDC. For Emelie’s, Tien shies away from the “dim sum” peg associated with roving cart service. Instead, he was inspired by a new wave of seasonal American restaurants embracing the service style like Emer & Rye in Austin, Atlanta’s Gunshow, and San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions

“The one question I keep getting asked is ‘What type of food are you going to do at Emilie’s?’ And honestly I don’t want to stick to a type of food, I just want to cook,” says Tien. “I’m going to call it New American. Back in the day you’d think standard burgers and grilled fish, but what it means to be American is very different now. New American is all kinds of different backgrounds.”

In addition to dining carts, patrons can order from the open kitchen’s a la carte menu.

Tien’s last day at Himitsu is September 15, at which point business partner Carlie Steiner will take over with new head chef Amanda Moll (formerly Doi Moi). Tien, who’s also behind popular fried chicken spot Hot Lola’s in Ballston’s Quarter Market food hall, says the split was a tough decision yet amicable, and ultimately came down to logistics.

“I could try to juggle all three but I think it would be bad for my physical health and my mental health,” says Tien. “Emilie’s is a big project and I don’t think it would succeed as much as I want it to.”

Stay tuned for an opening date.

Emilie’s. 1101 Pennsylvania Ave., SE

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.