The quirkiest (creepiest?) social distancing trend in restaurants has finally made its way to DC—that’s right, you can now dine among mannequins. The costumed figures make their debut inside Rumi’s Kitchen, an Atlanta-based Persian restaurant that just opened in Mount Vernon Triangle.
Restaurants across the globe have used mannequins, cardboard cutouts, and blow-up dolls to occupy seats they can’t fill because of Covid-19 restrictions. Notably, the Inn at Little Washington reserves tables for prop patrons in 1940s-era garb. (Servers are even instructed to pour them wine and to ask them about their evening.)
Rumi’s Kitchen chef-owner Ali Mesghali says he initially thought adding mannequins would actually cost less than putting the extra furniture in storage, although that wasn’t necessarily the case after they were all dressed up. After all, the faux-diners had to match the artwork on the walls, which features figures in traditional hats from the era of Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet.
Chief Operations Officer Stephen Kaplan says they bring that same “fanatical” attention to detail to the food, whether it’s perfectly cooked rice, extra smooth hummus, or the right blend of beef in a kabob. Mesghali says when he opened his first Rumi’s Kitchen in 2006, he struggled to find a team that could meet his exacting standards.
“Come Friday night, out of the 25 items on the menu, eight of them would be 86ed because I would throw them away,” Mesghali says. “A month through service, my wife used to cry, ‘Honey, we have no more money, you can’t keep throwing away the food.’ But like, it doesn’t taste right. We can’t be selling it if it’s not right.”
Most of the DC menu carries over from the two Georgia locations. Among the popular dishes: kashk badenjoon (fried eggplant with cream of whey, crispy onion, and mint), ghormeh sabzi (a stew with beef, scallions, red kidney beans, and dry lime), and that super smooth hummus, which comes with toppings like lamb merguez sausage or smoked salmon. In addition, extensive kabob offerings include saffron and citrus-brined chicken breast, yogurt-marinated lamb with mint, and ground beef koobideh with a blend of chuck, hanger, and brisket cuts. If dining among mannequins isn’t your thing, the menu is also available for pickup, delivery, and on a small patio.
Cocktails incorporate many kitchen ingredients, whether it’s saffron-infused vodka for a “Tehran mule” or a gin and tonic twist with dried lime. The Mediterranean-focused wine list is an eclectic mix spanning from Tuscany, Italy to Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
In addition to the social distancing mannequins, the restaurant has sleeked up its safety precautions. Every table has branded Rumi’s Kitchen hand sanitizer, and contactless facial thermal temperature scanners stop anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees.
Rumi’s Kitchen. 640 L St., NW. 202-900-9106. Open lunch and dinner.