Chef Elias Taddesse spent most of his career in the rarified world of fine-dining. Over the last few years, though, he’s gone the opposite route—a burger pop-up. His new restaurant, Mélange, melds high and low brow. The Mount Vernon Triangle spot opens Friday, September 4 with burgers and fried chicken sandwiches to-go. Down the line, Taddesse plans to offer a tasting menu that combines his French culinary training with his Ethiopian heritage.
Taddesse was raised in in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Minneapolis. He studied at the Institut Paul Bocuse in France, and worked for Michelin-starred restaurants in New York, including as executive chef of Caviar Russe. Eventually, though, he wanted to run his own business and “needed to find my own identity as a chef.” So he returned to Ethiopia, where he consulted for hotels and resorts as he tried to figure out what his own restaurant might look like. A burger competition with a friend provided the answer.
“I ended up really just destroying him, and then I figured I found the formula for a concept,” Taddesse says.
Taddesse ultimately ended up returning to DC, where in 2016, he started a burger pop-up called Salt N’ Pepper with Harvey’s Market butcher shop in Union Market. The pop-up then moved to Wet Dog Tavern near the U Street corridor. Now, Taddesse has partnered with developer Edens to be the first in a new program called Catalyst, which helps first-time restaurateurs test their concepts in otherwise vacant spaces.
Mélange will be open for takeout and delivery to start. (Order online here.) One of the main attractions is, of course, the burger. Taddesse doesn’t just slap together any old patty. His blend of dry-aged Roseda beef has been carefully calculated based on how the fat of different cuts render, and the textures of various muscle fibers. Mélange’s “classic” burger comes with the standard tomato, iceberg lettuce, and American cheese but gets upgraded with brown butter aioli and pickled red onion. Another signature: “the Italian” with smoked mozzarella, tomato confit, and spicy basil aioli.
A vegan burger combines together all the components of an Ethiopian vegetable platter: a lentil-beet patty, confit swiss chard, timatim salata (a salad of diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers), and spicy lentil spread on a rosemary ciabatta roll, which is meant to recall the rosemary often used in beef tibs.
The menu also includes a couple fried chicken sandwiches, most notably “The National,” a take on Ethiopia’s national dish, doro wat. Taddesse uses Ethiopian spices for the dry rub and marinade, then coats the fried chicken in a spicy chicken stew glaze. It’s served with a turmeric slaw, a kibbeh (spiced butter) aioli, and a choice of a hard boiled or runny egg.
At some point—when depends on what happens with Covid—Taddesse also plans to offer an East-African inspired cocktail menu at the bar as well as a tasting menu serving “contemporary French with Ethiopian flavors.” (Think berbere-cured himachi with avocado and banana leaf puree.)
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything,” he says. “I’m just using the techniques that I’ve learned and then incorporating our flavors into it.”
Mélange. 449 K St., NW. 202-289-5471.