Food

Unconventional Diner Owners Open a Glam Wood-Fired Italian Restaurant in Downtown DC

L'Ardente debuts October 5 with showstopping dishes like 40-layer truffle lasagna.

L'Ardente opens with wood-fired Italian cooking (pictured: lasagna with beef sugo and truffles). Photograph by Rey Lopez

One of the most highly anticipated fall openings is almost here: L’Ardente, a glam wood-fired Italian restaurant from Unconventional Diner owners Eric Eden and chef David Deshaies. The 180-seat spot—which includes an elevated bar, all-season patio, and private dining—opens in the Capitol Crossing development at 200 Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest on Tuesday, October 5.

Eden describes the restaurant’s vibe as “democratized luxury”—an elegant space outfitted with a gold-plated Marra Forni pizza oven and Spanish wood-burning grill, but with a fairly approachable menu of antipasti, homemade pastas, thin-crust pies, shareable platters, and desserts.

“We tried to play off of Hollywood glam meets coastal Italy,” says Eden of the look by design firm HapstakDemetriou+, who’s also behind the glitzy dining rooms at Fiola Mare and Punjab Grill. “Think food and furnishings from that stylish Italian Aunt we all wish we had.”

Cocktails are made with Italian spirits and liqueurs. Photograph by Rey Lopez

Though the restaurant is located in a brand new development situated in DC’s East End neighborhood (it’s between downtown and Capitol Hill), the dining room is designed to exude old-world charm. Gilded Murano glass chandeliers hang from wooden beams, while dining areas are hung with Missoni drapes and bolstered by terrazzo flooring. A 25-seat bar and lounge is outfitted with mohair banquettes and Italian bullhide seats. “Coming out of Covid, it’s nice to have a little bit of glamour and something to look forward to,” Eden says.

Most diners know Deshaies for his French and Franco-American cooking. Legendary chef Michel Richard brought the Loire Valley native to America in 2001, and Deshaies—an alum of Michelin-starred kitchens in Burgundy—quickly rose through the ranks at Richard’s Citronelle and Central, eventually leading both kitchens. (Deshaies, now at a partner at Central, recently reopened the downtown restaurant after a brief closure and revamp). L’Ardente is inspired by Deshaies’s love of Italian food and travel to coastal Italy, but the chef—whose title here is culinary director—isn’t relying on a wandering palate alone. The kitchen team includes pizzaiolo Logan Griffith of Tino’s Pizzeria in Cleveland Park, who designed the menu of creative Neapolitan-style pizzas and focaccia. Sfoglino Andrew Clark (ex-Napoli Pasta Bar and Fiola) is behind the noodles and stuffed pastas. Leading the daily operations: chef de cuisine Leena Ali, who’s cooked with Deshaies for eight years and led the kitchen at Unconventional Diner.

So what would one’s stylish Italian aunt serve for dinner? Aperitivo to start—grilled focaccia with prosciutto and figs, maybe some fried artichokes—and then a spread of antipasti with plenty of seasonal vegetables off the hardwood grill alongside seafood appetizers such as fire-kissed prawns with black garlic, pomegranate molasses, and Calabrian chilies. Pizzas, made with a flavorful sourdough-rye crust, get creative. Take the “Octoroni” topped with smoked octopus, aged pepperoni, basil pesto, and Fior di Latte cheese, or a “fun-guy” pizza with smoked-shallot ragu, sage, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Pastas can be both comforting (bucatini carbonara; goat-cheese ravioli with lemon butter) and luxurious, such as a lobster pasta or shareable 40-layer lasagna with beef sugo, sottocenere cheese, and truffles. Tables can share other family-style options like whole grilled branzino with fennel, tomato, and olives, or a 30-day dry-aged Florentine steak.

L’Ardente is the first restaurant to open in Capitol Crossing, a $1.3 billion mixed-used “green development” that’s been in the making since 2014. The project has teased other big culinary names over the years, including a rumored Eataly and more concrete plans for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe, which never came to fruition. But the ambitious Italian restaurant from a team of accomplished locals aims to be just as promising a destination. Next year, the restaurant will be joined by Love, Makoto, a Japanese food hall from Eden and global restaurateur Makoto Okuwa. In the meantime, Makoto pastry chef Manabu Inoue, who cooked under Michelin bigwigs Masaharu Morimoto and Joël Robuchon, will lead L’Ardente’s pastry program.

As for the name, L’Ardente nods to being “an ardent admirer,” says Eden. “It’s about our love of Italian food and wood-fired cooking.”

L’Ardente. 200 Massachusetts Ave., NW; 202-448-0450. Opening for dinner October 5, Monday through Saturday. 

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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.