Navy Yard hotspot Albi will no longer serve its Levantine wood-fired cooking a la carte in its main dining room. Beginning July 12, it will only offer diners a prix-fixe feast starting at $95. A limited selection of individual dishes will be available at the bar only.
Chef/owner Michael Rafidi says this was his original vision for the restaurant: “It’s really just us cooking for you.” But Albi opened just weeks before the pandemic shut the world down “and I feel like we just went with the flow.”
Now, though, between inflation, supply chain woes, and staffing struggles, more and more restaurants have been looking to prix-fixe menus to provide a little more predictability to their businesses. Notably, the Dabney in Shaw moved to a four-course prix-fixe menu format over the pandemic (individual plates are still available at the bar). Modern pan-Latin hotspot Seven Reasons plans to make a similar change come July 4 in its 14th Street dining room. It will also have a pricier chef’s table tasting menu and ceviche bar on the patio.
Rafidi says pretty much every ingredient has become harder to get, except local produce. On top of that, everything has gotten more expensive: “Dry goods, paper costs are outrageous, fish, meat, everything you could think of in a restaurant, including labor.”
Rafidi adds that he also had his sanity of his staff in mind with the new format: “It’s controlled. Restaurants can be hectic and I want to give the team the ability to know what they’re walking into every day and recruit good people and keep good people,” he says.
To be fair, the “Sofra” menu—Arabic for a set table—isn’t totally new; It was initially offered exclusively at the chef’s table and later became an option (just not the only one) in the dining room. The newest iteration will start with shareable bites like lamb meat pies and crab dolmas plus pita with a choice of dips that may include embered-corn-and-chanterelle hummus or cherry tomato goat shanklish cheese. The feast, which will change depending on what’s in season, will also include local fish wrapped in grape leaves and almost always finish with barbecued lamb kebabs. (The restaurant can still accommodate pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans with advanced notice.)
Some Albi staples will also be available as add-ons. The prix-fixe format gives kitchen the ability to bring back some more labor-intensive dishes, like manti dumplings with urfa-chili crunch and smoked-corn yogurt from the opening menu.
“It was definitely a conversation we brought up every few months and Albi: Should we switch this format? Should we switch this format?,” Rafidi says. For others, though, it’s not even a question: “I think a lot of restaurants had to switch to it because we can’t find the staff. Doing these prix-fixe meals it just made more sense.”