The team behind the Dabney has been doing a lot of soul-searching over the last couple years of the pandemic: Were they doing exactly what they wanted to do? What could be better? Do they really want those chairs?
The result is that one of DC’s top dining destinations will get a refresh at the end of the summer that will include a new, pricier tasting menu and a renovation aimed at making the dining room a little more elegant and comfortable.
“If you look at a lot of the best restaurants in the world, they’ve gone through a very long-term maturity process or evolution to get to where they are,” chef and co-owner Jeremiah Langhorne. “And I think that that’s kind of that’s kind of the way that we see it.”
During the pandemic, the Dabney switched from an a la carte menu to a prix-fixe format, offering multiple choices for each of its four courses (currently $110 total). The new menu—likely in the $150 to $160 range—will extend to six courses with a variety of snacks, small plates, and family-style dishes. Instead of choices, the kitchen will highlight whatever ingredients are at their peak on any given day. Individual bites and drinks will be available for walk-ins at the bar and on the patio.
“When great things are in season, we’re going to be able to do them the most justice by being able to really focus on them and kind of narrowing that field down a little bit,” Langhorne says, “So that we can really, truly say that on any given day, that menu is made up of exactly what we think is the absolute best.”
The Dabney joins a number of restaurants—including, recently, Albi and Seven Reasons—switching to set menus in no small part as a way to create more predictability amid inflation, supply chain troubles, and staffing shortages. Langhorne says he and co-owner Alex Zink wanted to set up a model that was sustainable for many years to come. The new format will give more consistency to staff. It will also allows them to use techniques that they haven’t been able to before because of the variability that comes with an a la carte menu. For example, they’ll now have room on their signature wood-burning hearth for hanging meat to slowly smoke and cook.
Meanwhile, the Dabney’s dining room will shrink from around 60 seats to about 40, allowing for more privacy. The more elegant look will include plenty of leather- and mohair-backed banquettes plus regionally milled wood tables and chairs imported from Italy. Edit Lab at Streetsense, which designed the original Dabney, is behind the renovation.
“We don’t want to rebrand as far as whole new restaurant. We want to see kind of a more grown up version of what we currently have,” Langhorne says. “The biggest, most important thing for me was not losing the soul of the Dabney.”