Mika and Ian Carlin fell in love as law students at the University of Virginia. It’s also where they fell in love with Virginia wine. After graduating a few years ago, they both started working wine and restaurant service jobs on top of their legal careers—Ian at a large corporate law firm, Mika most recently for an organization helping immigrant kids. Then amid the pandemic, they decided to leave their day jobs altogether to pursue their passion. Mika worked as a manager at Fancy Radish and beverage director at Sonny’s Pizza, while Ian was a sommelier at Masseria and server at Oyster Oyster. Now, they are going one step further and opening their own wine bistro, Irregardless, on H Street, Northeast in September.
The 50-seat dining room will serve a six-course tasting menu—likely for $80 to $85—”more on the casual, flavor over fuss side of things,” Ian says. A vegetarian version of the menu will also be available (Mika is vegetarian). So will wine pairings, including one devoted exclusively to Virginia labels. A la carte dishes will be served only at the 12-seat bar.
“We love the neo-bistros of Paris that typically do tasting menus, but in a very casual way, very fun, emphasizing fantastic local ingredients,” Mika says. “We want to transport that concept to a DC-centric restaurant.”
The Carlins have tapped chef Ben Browning, who most recently worked at Mintwood Place and whose resume includes Daikaya, Maydan, Obelisk, and Reveler’s Hour. His tasting menu will feature housemade pastas and breads as well as plates highlighting whatever local ingredients are in season using French and Japanese cooking techniques. At the bar, you might find Virginia cheese and charcuterie, snacks, and larger-format plates.
The drink list will include lesser-seen, direct-imported beers and “fresh, fun” cocktails (Mika ran the cocktail program at Fancy Radish), but wine is the big focus. Expect about a dozen rotating wines by the glass with Virginia-made options in every category (red, white, sparkling, and skin-contact). They’ll start with about 75 bottles and grow the collection from there.
“We want to make sure that all of the Virginia wines we love are really well represented on that list and a main focus. So if there’s some Virginia wine that you love, we hope that will be on the list for you,” Ian says.
The restaurant takes over the space that formerly housed Le Grenier, and one detail the H Street residents will keep is the vintage Coca-Cola mural on the exposed brick walls. The former rowhouse will be outfitted with hanging lights and greenery plus “classic, timeless furniture.” They also have a small back patio that they plan to use for casual pop-ups showcasing their cooks’ food or local vendors.
As for the name, Irregardless? “It kind of elicits a mood, a feeling, a fun time rather than meaning something exact,” says Ian.