Food

7 Boiling Questions for Jon Taffer and His New Sous-Vide-Centric DC Restaurant

The shouty "Bar Rescue" star opens Taffer's Tavern in Penn Quarter on Thursday.

Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer opens DC restaurant Taffer's Tavern. Photography courtesy of Taffer's Tavern

Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer is usually Mr. “Shut It Down!” But it’s time to open it up: Taffer’s Tavern debuts in DC on Thursday, September 1. The Penn Quarter pub—which takes over the former District Commons space—is the second full-service Taffer’s for the shouty television personality, who also operates a location at FedEx Field.

We’re used to seeing Taffer yell about mold, rodents, pirates, dirty ice, and other unsanitary bar/restaurant conditions on his show—so, no surprise, he’s taking a clinical approach to Taffer’s. Where there’s no smoke, there’s no fire—or really much cooking, in the traditional sense. The DC franchise is operated by Cuisine Solutions CEO Felipe Hasselmann, whose Sterling-based operation claims to be the largest provider of sous vide products and services in the world, serving over more than 22,000 restaurants (clients also include Starbucks, Amtrak, and the US Army). Taffer’s sous vide-centric menu is filled with proteins that are largely “cooked” off-site in the Cuisine Solutions commissary using the French vacuum-sealing technique, and delivered to the restaurant for a la minute preparation. 

So will there be sous-vide short ribs? Duh. Sous-vide cocktails with names like “Wonderful Mojito” and “S’Moffee Martini”? Yes! Bar Rescue favorites like ubiquitous flatbreads, “handhelds,” and giant pretzels swinging from eye-catching pretzel hangers? Obviously. Bud Lights for $8?! Well, it is downtown DC. 

“We’re not a trendy restaurant. We don’t put goat cheese on veal parmesan,” says Taffer. “The food fits a traditional, comforting profile.” 

We chatted with Taffer about what’s on tap for Washington, and which local bars he’s planning to rescue next. 

Appetizers!

You’ve described your “dining concept of the future” as having “robotic cooking, no hoods, no raw product, and all sous-vide.” Is that the case for Taffer’s Tavern DC? 

Absolutely. This idea started before the pandemic, when Trump was president and unemployment was low. We couldn’t find employees. This has been an issue—staffing in restaurant—for years. I thought, how can we create a kitchen that leverages technology so we don’t have to depend on people we can’t find?

The first thing that pops up when you Google sous vide are Michelin starred chefs—so you know it’s high quality. The consistency is remarkable. Cuisine Solutions functions as our commissary kitchen —we distribute to Atlanta and Boston from there too. A Cuisine Solutions chef is in charge of the kitchen—they know sous vide inside and out. The cheffing occurs more at the front than the back end. We don’t need a traditional high-end chef in the back end. 

So what does a sous-vide centric kitchen look like? 

It has water ovens, a lot of what we call combination cooking equipment. We have an oven that will cook with lights, infrared, microwave, steam. It can use microwave heat to gently warm something at the center, while slamming it with infrared for char. We’ll still have fresh produce, fryers, bread baked daily. The only thing we leverage on sous vide is proteins.

Sous-vide short rib.

What are, in your opinion, the must-try dishes?

Our short rib is to die for. Our au jus sandwich is one of the best in America. Our pork belly appetizer—well, you know I’m all about reactions.

The other big celebrity restaurant opening on the horizon is Gordon Ramsay’s. There’s been some debate over which “tough guy TV host” restaurant will win over Washingtonians: yours or him. Thoughts? 

Gordon’s a friend. I think we’re doing very different things. I’m guessing he’d say the same about me. [He did not].

You’ve only filmed one Bar Rescue episode in the DC area [the ill-fated Piratz Tavern-turned-Corporate Bar and Grill in Silver Spring]. Will there be more here now? 

Yes, and I’ll tell you why. I can use the restaurant [Taffer’s Tavern] as a training facility. I can say ‘You don’t what the hell you’re doing! Go to my restaurant and I’ll show you how it’s done right!’

Smoking, brown butter-washed cocktail.

Have you already found DC bars that need rescuing? 

In DC, no. When we cast too far in advance for Bar Rescue, they close! The process is quick.

How about local favorites so far? 

You know, I love DC. I used to own a bunch of bartending schools, the Bartenders Academy—we had one downtown and another in Alexandria. I like the restaurants that come up in Georgetown. The owner of Champions [now-closed college bar] is a friend of mine. I love a Clyde’s—a great staple and legendary operation.

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.