Washington, D.C.’s culinary landscape has become even more diverse in recent months. Hot on the heels of a slew of openings earlier in the year, D.C. diners lapped up several more.
The latest round has local chefs (and an out-of-towner) dishing up comfort foods in stunning settings, with menus trotting the globe from Europe to the American South. And locals have room for even more as the year winds down (we’re looking at you Momofuku). For a taste of some of these delectable newbies, read on.
The Aslanturk family’s Turkish venture might look sleek and modern, but the cooking sticks to traditional roots, down to the raki, tea and decorative tree on the bar holding the wishes of past patrons in mini evil eye charms. Mezzes make an appearance, as do kabobs (mixed platters) and desserts such as baklava (puffed on top). However, the real gem might be the restaurant’s brunch, which takes you back to the hometown capital from where both the family and the chef hail. Spread out before you, a long and lingering meal composed of typical cheeses, labneh (strained yogurt dip with za’tar spices), pillowy flatbreads, salads and even eggs. Don’t forget the tea.
Amy Brandwein’s restaurant (pronounced CHEN-trolina) has been hailed as the “Eataly of D.C.,” referencing uber-chef Mario Batali’s Italian market/restaurant/beer garden in New York City. Brandwein’s version—though sleek—feels more personal. The in-house market sells her own sauces, after all. Dishes reflect this accessibility, too, yet with a sophisticated touch. Though the menu changes regularly, one house-made pasta—resembling mini pies filled with delicate crab and finished with a butter sauce—is a culinary balancing act that still manages to feel like nonna’s comfort food.
Culinary Institute of America alum Rob Weland has earned a spot as one of D.C.’s top toques with stints at well-regarded dining rooms like Poste Moderne Brasserie in the Monaco Hotel and Cork, a favorite with young Hill staffers. Now, he stakes his own claim on Capitol Hill’s bustling Barracks Row with Garrison. Here, a backdrop of warm wood accents and mason jars of colorful pickled vegetables enhance Weland’s locavore leanings. Partnering almost exclusively with One Acre Farms in Maryland, Weland mines seasonal ingredients to turn out rustic, yet finely tuned creations like creamy burrata with charred peaches and dandelion, handmade tortellini with sweet corn and a wild bass made rich with a poached egg. Cocktails are no passing thought either, thanks to D.C.’s resident mixtress Gina Chersevani. Under her influence, bourbon spiked with bitters and pineapple cardamom lives up to its name: Right Stuff.
Nicholas Stefanelli’s elegant Italian eatery has earned plenty of buzz and positive reviews since opening in late summer. Focusing on the Puglia region, Stefanelli woos diners with a seasonal prix fixe menu (3 courses at $62; 5 at $84) that is as beautiful as it is tasty. Recent diners have raved over linguine with a spicy XO sauce, a delicate crudo of cobia and watermelon rind, and a smoky octopus in olive oil. Start with cocktails in the glamorously casual patio around a granite fire pit. The “peppino di Capri” incorporates a whimsical quenelle of (spiked) grape sorbet into a coupe of fizzy prosecco, while beets make the aristocratic-sounding “Count Camillo” feel like a new take on the classic negroni.
Star chef Mike Isabella’s culinary reach has extended as far as Italy and Greece. With his latest venture, he travels south in more ways than one. Following on the heels of his well-received Kapnos Taverna, Pepita sets up another shop in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, this time treating diners to the heat and spice of south-of-the-border fare. Tacos, tequilas and “crazy corn” (grilled Mexican-style ears sprinkled with cotija cheese and crunchy, smoky corn nuts) get taste buds in the mood for other Latin flavor bombs with Isabella’s own twists, like an enchilada made fragrant with coconut chicken and barbacoa with lamb instead of traditional beef.
Located north of the Ballston Metro station, Spanish restaurant SER, which stands for “simple, easy, real,” does just that. An airy interior with pops of cheerful yellow, red and turquoise invites diners to pull up a chair and stay a while. And the menu provides plenty of reasons to do so with dishes that go beyond tapas. Entrees including salted cod braised in olive oil until it becomes stewlike, three kinds of national dish paella and roasted suckling pig make diners feel as if they’re eating at chef Josu Zubikirai’s home. Libations add a festive element, too, with wines like txakoli, an effervescent white poured from on high.
Celebrity chef Eddie Lee ventured outside D.C. proper to National Harbor for his new eatery, but it’s worth the short drive. Housed in a plum corner spot on the main drag steps from the water, this Southern charmer (gas lamps, wrought iron) takes down-home classics and adds a Korean twist. Prepared this way, the much-talked-about “dirty” fried chicken maintains a satisfying crunch, despite a slathering of smoky, spicy and slightly sweet gochujang chili paste.
Southern hospitality dictates that no one leaves hungry, and diners won’t. Portions are generous, (Note: The braised short rib’s prehistoric portions won’t fit in any to-go container) and no Southern meal would be complete without sweets. Hummingbird cake and pecan pie fill that job nicely. And did we mention the cocktails? Appropriately, the whiskey, rye and bourbon-driven list is a long one, with the latter including the coveted Pappy Van Winkle. You’ve been warned.