Washington has proven it could be a world-class food city. What’s next? Here are few items to chew on to start the new year.
“Many people asked us to come to Washington since we opened in New York in 1994. Finally, we did because this is the capital of the U.S. and it’s close to New York so we are able to send sushi chefs and training teams easily,” Matsuhisa tells me, adding diners at Nobu DC (2501 M St. NW, DC, 202.871.6565, noburestaurants.com) can expect an unique experience. “We are starting to use as much local product as we can.” He says building his empire has been like starting a family. “The chef here used to work in another location as a dishwasher, then a line chef. We have Nobu family all around the world, so new locations have staff from other properties.” He pauses, flashes his trademark smile and ends, “We have lot of younger chefs in the family too. I am like the father whose job it is to raise them.”
When chef Nicholas Stefanelli opened Masseria (1340 Fourth St. NE, DC, 202.608.1330, masseria-dc.com) in a back alley near Union Market he bucked all conventions of “location, location, location.” He let his food do the talking and the word of mouth proved to be delicious—the accolades that followed, including a Michelin star, didn’t hurt either. For his next project, the namesake Officina by Nicholas Stefanelli, he has chosen a more highly-trafficked area—the Wharf (wharfdc.com). Slated to open in spring, the three-story concept’s culinary inspiration doesn’t meander too far from the agricultural farms of the Puglia region which served as his menu muse for Masseria. Each level of will offer something different. On the ground floor there will be an artisanal market, the second, a full-scale southern Italian restaurant and, on the third, rooftop Potomac views.
You’d expect a restaurant bold enough to mash-up approaches to modern Nordic cuisine with southern comfort food to have an equally bold interior. Do colorful alien heads and tombstones count? We think so. While you take in Honeysuckle’s (1990 M St. NW, DC, 202.659.1990, honeysuckledc.com) visual smorgasbord, we recommend the Champagnepoached oysters, Virginia pork belly porchetta and Carolina trout.
The artwork at La Puerta Verde (2001 Fenwick St. NE, DC, 202.290.1875, lapuertaverdedc.com) is designed to transport you to a Mexican hacienda. They specialize in traditional dishes—the grilled-avocado guacamole and the skirt steak arrachera is a musttry. The decor is modern and utilizes the Hecht Warehouse location’s airy and rustic bones. It’s all held together by local artist Chelove’s vibrant murals.
Inside Foggy Bottom Indian eatery Bindaas (2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202.244.6550, bindaasdc.com) contemporary Indian street food is enjoyed amidst an enclave of eclectic artifacts, murals and photography. We are particularly fond of the worn baby blue motor scooter mural that is also in the Cleveland Park location. The motif creates a sultry venue that elevates street to trendy. While your eyes feast, we recommend your mouth does the same by ordering the vada pao (a potato sandwich with mint chutney) and housemade chicken curry.
Bourbon brands name-check 1800s whiskey-makers but the George Washington Distillery (5513 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria, Va., 703.780.3383, mountvernon.org) has them all beat. The staff there still makes rye whiskey twice a year according to methods used in 1799. You can buy some in Mount Vernon’s gift shop. Is Madeira having a moment? “I sure hope so,” says David Metz, sommelier at Plume (200 16th St. NW, DC, 202.448.3227, jeffersonhotel.com). Madeira can range from bone dry to dessert-wine sweet and has an almost infinite shelf life which is why Plume offers options from 1720 to 1908. How does a 300-year-old fortified wine drink? “It’s beautiful,” says Metz. The cocktail menu at The Alex (1075 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, DC, 855.341.1292, thegrahamgeorgetown.com) is a large scrapbook filled with Polaroids and hand-scrawled recipes because customers are the ones adding to it. The “you make the call” program lets you dream up new cocktails. Jos. A. Magnus’s (2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC, 202.450.3518, josephmagnus.com) Private Barrel program allows whiskey lovers to pull from 10- to 12-year-old barrels of bourbon, add sherry and blend. Three to four weeks later, you have 120 to 180 bottles of bespoke bourbon, complete with a custom label and a greater backstory.
Let’s give the Virginia suburbs some credit—they have good food. While Albisu was busy gaining accolades for his meat-centric pan- American restaurant, Del Campo, (777 I St. NW, DC, 202.289.7377, delcampodc.com) he was also serving up a new inspired breed of taco at Taco Bamba Taqueria (multiple locations, tacobamba.com) in Vienna and Springfield. What began as a tiny takeout operation in a Falls Church strip mall near a neighborhood latin market owned by his mother, Rosa Susinski, began taking off and District foodies wanted a bite. Well, now you can save yourself a trip on 66 and get Taco Bamba’s mix of traditional tacos and original creations at Del Campo—but only until the end of January. “I have been humbled by the extremely warm reception and loyal following,” says Albisu. Will Washingtonians ever see a permanent Albisu-inspired taco mecca? He replies, “Before I take the plunge, I’m testing out the concept during weekday lunch at Del Campo.” He says that they tailor each Taco Bamba location to its neighborhood and that by already having a kitchen downtown it gives him a chance to road test it in DC. If not, it’ll be back to road tripping out to the burbs.
When Ashok Bajaj opened Bombay Club (815 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC, 202.659.3727, bombayclubdc.com) steps from the White House in 1988, he opened a door for upscale Indian cuisine in Washington and beyond. It is still the go-to place for authentic Indian food in a refined setting. Try the seven-course Indian Sunday brunch with unlimited Champagne.
Not a surprise to us that farm-to-table favorite Blue Duck Tavern (1201 24th St. NW, DC, 202.419.6755) made its way on the inaugural 2016 Michelin Guide and retained its star in 2017—there are few restaurants in town where staff greet you by name and remember your preferences. Even after 10 years, we still recommend the bone marrow and apple pie for dessert.
Restaurants have come and gone in downtown, but chef José Andrés’ Oyamel (401 Seventh St. NW, DC, 202.628.1005, oyamel.com) has remained resilient. Chef Omar Rodriguez says longevity comes from a “respect for Mexican cuisine and efforts to not lose sight of tradition.” We like to sip organic mezcal and recite verses from Neruda’s poems on the walls.
Chef Daisuke Utagawa continues to breathe new life into Sushiko (5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, Md., 301.961.1644, sushikorestaurants.com). Recently he introduced Kōbō, a restaurant within Sushiko that specializes in a kappo-style tasting journeys. Try the gray shrimp laced with caviar and gold leaf foie gras ice cream.
Taberna del Alabardero’s (1776 I St. NW, DC, 202.429.2200, alabardero.com) burgundy and gold decor have an old-world charm reminiscent of classic Madrid restaurants. Owner Don Luis De Lezama says the key to long-term success is developing staff that want to grow with the business. We like happy hour with pitchers of sangria, jamon serrano and manchego cheese.
New Orleans native David Guas knows dessert—his cookbook Dam Good Sweet was a James Beard Award finalist. For Valentine’s Day, Guas’ Lil’ B (1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC, 202.521.7181, lilbdc.com) offers a New Orleans king cake with a festive twist—instead of a circular confection in Mardi Gras green and gold, you can give a heart-shaped version with a dusting of pink and red sugar. Buttercream Bakeshop (1250 Ninth St. NW, DC, 202.735.0102, buttercreamdc.com) wants you to show some love in February by participating in its #RememberToBeKind campaign. When you buy a confection for another customer—like a Buckeye (a rolled blend of peanut butter, cocoa powder, Rice Krispies and honey-roasted peanuts)—you get 15 percent off plus the priceless chance to make a stranger’s day. When you step into Ladurée in Georgetown (3060 M St. NW, DC, 202.737.0492, laduree.com), with its white marble counter, antique furniture and multihued macarons stored under glass, you can’t help but fall in love. Channel that armor into a gift of éclair chocolat au lait (a chocolate choux pastry with Jivara milk chocolate cream and milk chocolate icing) or try the galette des rois cake (a French king’s cake made of crispy puff pastry and garnished with almond cream and almond pieces).
James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi is known for her delicious milk bar (1525 15th St. NW, DC, 855.333.6455, milkbarstore.com) bakeries in multiple cities and for judging on MasterChef. Now you can learn to make her cake and eat it too at her latest DC location set to open in a former Logan Circle auto body shop in early 2018
The store will be her biggest to date. It’s fair to say that the Washington-area native has come a long way since she first earned the trust of chef David Chang—who she says laughed at (or with?) her menu the first time he saw it—and used Momofuku as a national launching pad for her famous crack pie and cereal milk.
Although still hammering out the details, during classes at her sweet new location, instructors from her culinary team will teach you how to make everything from Tosi’s cake truffles to that (totally legal) crack pie. The classes will accommodate up to 25 guests. Or you can just drop in to nosh on the fudgy, gluten- and dairyfree Best Freaking Cookie.