The 5 Best DC Restaurants That Opened This Fall
Forty-layer short rib lasagna, anyone?
To keep tabs on every D.C. restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Let’s eat.
This fall, D.C. has welcomed a host of new establishments, from a Parisian bistro on the Wharf to an outpost of a beloved Lebanese address in NYC. As you traverse these establishments, your taste buds will travel from Mexico to Beirut to New Orleans, with particular attention paid not just to food but to ambiance.
Bistro du Jour
You’re here because… it’s been far too long since you visited the French capital, and this Parisian bistro in the American capital is the perfect way to scratch the itch. With a cozy interior space modeled after that almost other-worldly way bistrotiers make the most of even the smallest of spaces, as well as a massive patio with waterfront views, this all-day spot is ideal for early birds and night owls alike.
You’re dining on… everything from pastries, viennoiseries, and desserts from Mah-Ze-Dahr bakery to traditional bistro options like croque madame, French onion soup, and duck confit, prepared to perfection by former Succotash Prime chef Treeven Dove. (Don’t miss the foie gras macarons!) A 60-bottle strong wine list unsurprisingly skews mainly French, with Champagne cocktails and French aperitifs to boot.
You’re here because… you can’t resist verifying the claims of an Italian spot purporting to blend comfort food and luxurious glamour. Chef David Deshaies takes the titular approach of his Unconventional Diner and applies it to the multiple cuisines of the boot for a restaurant that more than delivers on its promise.
You’re dining on… new takes on Italian classics ranging from wood-fired smoked octopus “Octaroni” pizza with pesto and caciocavallo cheese to Venetian “risotto” with riced calamari and king crab. Vitello tonnato is turned on its head, with the classic veal in tuna sauce served alongside “tonno vitellato” – ahi tuna and veal. An ultra-Instagrammable 40-layer short rib lasagna is the star of the house-made pasta menu; it’s served on its side to avoid precarity. Be sure to save room for the tiramisu, flambéed tableside and lightened up with the acid punch of passion fruit granita at its core.
You’re here because… you’re eager to see what happens when you blend the flavors and traditions of New Orleans, Houston, and France. Chef/owner Matt Baker’s restaurant is both named after and inspired by his NOLA-bred mother, drawing on the cuisines of this culinary capital, the chef’s native Houston, and his classic French training. The resulting spot is a loveable mongrel of a mashup uniting an omakase raw bar, all-day café, and brasserie inside downtown DC’s trendy Eaton Hotel.
You’re dining on… expertly executed fare drawing from wildly diverse backgrounds and ranging from al pastor-influenced yellowtail crudo with pineapple, Tajin, and guajillo to buttery BBQ carrots with all the flavor of NOLA’s favorite shrimp preparation sans any actual crustaceans. Of course, seafood is indeed present on the menu: real Louisiana crawfish feature in a silky, buttery linguine dish, while a tongue-in-cheek “chips and dip” features smoked trout caviar and a “ranch” bavarois. Impressive seafood towers and applause-worthy French soufflés sauced tableside cater to the spectacle required by such a beautiful space.
You’re here because… you’re eager to taste the Mexican fine dining promised by the flourish-filled dining room complete with gold-cast corn cobs and a communal table made from a slab of parota wood. Heirloom corn is the name of the game, here – literally. The “64” refers to the number of corn breeds identified thus far as elements of Mexican terroir; four of these are used in the house-ground masa at the heart of many of the menu’s dishes.
You’re dining on… a cornucopia (sorry) from Oaxacan chef Alam Méndez Florián. Housemade tortillas are cooked on a gas-fired comal surrounded by a six-seat bar, which will soon be home to a chef’s table tasting experience. Whether prix fixe or à la carte, tacos, quesadillas, and tacos boast a host of exciting fillings and toppings ranging from charred broccoli with a Oaxacan black mole to octopus al pastor with grilled pineapple relish to crispy pork belly with cactus. Desserts from Elisa Reyna may include churros, chocolate mousse with coffee ganache or fresas con crema with queso fresco ice cream, and strawberry three ways.
You’re here because… you’re oh-so ready for the Lebanese cuisine of this NYC fave to reach DC’s dining scene. Chef Philippe Massoud blends the flavors and traditions of his childhood with European influences and modern technique in a room that blends tradition and contemporary, indoor and outdoor. Indeed, the space is a veritable theater for Massoud’s menu: Inspired by Beirut’s courtyard gardens, ilili D.C. immerses guests in a high-ceilinged, open-kitchen environment that toys with colors, materials, and plant life for a multi-sensory dining experience.
You’re dining on… a menu heavy in mezzes both hot and cold, ranging from house-made hummus to the Brussels sprouts with grapes, fig jam, and mint yogurt that made such a big splash in New York. The wharf-centric location led Massoud to include no small number of choices hailing from the sea, such as charred octopus with ajo blanco and hamachi with nectarine vinaigrette and cardamom oil. Larger entrées include braised lamb shank with Lebanese dirty rice or whole baked branzino. Desserts range from a traditional Lebanese panna cotta with orange and pistachio to the ilili “candy bar” with caramel fondant and sesame crunch.
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