Photo: courtesy of Via Sophia

New and Notable: Casta’s Rum Bar, Oak Steakhouse, Piccolina and More

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

NEW

Casta’s Rum Bar
Open: August 2
Location: West End
Lowdown: This colorful Cuban oasis is the result of a collaboration between the mayor-appointed Chairman of Nightlife and Culture, Vinoda Basnayake (who is also behind Heist Night Club and Morris American Bar) and the Cuban owner of Castañeda Cigars, Arian Castañeda. The indoor dining area and bar hides underground, but is full of life thanks to plenty of greenery, weathered walls and murals of the streets of Havana. Outside, the patio is infinitely Instagrammable, with lots more wall art and plants, dangling string lights and leaf tropical print upholstery. Chef Alberto Vega’s menu is made up of Cuban classics like a Cuban sandwich, empanadas, croquetas and ceviche Caribeño with citrus, mango, pineapple, cucumber and plantain chips. Cocktails are mainly rum-based and they don’t skimp on the rum. Choose from a simple mojito or a playful frozen Sexo Tropical with cognac, rum, coconut Red Bull and watermelon. For the full Cuban experience, pair your meal or drink with a cigar in the designated area of the patio. 1121 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; www.castasrumbar.com

Oak Steakhouse
Open: July 12
Location: Old Town Alexandria
Lowdown: Oak Steakhouse from Charleston-based restaurant group Indigo Road Hospitality has sprouted up in Alexandria. It’s the group’s second outpost in the area – the first being O-Ku Sushi restaurant in the Union Market neighborhood. Executive chef Joseph Conrad helms the newest location of Oak, highlighting Virginia ingredients with modern flair. The rustic reclaimed wood and exposed brick dining room gives way to a pewter tile open kitchen, where steaks and chops are the centerpiece. The options range from a modest 8-oz. Certified Angus Beef filet to a massive 36-oz., 60-day, dry-aged prime porterhouse for two. All the cuts can be enhanced with sauces and butters like the house steak sauce or black truffle butter, as well as accompaniments like a grilled half lobster tail or bone marrow. As if that wasn’t enough, there are decadent sides like baked and fried potatoes and crispy Brussels sprouts.  Don’t forget to start with appetizers like parker house rolls with cultured butter or creamy oysters Rockefeller. For dessert, opt for the peanut butter semifreddo, which mimics the flavors of a caramel apple, with caramel sauce, peanuts and Granny Smith chunks. 901 North Saint Asaph St. Alexandria, VA; www.oakalexandria.com

Piccolina
Open: July 29
Location: CityCenter
Lowdown: Chef Amy Brandwein’s restaurant family has grown by one with the addition of Piccolina, or “little one.” Her second restaurant complements the first, as an all-day café serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s right across the alley from Centrolina restaurant and market, in the former RareSweets space, which was given an Italian makeover with brushed wood, hammered copper countertops, colorful and comfortable seating and a wood-fired oven. Much of the menu comes from that oven, including 10 rotating varieties of freshly baked breads and sandwiches, crepes and omelets cooked in custom long-handled iron pans and roasted fruits and vegetables like grapefruit and broccoli rabe. In addition, Piccolina is now home to several of the market offerings formerly at Centrolina, like pastries, coffee and prepared items like chicken salad, caponata and the beloved eggplant Parm. Rotating Italian varietals of wine as well as spritzes and house-made sodas pair well with the selections. Brandwein took significant time to prepare for the opening of Piccolina – she took a research and development trip to Sicily to perfect one of the featured wood-fired menu items, a stuffed flatbread called scacce. She also attended the San Francisco Baking Institute to learn the craft of bread baking. The menu will change with the seasons, as ingredients are available from the nonprofit farm DC Urban Greens. 963 Palmer Alley, NW, DC; www.piccolinadc.com

Via Sophia
Open: June 12
Location: Downtown
Lowdown: As part of the Hamilton Hotel’s multi-million dollar renovation, the property is now home to Via Sophia, a southern Italian osteria. The restaurant is headed up by executive chef Colin Clark, who served as the chef de cuisine at Fiola Mare. Sleek and bright, the space lined is with black and white quartz, illuminated by geometric fixtures and dotted with antique pizza paraphernalia. On the menu, Neapolitan pizza is a focus, kissed by the flames of the oak-burning oven handmade in Italy. Antipasti, crudo, pasta and hearty entrees like monkfish ossobucco round out the offerings. The beverage program skews heavily toward Italian wines, with local craft beers and spirits available as well. For an aperitif or a nightcap, head around the corner to the micro cocktail bar, situated off the lobby and hidden by day. Society is revealed at happy hour, when the 1920s art deco-inspired bar and lounge opens to the public. With dim lighting, dark leather, diamond glass chandeliers and curious artifacts, the space is reminiscent of the alleged interior of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society’s meeting hall. The succinct menu includes craft libations like the Triumvirate with whiskey, walnut liqueurs, dry vermouth and house bitters. 1001 14th St. NW, DC; www.viasophiadc.com

NOTABLE

Hook Hall
Location: Park View
Lowdown: DC’s coolest new event space has taken shape in a 13,500-square-foot 1940s building, with modern touches that don’t erase the antique character. On the walls, dark black bricks – actual cinderblocks – peek through industrial fixtures and a 15-foot projector screen. The café and tavern takes after its namesake, Captain Hook: Hook Hall is a place where no one will tell you to grow up. Dog- and kid-friendly, the space is filled with lawn games, communal tables and cabanas on the outdoor synthetic lawn. During the day, the café offers Vigilante coffee and food from Bread and Chocolate. In the evening, it turns into a bar and beer garden with cocktails, beer, wine and food from rotating local vendors like Rocklands, Smoke and Ember and Sunrise Caribbean. (After 9pm, it’s 21+.) The venue is regularly open to the public and also available for private bookings. Owner Anna Valero also plans to offer events like beer and wine festivals, edutainment courses, screenings of sporting events (including international soccer), workout classes and more. 3400 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.hookhall.com

Odd Provisions at Dio Wine Bar
Location: H Street
Lowdown: Pioneering natural wine bar, Dio, has partnered with a fellow woman-owned business to revamp their food offerings. [email protected] began this summer and is here to stay, featuring the food by Odd Provisions, a contemporary corner market in Columbia Heights. The new menu was designed with wine in mind – think cheese and charcuterie pairings, snacks like chicken liver mousse, hummus and pickles, as well as seasonal salads and sandwiches like the spicy salami with herb pesto, Gordy’s cherry pepper spread, fennel confit and pecorino. The partnership also means you can place special orders to buy Dio wines through Odd Provisions. 904 H St. NE, DC; www.diowinebar.com

Lani Furbank

Lani Furbank is a freelance food, drinks, and lifestyle writer based in the D.C. area. She was born and raised in Northern Virginia, but stays true to her Welsh-Taiwanese heritage by exploring new places and experimenting with recipes from around the world. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lanifurbank or read her work at www.LanisCupOfTea.com.