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Photo: Rey Lopez

Tonari Comes To Chinatown, Blending The Comforts Of Japanese And Italian Cuisine

The Daikaya Group is known for its quartet of ramen shops, each bringing the flavors and culture of Japan straight to DC. The team’s latest venture, Tonari, takes a different turn, swapping noodle soups and dumplings for crispy pan pizzas and twirls of pasta. Known as “wafu” cuisine, the blending of Italian and Japanese food is unlike anything else coming out of DC kitchens. 

“Whenever we do a restaurant, one of the big reasons that we choose the cuisine is because it’s something we want to eat and we can’t find it here,” says Daisuke Utagawa, one of the restaurant’s partners. 

Both Tonari’s name and concept were inspired by its Chinatown location. “Tonari” translates to “next door,” and the focus on pizza and pasta echoes the building’s past history as Graffiatto, chef Mike Isabella’s Italian eatery. The restaurant is set to open tonight. 

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TONARI IS NOW OPEN FOR DINNER! Celebrated Daikaya Group partners Yama Jewayni, Katsuya Fukushima, and Daisuke Utagawa are thrilled to announce the opening of their fifth restaurant in the District – Tonari – meaning ‘next door’ or ‘neighbor’. We are open today, Friday, February 7th, at 5pm for dinner service, and we will serve as the first restaurant in Washington, D.C. to showcase Japanese-style or ‘Wafu’ pasta and pizza. Lunch service and a dessert tasting experience on the 2nd floor within Tonari is slated to launch in the coming weeks. Read more about our opening in @eater_dc at the link on our profile, and scroll through for photos of some of our new menu offerings! Many thanks to @gabehiatt, @rlopez809 (photographer), and the Eater DC team for the feature exclusive! #tonaridc

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“In a sense, we really wanted to repurpose and recycle the restaurant,” says partner Yama Jewayni.

Pairing Japanese and Italian cuisine may be an unfamiliar style to many Americans, but it’s a well-established cuisine in Japan, explains executive chef and partner Katsuya Fukushima.

The wafu style reportedly originated in 1953 at Kabenoana, a small Tokyo restaurant serving affordable plates of pasta. Working with his customers, the chef began creating dishes that incorporated Japanese ingredients like cod roe and sea urchin. 

Tonari’s menu and vibe – down to the ingredients in the kitchen –  draw heavily on this tradition, including sourcing custom noodles and pizza dough directly from Sapporo, and embracing design elements like a moss garden and “horigotatsu” seating on the second floor. Dining at Tonari is a bit more refined than the Daikaya Groups other locations, with a pace that is more laid back than the rapid churn of a ramen counter. 

The opening pasta menu includes a half-dozen dishes ($12-$18) with vegetarian, seafood and meat options. Cooked al dente, the pastas retain a firm yet chewy texture, allowing the flavor of the noodle to come through with each bite. For something fancier, go with the briny and buttery uni pasta folded together with soy, mirin, sake, kombu dashi and seaweed. There’s also the shirasu, a more adventurous plate of tagliatelle topped with baby sardines and a simple sauce of garlic, olive oil and red pepper. And don’t write off the kitchen’s Napolitan offering, a homey sausage, peppers and onions spaghetti dish with a ketchup and Tabasco sauce. 

In addition to pasta, Tonari bakes up a few different pizzas ($14-$16) with a unique 100 percent Hokkaido flour that produces a bready, air texture and a crispy crust. The best of the bunch is the white clam variation, a nod to New Haven-style eating. If red sauce is the move, Tonari offers takes on classic Hawaiian and pepperoni pies. The pizzas are generously topped and filling, with one easily being enough to share along with a couple of other dishes. If dinner leaves you itching for something sweet, the tiramisu and chocolate budino are both satisfying.

The bar sticks mostly to classic cocktails and Italian wines, with a few twists. Fans of vermouth and amaro can enjoy neat pours before or after eating, or taste them in one of the signature drinks. The Reverse Martini, for example, mixes a high ratio of vermouth with vodka, Maraschino liqueur and bitters. Whiskey drinkers will like the Smoky Manhattan, made with smoked amaro and rye. 

Tonari truly does feel different than anything else around town. The wafu combination of Italian and Japanese flavors and cultures seems odd at first, but it all comes together. Subtle at times and bold elsewhere – it’s an experience worth checking out for yourself.

For more information, click here.

Tonari: 707 6th St. NW, DC; www.facebook.com/tonaridc

Anafre's pork shank // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

Anafre Offers Variety Of Mexican Seafood Flavor

If you are familiar with Mexican restaurants Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana and El Sol, you will know that the chef behind them, Alfredo Solis is not joking around with the food. (And if you are not familiar with those spots, you should get yourself there). 

Anafre, the coastal Mexican restaurant by the same group marks yet another labor of love. Opened this past November in Columbia Heights, Anafre showcases the diversity and depth of coastal Mexican cuisine, aiming to transport diners on a lovely culinary journey around Mexico.  

The name comes from the Spanish word for a “portable oven,” traditionally a clay pot that has an opening in the bottom where hot coals are placed that then heat up the dish atop the pot. In many Mexican countryside homes the anafre might be the only stove used. At the restaurant, this style of cooking is interpreted in an open kitchen where most items are prepared over charcoal.

Anafre’s vibe is chill and relaxed, the ingredients and food is always fresh and delicious, and the dishes are hearty and creative. It’s a perfect spot to let loose with friends for drinks or dinner. Best of all, everything is extremely reasonably priced, with entrees starting at $12. Oh, and did I mention the yummy cocktails?

Mole old fashioned // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

The drink list is made up of cocktails leaning heavy on Mexican whiskies, sotol, tequila and mezcal. The restaurant’s take on the Old Fashioned features Solis’ signature mole sauce – the drink is spicy, boozy and a must try. The Piña Colada Viaja a Mexico is a take on the classic cocktail that includes mezcal in addition to rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and Tajín Mexican seasoningHowever, any of the cocktails by Heriberto Cassanero, previously of Reliable Tavern, Bar Lorea and Little Havana are enjoyable, and feature a range of concoctions in the price range of $10-$14. 

For appetizers, don’t miss the oysters al carbon con crab meat – oysters baked with jalapeno butter, topped with a generous heap of crab meat, a bit of cheese and served with bolillo bread – you’ll want it to soak up all that delicious butter. This dish was  lovely and decadent – and at $13 for six oysters, it’s an excellent deal. Other appetizers feature guacamole with lobster, seafood nachos with crab, and shrimp and pickled jalapenos. The queso fundido – prepared on top of the grill in a plant leaf with huitlacoche makes for a lovely presentation and tasty dish that’s just a bit different from other queso fundidos. 

The rest of the menu spans a variety of tacos, tortas and dishes. We very much enjoyed the chile relleno taco – tortillas topped with cheese stuffed chilis. The fried oyster taco was also delectable and comes with red cabbage, chipotle aioli and avocado. These tacos are not petite and as they are the “guisado” or stew style – they are substantial, homey and absolutely fantastic. At about $4, again I’m surprised at the incredible value for something so high quality. 

Another excellent dish is the 12-hour pork shank – it’s extremely tender and the meat falls off the bone, as one would expect from 12 hours of slow cooking done right, the marinade is thick and rich and spicy, and forms a delicious plate of food. There’s a reason this made it over from the Little Havana menu. It also makes excellent leftovers – and you likely will have leftovers as it’s another generously portioned dish. It’s almost ridiculous that this dish is only $14 – I would gladly pay double that. 

Other entrees are also solid and consistent – Anafre’s  abundance of seafood dishes honor Mexico’s many beach communities including Puerto Nuevo, also known as “Lobster Village,” where lobster is deep fried, split open and topped with butter. At Anafre, Puerto Nuevo-style lobster is accompanied by rice, beans, flour tortillas and topped with jalapeno butter.  The seafood enchilada is stuffed with shrimp and crab and topped with a red salsa – a hearty dish. 

To take full advantage of the charcoal grill, Solis also makes a Pollo A la Brasa – chicken cooked over wood charcoal making for a tender and tasty meat, and a slightly charred but crispy skin. The yuca fries here are fantastic, thinly sliced as opposed to the wedges typically found and crunchy all around. A whole chicken and three sides is just $22.

Dishes at Anafre are simple, elegant and fabulous, as the restaurant shows off the variety of Mexican seafood flavors – not something you find very often in Mexican restaurants. The food and drinks speak for themselves and I’d definitely come back here for a fun time with friends

Anafre: 3704 14th St. NW, DC; 202-758-2127; www.anafredc.com

Boeuf Bourguignon // Photo: Scott Suchman

Brassiere Liberté Brings French Staples to Georgetown

Georgetown’s dining scene has been a touch sleepy over the past few years. Up-and-coming neighborhoods in the District have overshadowed once-thriving, traditional food hubs like Georgetown as of late. As the city rapidly changes, restaurateurs looking to open new restaurants turn toward emerging neighborhoods like Shaw, H Street or The Wharf, to name a few. DC restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, however, has faith in Georgetown as a food destination and invested heavily in his latest endeavor on historic Prospect street: Brasserie Liberté.

Ilhan enlisted design firm Swatchroom to completely transform the former Morton’s The Steakhouse space from a dark, outdated cave-like enclosure, to a chic and inviting French-style brasserie. The multi-million dollar renovation includes a floor-to-ceiling wine cellar display, light blue tiling, and soft, warm shades of navy, pumpkin and crimson. A show-stopping domed booth in the private dining area features a delicate hand-painted floral pattern above red velvet upholstered seating. 

The interior is as cohesive as its dinner menu. Highlights include three different kinds of tarte flambees, French onion soup, crispy leg of duck confit, scallop almandine, and of course, the ultimate cold-weather comfort food: boeuf bourguignon. 

“I said to my chefs if we’re going to do this, there are four things you absolutely have to get right: steak tartare, french fries, escargot and boeuf bourguignon,” Ilhan says. “These are [French dishes] everyone knows.” 

In other words: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The french fries, for one, are ideally crispy from end-to-end. And the boeuf bourguignon is one Julia Child would have been proud of. The tender meat succumbs to a fork with ease, falling apart just as it should. If you’re a herbivore, however, vegetarians can take part in this classic French dish by opting for the vegan and gluten-free mushroom bourguignon. 

The man behind the food is 25-year-old Jaryd Hearn, who is currently the youngest executive chef in the city. Hearn previously spent two years cooking at Alinea, Chicago’s only restaurant with three Michelin stars. 

In addition to French staples, Hearn creates vegetarian-friendly salads, moules frites, roasted carrot grain bowl with chickpea puree and seared salmon. 

If you have the stomach real estate after your main meal, save that room for something off of their diverse dessert menu. Options include opera cake, profiteroles and an apple tartlet that comes with homemade brie ice cream so silky you wish you could buy it by the pint.

Based on its first few weeks, Ilhan’s Brassiere Liberte has the potential to level the playing field between DC’s neighborhood eats, making Georgetown a refreshed contender in the city’s comprehensive foodscape.

Brasserie Liberté is open from 11 a.m. – 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. on Friday, 8 a.m. – 2 a.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. – 1 a.m. on Sunday.

For more information about Brasserie Liberte, visit www.libertedc.com.

Brasserie Liberte: 3251 Prospect St. NW, DC; 202-878-8404; www.libertedc.com

Photo: courtesy of Seven Reasons

Savory Sensations: Seven Reasons Chef Enrique Limardo Teams Up With Winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi

If you’ve strolled down 14th street in the last year or so, you may have come across the sight of a tall, handsome man plucking leaves from trees and nibbling on them. No cause for concern, folks, it’s just Chef Enrique Limardo from Seven Reasons tasting the neighborhood. 

“It’s one of my creative processes,” Limardo shrugs and smiles. “I have to taste everything. Sometimes, I get poisoned because I’m too crazy. I walk on the street and start looking for things that can inspire me.”

Everything is an inspiration to an artist like Limardo. But, if you call him an artist, he will deny it, opting instead for the descriptor “restless creative.” With his background in architecture and industrial design, he has an eye for shapes and colors. A simple leaf of a tree may beckon to him. A week later, diners might find that one of their cocktails or dishes includes an infusion of that very leaf.

“It’s not just local,” he says in all seriousness, eyes shining with vivid enthusiasm. “It’s the neighborhood!”

It might have struck me as strange to have a casual conversation about sampling potentially poisonous leaves at one o’clock in the morning but, after the dinner I indulged in, nothing seems out of the ordinary. 

The collaborative dinner with Chef Limardo and Winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi (Mendoza, Argentina) is unassumingly described as an 11-course dinner pairing flavors and wines. What the guests experience is a catapult shot far from a standard wine pairing dinner. 

Each plate is set with a hardcover book. Flipping through stunning photography of vineyards, artistic plates and wines, I kick myself for not knowing the dinner was based on a book launch between Limardo and Zuccardi, that is until I realize there is no book and no launch. I am simply perusing the evening’s menu. 

Frozen roses dangle in front of us as we are invited to clap our hands over them, showering our foie gras dolce de leche with shards of petals. An expertly executed chicken breast adorned with cheddar sauce makes me wish it was appropriate to lick plates in public. Nitro-surprises drive us to giggle like toddlers as our nostrils spew minty smoke and our palates are cleansed. And family photos, passed around by way of a recently-published recipe book, transport me from the construction-ridden streets of DC to the Zuccardi household at the foot of the Andes mountains.  

“These are my grandmother’s recipes,” Sebastian Zuccardi explains as he proudly shows us the published book that he compiled along with his siblings. Simple recipes like “lasagna” and “onion tarte” stand in strong juxtaposition with what is being served in front of us – duck confit ravioli, grapes, parmesan cloud. And yet, the two co-exist comfortably, mingling with the heat from the kitchen, the lusty caress of the wines, and the dimly lit room filled with laughter and language. It is transportive – like fine dining in a nonna’s kitchen.

Throughout the evening, Zuccardi paints a picture of a large family strongly rooted in their Italian heritage, while planting new generations of family and vines in Argentina. 

But the star storytellers are the wines. Even the most inexperienced of palates can discern the harmony of weather, water and soil in every sip. Before Zuccardi explains it, our taste buds can instinctively feel that the 2017 Zuccardi Fosil, Chardonnay, came from a high altitude, cool weather environment where the soil was almost oceanic; it was that crisp and clear. Each wine is terroir-driven; a perfect expression of place and time. 

While everyone sighs and gesticulates over the impressively plated dishes, I find myself being critical. Visually stunning, each element was delicious but, together, there is a sense of imbalance… until the wine pairing. Every sip brings synergy.

“We spent five hours tasting the wines,” Limardo tells me. “We [identified] every single element you can find in the wine and then we tried to pair every single flavor.”

When it comes to pairing wines, the thought is usually about what wine would best elevate the dish for the guest. In this case, the concept of pairing was overturned; wine became the primary ingredient both in and with the dishes. 

“If you taste the dish by itself, probably you can feel it’s unbalanced but when you try the wine it’s going to be the missing part of the plate,” Limardo admits. I AHA-ed in triumph. “That’s the idea!” he points at me with glee.

Despite the lateness of the hour, Limardo’s energy radiates. It’s not hard to imagine that this is the chef who changed his entire opening menu – on opening night – out of sheer boredom. 

“Now the staff trusts me a lot,” he chuckles. “They understand my process of changing the dishes…it’s gonna be better.”

 Co-owner and managing partner Ezequiel Vazquez-Ger is equally fast-paced. When I ask, “Why do so many new things when you’ve barely been open for six months?” his response is, “Why not?”

Limardo, who recorded a rock album amidst his architecture and graphic design and culinary studies, likens his process to that of famous musicians.

“It’s like the Rolling Stones,” he explains. “They know they’re always going to have to perform their greatest hits. But they’re always having new releases.”

For more events at Seven Reasons, visit here.

Seven Reasons: 2208 14th St NW, DC; 202-417-8563; www.sevenreasonsdc.com

Photo: Joshua Goodrich

New Kitchens On The Block: A Taste of DC Culture and Community

Everyone gathered under a tent as it rained outside on October 20. We were all waiting for part six of New Kitchens On The Block (NKOTB) to begin. If you are not familiar with NKOTB, it is an event where people can try food from new restaurants. The only twist is: These restaurants have not opened yet.

Nevin Martell and Al Goldberg host the scrumptious event in Mess Hall DC. Here, their goal is to help chefs promote their restaurants at one location and so local foodies don’t have to travel across DC for a taste of new cuisine. At this year’s edition of NKOTB, guests got to sample food from Maialino Mare, Hi/Fi Taco, Cranes, Tabla, Soko, Pearl’s Bagels, Bubbie’s Plant Burgers & Fizz, La Famosa, Emmy Squared and &pizza.

While the food was the main attraction, this was a time for the DC community to shine. People engaged in conversations as they mingled, drank and, of course, ate. Not to mention, the background included a bevy of popular music.

This event gave everyone the chance to taste DC culture, literally. La Famosa’s Chef Joancarlo Parkhurst shared his Puerto Rican food. His restaurant has family roots and gives Puerto Rican representation in the DC food scene.

Bubbie’s Plant Burgers & Fizz showed how veggies are capable of satisfying people’s burger cravings. This take on burgers reflects what we are seeing with restaurants offering new vegetable alternatives. These two different restaurants are just an example of how the featured chefs captured a mix of DC’s traditional and modern culture.

Food brings us all together. Attendees Moo and Josh liked listening to the playlist and watching chefs prepare their food. Sharmeen and Pinar described NKOTB as an awesome weekend activity, before excusing themselves because they were excited and wanted to continue to “stuff their faces.”

Mwame, Nana, and Nina were repeaters who returned because they enjoyed the top-notch food and meeting the people behind their meals. After attending their first NKOTB event, they even visited one of the newly opened restaurants featured. They applauded the diversity at the event but wished for an African restaurant to get featured.

At the end of the successful lunch session, Al Goldberg said, “the DC food scene is alive more than ever. [NKOTB] shows new chefs reinventing cuisine.”

The event was a delight, and many attendees expressed that they would go to these restaurants when they opened. People who attended NKOTB got a taste of good food, DC culture and the community. It was a genuine experience that will make everyone appreciate what the DC food scene has to offer.

For more information about Mess Hall DC’s s events, visit here.

Mess Hall DC: 703 Edgewood St. NE, DC; www.messhalldc.com

The Hangover Special // Photo: courtesy of Succotash

5 Go-To Dishes to Cure the Ultimate Hangover

Waking up after a late night of drinking can feel like a game of roulette. Maybe you’ll hop out of bed feeling none the worse for wear, or maybe, your head will be heavy as an anvil with a churning stomach and strong desire to do nothing but take it easy until your body can get itself in order. Hangovers often lead to cravings for foods loaded with carbs, grease and fat that can soak up the alcohol from the night before and fuel the next day. A bit of sweat-inducing spice never hurt, either. These five dishes were chef-built to help ease the pain and replenish the soul with a heavy dose of all things comforting.

Taco Bamba’s Hangover Torta

Tacos are understandably the main draw at this local taqueria chain from chef Victor Albisu. But if a thumping headache has you craving something a bit greasier, grab the Hangover Torta at Taco Bamba’s Fairfax location.

“I don’t get many hangovers these days, but when I do, I’m on the lookout for eggs and potatoes, salt and spice, and a little bit of fat,” Albisu says.

His sandwich was designed to hit all the right notes, from bacon carnitas and avocado to fried eggs and beans.

10629 Braddock Rd. Fairfax, VA; www.tacobamba.com

The Smith’s Breakfast Pot Pie

This New York City export has comfort food for all times of day. If you can’t decide what your hangover requires, go for The Smith’s Breakfast Pot Pie available at both DC locations – Penn Quarter and U Street. The skillet is loaded with bacon, sweet Italian-style sausage, a homemade cheddar biscuit crust and two runny eggs.

“For me, it’s all the best parts of biscuits and gravy packed into a pot pie vessel,” says Michael Kollarik, The Smith’s culinary development chef. “It helps jumpstart your afternoon.”

901 F St. and 1314 U St. in NW, DC; http://thesmithrestaurant.com

Succotash’s Hangover Special

Chef Edward Lee’s Penn Quarter restaurant blurs the line between Korean and Southern American cuisines – a recipe for spicy, fatty, wholesome cooking to turn around the groggiest of mornings. Lee says that his aptly named Hangover Special has all of those elements in one cast iron skillet: spicy pulled pork, potato salad, fried eggs and gravy with a biscuit.

“The Hangover Special is combination of everything you need to get your day started,” Lee says. “Together, they are fuel for your body and joy for your soul.”

915 F St. NW, DC; www.succotashrestaurant.com

Bar Deco’s Hangover Sandwich

A breakfast sandwich can be a hangover savior, especially when it’s packed with eggs and salty, fatty bacon and sausage. Look no further than Chinatown spot Bar Deco’s Hangover Sandwich and its spin on the classic. The one here is loaded with scrambled eggs, short ribs, white cheddar cheese and more between two buttery brioche buns. A spicy jalapeño bacon mayonnaise gives it an extra spicy kick.

“The Hangover Sandwich is the perfect amount of sodium and fat between a buttery bun,” says Bar Deco Bar Manager Luke Lamb. “It’s exactly what your body is craving when your body is hungover: salt to help you retain water and that fat to keep you going.”

717 6th St. NW, DC; www.bardecodc.com

Matchbox’s Brunch Pizza

Matchbox restaurants are much more than pizza these days, but the thin-crust brunch pie is still one of the best ways to soak up the pain of a long night on the town. Spicy Italian sausage brings the heat, tempered by fresh pico de gallo, smoky gouda cheese and scrambled eggs. It’s part of the many carb-heavy options on the restaurant’s bottomless brunch menu.

“The Brunch Pizza has been a popular favorite on the Matchbox menu for years now,” says chef Jim Drost, who’s also director of culinary operations. “Even when we’ve tried different versions [and] began a brunch program without the Brunch Pizza, we’ve had to bring it back by popular demand.”

Four Virginia locations, two in Maryland (and a third opening in Bethesda), and three in DC; www.matchboxrestaurants.com

Photo: Nick Donner

Confessions of Traveling Snack Slingers

What happens at the food truck rodeo doesn’t always stay at the food truck rodeo. We caught up with food truckers around the region to hear about the highs and lows of cooking on the road.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman

On Tap: What is the craziest event you’ve ever taken your truck to?
Founder // co-owner Kirk Francis: That would be The Festicle, which was a testicle-cooking festival held at the Bullpen. There were numerous testicle-cooking competitions, a team who did WWE-style wrestling and pole dancers. A close second was the Flugtag by Red Bull, where we saw various teams compete to push their homemade flying objects on hilariously unsuccessful launches. There was a lot of smashing and a tiny bit of flying.

OT: Most surprising order?
KF: We make cookie cakes, and over the years we’ve been asked to make some highly inappropriate cookie cakes for bachelorette parties. We also made and delivered a cookie cake once that simply said, “F—k you.” I hope it was a joke.

OT: What’s your favorite snack to enjoy after Captain Cookie calls it a day?
KF: Kimchi with rice and a fried egg. I ferment my own so there’s always a jar handy. It’s salty, sour and spicy, but still pretty healthy.

www.captaincookiedc.com

Photo: courtesy of CapMac

CapMac

On Tap: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever made for a customer?
Owner Josh Warner: The craziest order would probably be catering. They wanted to get fancy, and they wanted six courses and a plated dinner for four hours. Zero mac and cheese at all.

OT: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about owning a food truck?
JW: You think we’re only open for two hours, but we make everything from scratch so it’s a full day. It’s so much more if you do it right, and we do it right. We love people more than we love food.

www.capmacdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Rebel Taco

Rebel Taco

On Tap: What’s one aspect of owning a food truck most folks don’t realize?
Owner Mike Bramson: It gets hot inside the truck! If you’re feeling hot, imagine 10 degrees warmer – at least. Whoever is serving you on a warm day, just give them a “thank you.”

OT: What Rebel Taco dish do you crave post-shift?
MB: I’m normally craving the taco that I saw go out the most that day. It’s usually either the Super Chick (chipotle-marinated chicken, avocado crema and pico de gallo on a flour tortilla), steak quesadilla or the Shrimp Gone Wild (cornflake-battered shrimp, slaw and Rebel sauce).

OT: Name the food order that made you raise an eyebrow.
MB: One time, we had an order of 16 tacos from one person. I figured he was taking it to a group, but it was just him and his friend. I guess they must really like our tacos.

www.rebeltacova.com

Photo: courtesy of Swizzler

Swizzler

On Tap: What’s the oddest food order you’ve received?
Founder Jesse Konig: The weirdest thing that I’ve seen get ordered is asking for two hot dogs in one bun. I think people see the spiral-cut hot dogs and think they should be able to fuse together and make a super-sized hot dog. I respect the creative thinking, but it just doesn’t quite work out the way you think it would. Please, don’t order it.

OT: What’s your go-to Swizzler snack after a long day?
JK: I’ve been on a big burger kick recently so I’d have to say my number one choice would be a Swizz Stack fresh off the grill, maybe even with some caramelized onions and candied jalapeños added on top if I’m feeling crazy! After a long day working on the truck, that thing will disappear in 30 seconds flat. If we’re talking hot dogs, it would have to be a Feast Mode. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!

www.swizzlerfoods.com

Photo: courtesy of Pepe

Pepe by José Andrés

On Tap: After a long day with Pepe, what do you eat standing over the kitchen sink?
Chef Aaron Helfand: Spanish pulled pork with shredded cabbage slaw, hold the bread.

OT: What’s the weirdest thing someone’s asked you to make?
AH: Being a small workspace, we only have so many options to alter something. But guests come up with all sorts of interesting tweaks, whether it’s adding jamón to everything or adding croquetas to the inside of a bocata.

OT: What’s the one thing you can’t do without on your truck?
AH: This depends on where we are in the DMV area. It is interesting how guests at each location crave different items from our menu. We try to bring as much as possible so everyone can enjoy, but we can never be without jamón.

www.joseandrescatering.com

Photo: Mark Raker

Shuck, Slurp, Repeat: Chesapeake Oyster Fest Deliver Supremely Delicious Shellfish to Union Market

“Shuck, slurp and repeat – that’s what it’s all about,” said Greg Nivens, who along with other members of the Trigger Agency, braved the unseasonably warm temperatures to steam and grill seafood for the attendees.

The 9th Annual Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival took place on Saturday September 21 at Union Market’s Dock 5, where a number of people avoided the heat by scarfing down wonderful seafood dishes paired with seasonal beers. 

 It was easy to follow those directions to enjoy all seven oyster stations, but the options also included mussels, clams and shrimp. An estimated 30,000 oysters were consumed between the two sessions.

There were casual eaters and true oyster devotees, and some people even carried tasting books to take notes on the different types of oysters. 

This event provides attendees with the chance to eat all of the oysters they could, and to learn more about the different varietals of the shellfish. Everyone who has ever tried knows it takes skill to open oysters, and expert shuckers take it another level, something like an art form. 

Pros were happy to share information about the oyster farms, as well as variety of options. The environment and terroir (waters) they grow in help determine the oyster’s size and flavors.

Shuck, Slurp and Repeat – that’s what it’s all about,” said Greg Nivens

Some of the selections were big and plump, and some were small. They ranged from sweet to briny, however, for the oyster lovers committed and new, they all had one thing in common: they were delicious .

This year, the Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival partnered with The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP). There were special “recycling stations” provided for the shells. These recycled shells help to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Kevin Boyle of Shore Thing Shellfish in St. Mary’s County, Maryland said that “farming oysters is beyond sustainable, it is restorative; creating life and ecosystems where there was nothing.” The organization loves this event, because it allows the people of DC to enjoy the oysters and connect to the Potomac.

In addition to the seafood, folks enjoyed Hard Times Cafe chili and barbecue from Kloby’s Smokehouse. There were also several dozen beers, wines and spirits available for sampling, using the commemorative sampling glass provided.

Participants also enjoyed pairings. Blue Point Brewing Company was pouring a number of styles, and locally-brewed Granite City Brewery sampled their SMASH beer, single malt and single hops as well as the seasonally available Blue- Eyed Brunette Bourbon Brown Ale. 

Champagne pairs wonderfully with oysters, so naturally, the Korbel Champagne bar was a popular destination. The wine station offered a number of tasty varieties, and local distilleries assisted attendees with spirits, allowing for attendees to truly customize their pairings. 

As Shakespeare said “The world’s mine oyster” but on Saturday, it is safe to say that the oysters were our world.

For more information about the Chesapeake Oyster Wine and Beer Festival, visit here. Want to relive the festival? Check out Mark Raker’s photo gallery

Prima dishes // Photo: Jennifer Chase

New and Notable: Hanumanh, Patsy’s American, Prima and More

NEW

Hanumanh
Open: May 20
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: The mother-son chef duo behind popular Laotian restaurants Thip Khao, Padaek and Sen Khao have opened a fourth concept, this one with a more playful vibe. Named for a mischievous monkey deity, Hanumanh is where chefs Seng Luangrath and Bobby Pradachith can let their creativity run free. It’s designed to evoke Laotian night life vibes, like the bustling markets that light up after dark. The tiki bar is the heart of the petite restaurant, with a few tables and ample bar seating. There’s also a spacious outdoor patio in the back surrounded by greenery and shaded by umbrellas. Inside and out, the space is bursting with color, from the intricate monkey murals on the walls to the fresh and bright ingredients on the plates. The small menu changes frequently, but mainstays include a banana blossom salad, red coconut crab curry and tapioca dumplings filled with a savory caramel of salted radish, pork and peanuts. Drinks are ideal for quenching thirst after spicy bites. A popular favorite is the Hanumanh: banana-infused Lao whiskey, brown butter condensed milk, passionfruit, vanilla and mango served in a cheeky monkey cup. When you go, note that the restaurant does not take reservations. 1604 7th St. NW, DC; www.hanumanh.com

Patsy’s American + Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks
Open: May 31 and July 30
Location: Tysons Corner
Lowdown: Great American Restaurants are an institution in Northern Virginia, and now the group has opened two restaurants honoring the institutions behind the empire. Patsy and Randy Norton are the namesakes for Patsy’s American and Randy’s Prime Seafood & Steaks, housed in the towering red-brick GAR Complex in Tysons Corner. Patsy’s is a nostalgic ode to the company, bringing back customer favorites from the various restaurants over the years. The menu feels familiar, with raw bar platters, salads, sandwiches, seafood, meats and pastas. The space is modeled after an old-fashioned train station, with skylights, green ironwork and a classic station clock. Two murals – one of a carnival scene and another of celebrities and famous faces – add a touch of whimsy. Next door, Randy’s is dedicated to premium cuts of meat and seafood served in sophisticated surrounds. Dishes like oven-roasted branzino and a lobster-crab cake with lobster beurre blanc stand out. After your meal at either spot, you can walk a few steps to the new Best Buns Bakery & Café for desserts like milkshakes, cookies and cupcakes (or some fresh bread to take home). 8051 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA; www.patsysamerican.com and www.randysprime.com

Prima

Open: May 29
Location: Bethesda
Lowdown: Known for hearty Italian comfort food, chef Michael Schlow wanted to show guests a lighter side of the cuisine with his first foray into fast casual. Prima’s bowls are rooted in the Mediterranean diet, with staples like whole grains, olive oil, roasted vegetables, seafood and lean meats. Incidentally, everything is gluten-free, and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Guests can choose to customize their own bowl with greens or grains, house-made dressings, antipasti-style veggies and legumes, proteins, dips and spreads and crunchy toppings. You can also leave your meal in the hands of Schlow and his culinary director, Ed Scarpone. Options include chef-crafted bowls like the della nonna with meatballs or the vegan ortolana with broccoli, roasted baby carrots, sweet peas, black lentils, tri-color quinoa, marinated baby artichokes, wild mushrooms, Calabrian chile and red pepper spread and balsamic vinaigrette. The ingredients are sourced locally when possible, with an emphasis on sustainability. The space feels more like a full-service restaurant than fast casual, with glass garage doors, wood accents and dangling greenery reminiscent of al fresco dining in an Italian village. 7280 Woodmont Ave. Bethesda, MD; www.craveprima.com

Shilling Canning Company

Open: July 10
Location: The Yards
Lowdown: From 1935 to 1958, Shilling Canning Company was a family business selling canned produce in Finksburg, Maryland. Six decades later, Reid Shilling is paying homage to his heritage with a restaurant by the same name. Shilling began his career working with chef Thomas Keller at Bouchon Bistro on the west coast, but soon returned to his mid-Atlantic roots. He cooked at The Dabney for a year before deciding to open his own restaurant with his wife, Sara Quinteros-Shilling. The tavern-style restaurant is centered around an open kitchen that features a copper-clad wood-burning oven, a raw bar and a chef’s counter. The design takes after the original canning facility, with floor-to-ceiling windows, whitewashed brick, dark woods, white shiplap and vintage cans on display. A charcuterie aging room, glass wine storage and a soon-to-be greenery-enclosed patio accent the space. The planter boxes on the patio grow myriad herbs, edible flowers and small produce like cucumbers, tomatoes and hearty varieties of kiwis which are used to garnish and accent dishes and drinks. The Chesapeake-centric menu changes daily, but always incorporates local, seasonal ingredients and preservation techniques from his family business. Current highlights include small plates like honey cakes topped with benne butter and Surryano ham and Chesapeake rockfish with fennel, red potatoes, potato rouille and spicy tomato broth, as well as large plates like dry-aged Rettland duck crown with duck confit boudin, beets, preserved plums and black walnuts. 360 Water St. SE, DC; www.shillingcanning.com

NOTABLE

Buena Vida Social Club
Location: Clarendon
Lowdown: The final piece of La Esquina de Clarendon is complete with the opening of the Buena Vida Social Club. Led by Ivan Iricanin of Street Guys Hospitality, the three-level corner houses TTT Mexican Diner, Buena Vida and now the open-air resort-style club on the top floor. The rooftop channels Acapulco, Mexico with bright shades of aqua and mauve, a lounge area, tropical and frozen cocktails (featuring agave and sugar cane spirits), low-ABV options, casual fare and build-your-own tacos. The space is open for drinks and dinner, as well as brunch on the weekends. On Thursday through Saturday nights, a DJ will be spinning. 2900 Wilson Blvd. third floor, Arlington, VA; www.buenavidasocial.club

Double Deckers in Marshall
Location: Marshall
Lowdown: The main drag in this charming Virginia town is giving new meaning to the term party bus. Two big red antique double decker buses have parked themselves in the middle of the action and are open for business, serving up picnic-style eats and local wine. Johnny Monarch’s is a “bustaurant” owned by chef Brian Lichorowic, who named the business after the pen name his father used to write love letters during WWII. The menu offers sandwiches, classic savory pies and modern takes on TV dinners. Much of the produce used in the kitchen comes from Lichorowic’s hydroponic growing systems operating nearby. The Bubble Decker brings the booze, operated by Cave Ridge Vineyard from Mount Jackson. They offer various sparkling wines including a summery rosé. The lawn outside the buses hosts live music on Wednesdays and Sundays. Seating is available on the top level of each bus, as well as at picnic tables outside. The party buses are open Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday from 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. Johnny Monarch’s: 8374 W. Main St. Marshall, VA; www.johnnymonar.ch and Cave Ridge Vineyard: 1476 Conicville Rd. Mount Jackson, VA, www.caveridge.com

Thamee // Photo: Mariah Miranda

New and Notable: Blend 111, Laos in Town, Queen’s English 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

Blend 111
Open:
May 18
Location:
Vienna
Lowdown:
Tech CEO Michael Biddick has long had a passion for food, wine and coffee, so when he got out of the business of software startups, opening a restaurant was a natural next step. A Vienna resident, Biddick often wished for an upscale, modern restaurant in his neighborhood. Blend 111 was born out of that need, and soon, neighbors invested to make the restaurant a reality. The name is a nod to the many influences involved. The investing families’ connections to Venezuela, France and Spain drove the menu, Biddick’s extensive wine knowledge shaped the beverage program, and a sense of responsibility to sustainability resulted in careful sourcing, compostable to-go containers, a composting program, renewable energy and carbon offsets for imported goods. Chef Abby McManigle, whose resume boasts several respected West Coast restaurants including Chez Panisse, works to source ingredients for her seasonal menus as locally as possible – within a 200-mile radius of the building. The summer menu stars dishes like a watermelon salad that mimics watermelons on the vine in a garden, a Mediterranean grilled octopus dish with pepperonata, green garbanzo bean puree and crispy shallots, and Venezuelan arepas with manchego and cotija cheese. Biddick, a certified sommelier and author, created a wine list that shines a light on small-batch French and Spanish wines – organic or biodynamic – that lack representation in the U.S. He also roasts organic coffee in house for the espresso bar. 111 Church St. NW, Suite 101, Vienna, VA; www.blend111.com

Laos in Town
Open:
April 30
Location:
NoMa
Lowdown:
Two Bangkok natives enamored with the flavors of Laos have opened a new restaurant to share the cuisine they fell in love with. Fresh off a research and development trip to Laos, restaurateur Nick Ongsangkoon and chef Ben Tiatasin opened Laos in Town in NoMa. Ongsangkoon is also a co-owner of Thai restaurant Soi 38. Tiatasin managed the front of the house at Bangkok Golden and Thip Khao, and also worked as a chef at Esaan. Tiatasin’s menu focuses on traditional Laotian food with other Southeast Asian influences sprinkled throughout. Standbys like papaya salad and crispy rice salad are represented, as well as less familiar selections like marinated, deep-fried quail and basa fish steamed in banana leaves with curry paste and herbs. Many of the items can be made vegan, and there’s an entire menu dedicated to vegan options. The two desserts – coconut custard or fresh mango – are both accompanied by a sweet sticky rice, lightly tinted green by pandan leaves. The bar offers wines, cocktails with Southeast Asian ingredients, and Laotian and local beer. The windows at the bar open to a large sidewalk patio, and the modern, airy interior is punctuated by traditional touches like birch trees lining the walls and fishing traps hanging from the ceiling. 250 K St. NE, DC; www.laosintown.com

Queen’s English
Open:
April 10
Location:
Columbia Heights
Lowdown:
Chef Henji Cheung, who grew up in Hong Kong, has teamed up with his wife Sarah Thompson to bring the cuisine of his childhood to DC. Cheung runs the kitchen, while Thompson leads the front of the house and beverage program. The two met working in the industry in New York at Little Beet Table. Their synergy has produced a restaurant that features food Cheung is passionate about, alongside Asian-influenced cocktails, beer, cider and natural wines. The food menu is succinct but jumps all over the map with flavorful vegetables like soy-braised enoki mushrooms with a coddled egg and bok choy with XO sauce, as well as show-stopping proteins like crispy fried, salt-and-pepper blowfish with goji berry and a golden half-chicken lacquered with soy sauce and seasoned with lots of ginger and scallion. Other crowd favorites include the two-tone, hand cut noodles dyed with squid ink and the soft daikon fritters showered in pork sung. The cocktail list is topped by two barrel-aged blends: a medicinal Manhattan and a Chinese five-spice negroni. There are also lighter options like the Lilibet with mezcal, damiana flower, pineapple and ashberry. While walk-ins are welcome for the dining room, chefs counter and patio, they also offer limited reservations. 3410 11th St. NW, DC; www.queensenglishdc.com

Thamee
Open:
May 15
Location:
H Street
Lowdown:
For mother-daughter duo Jocelyn Law-Yone and Simone Jacobson, Thamee is a deeply personal restaurant. The name means daughter in Burmese, which is a word Law-Yone’s daughters knew growing up even though they didn’t speak the language. Law-Yone was born in Burma and says she comes from a family of storytellers, with food and laughter at the center of her upbringing. Jacobson was born in the U.S. and says food is what connected her to her heritage. The pair, along with a third co-owner, Eric Wang, aim to share the stories and tastes of Burma with curious diners in DC. While Burmese cuisine is influenced by bordering nations China, Thailand and India, there are many ingredients and dishes unique to the country. Specialties like pickled tea leaf salad, white flower mushroom salad, mohinga – a catfish curry typically eaten for breakfast – and butterfly pea flower negroni are rare finds, even in a city with a robust Asian dining scene. Colorful decorative touches in the space complement the food, like tabletops based on colorful Burmese tribal textiles and custom aprons made with traditional fabrics from Law-Yone and Jacobson’s personal collections. The family restaurant has a diverse team behind it made up of industry veterans, refugees and first-generation Americans speaking 10 different languages. Thamee also supports diversity in their partners with beer supplied by Sankofa Beer, the city’s only black-owned brewery, and coffee from Nguyen Coffee Supply, the first Vietnamese-American-owned importer, supplier and roaster of coffee beans from Vietnam. 1320 H St. NE, DC; www.thamee.com

Notable

New Pastry Chef at Kith & Kin
Location:
The Wharf
Lowdown:
The law of attraction is clearly at work at Kith & Kin. Chef, newly minted author and James Beard Award-winner Kwame Onwuachi recently added another rising star to his team. Pastry chef Paola Velez joined the Afro-Caribbean restaurant this spring, bringing her tropical flair to the dessert menu. Velez trained under chocolatier Jacque Torres and was recently recognized by RAMW for her work at Iron Gate. She grew up in New York and the Dominican Republic, the latter cultivating her love of tropical fruits. Highlights on her new menu include a Caribbean rum cake accented with sorrel leaves and passion fruit sorbet, and a chai soft-serve sundae topped with Nigerian puff puffs – a sweet fried dough. 801 Wharf St. SE, DC; www.kithandkindc.com

New Wine Director at Jug & Table
Location:
Adams Morgan
Lowdown:
Casual neighborhood wine bar Jug & Table is heading off the beaten path with their wine program, now helmed by sommelier Chas Jefferson. The new list of more than 30 wines by the glass and eight on tap showcases rustic table wines from small, thoughtful producers. The selections will change seasonally, but the focus remains on sustainable, natural, biodynamic and organic wines. This inaugural list introduces more obscure varietals and emerging regions, offering a chance to try grapes and producers you might have never heard of. Jefferson keeps things approachable yet stimulating, and he can expertly suggest a fascinating new pour that will appeal to a guest’s preferences while expanding their understanding of wine. First floor of 2446 18th St. NW, DC; www.jugandtable.com

Spotlight On

Dudley’s Sport & Ale
Part American sports bar and part local crafthouse, Dudley’s brings a space to Shirlington for all types of beer drinkers to enjoy. Carrying the “sports bar” moniker, the Arlington spot features countless TVs and a 20-seat, theater-style space to catch the game. Swing by for weekend brunch with $5 champagne bottles, a “Hail Mary” Bloody Mary, frosé and frozen margaritas. And don’t exclude your furry friends – the ground-level patio is dog-friendly (weather permitting). No matter your pleasure, Dudley’s has a spot at the bar for everyone. Write-up provided by venue. 2766 S. Arlington Mill Dr. Arlington, VA; www.dudleyssportsandale.com