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Photo: Greg Powers
Photo: Greg Powers

New and Notable: August 2018

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

Gravitas
Open: July 3
Location: Ivy City
Lowdown: Matt Baker’s sophisticated tasting menu restaurant has literally been years in the making. The chef has taken the former Pappas Tomato Factory and transformed it into an urban oasis where minimalist fixtures, mossy accents and hanging terrariums are juxtaposed with original 1940s brick, windows and steel beams. This antique character is what drew him to Ivy City in the first place, along with the opportunity to help weave the fabric of a burgeoning community. Gravitas is the first tasting menu restaurant to hit the neighborhood, with a selection of 15 dishes – half of which are vegetarian – that can be mixed and matched to create a custom tasting of four, five, six or seven courses. Baker says he wanted a restaurant that allowed him to dream up and serve manicured, experimental dishes. That’s evident in courses like a gruyère agnolotti decorated with a fried ash chip reminiscent of webbed sea coral. Baker focuses as much on sourcing as he does on experimenting, pulling ingredients almost exclusively from the Mid-Atlantic region. In the coming weeks, he will debut a rooftop bar and garden supplying produce like tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and more. The bar program features spirits and brews from the restaurant’s Ivy City neighbors, used in drinks that incorporate seasonal vegetables. The wine list is comprised of mostly food-friendly options to facilitate pairings with a wide spectrum of flavors. 1401 Okie St. NE, DC; www.gravitasdc.com

La Vie
Open: July 12
Location: District Wharf
Lowdown: Social Restaurant Group is expanding their portfolio, which already includes Provision No. 14 and Pamplona, among others, to include a posh waterfront restaurant, bar and event space. The vast fifth floor venue boasts panoramic views of the river through floor-to-ceiling windows in the main dining room, and has three more spaces, each with a distinct vibe. The Conservatory bar and lounge is covered in climbing greenery and matching plush upholstery. The Chandelier Room is, expectedly, adorned with a display of 15 of the hanging fixtures. Finally, the Ledge is a sprawling waterfront terrace. The menu nods to the riverfront location with coastal fare like seafood towers, spreads, house-made pastas, mussel pots, whole branzino, and mainland fare like steak frites and a decadent burger. Drinks follow suit with spritzes, shareable cocktails and plenty of bubbly. 88 District Sq. SW, DC; www.laviedc.com

Poca Madre
Open: June 19
Location: Chinatown
Lowdown: To say Poca Madre is Victor Albisu’s passion project would be an understatement. After closing his South American grill, Del Campo, Albisu and his team poured their hearts and souls into its replacement. Poca Madre is a sincere homage to Mexico, celebrating the country’s history, culture, agriculture and cuisine. The menu is, simply put, an exploration of contemporary Mexican dining. But every aspect, from the sourcing to the recipes, tells a deeper story. Dishes include flashes of influence from the various periods of colonization by Europeans and the far-reaching trade routes that brought Southeast Asian spices and herbs to the country. Many ingredients are imported from Mexico to support local farmers including sea salt, grasshoppers, cocoa nibs and dry maíz that is cooked, soaked, scrubbed and ground to form tortillas, which are cooked to order. The resulting product is unlike any tortilla I’ve had before: deeply flavored, crispy yet soft and enticingly aromatic. The small plates and entrées put creative twists on traditions, like a corn risotto that conjures the flavors of elote and a shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche with flat noodles made from the two types of seafood. Drinks rely heavily on the spirit made from the plant featured in Poca Madre’s logo and décor, with a liquid nitrogen-frozen margarita and a take on a Mai Tai that uses mezcal and cantaloupe seed orgeat. The space is accented by suspended greenery, a mirror carried over from Del Campo’s bar and a striking piece of artwork that clearly communicates the team’s view on immigration: a depiction of a freestanding open door on the U.S.-Mexico border modeled after a real-life installation from 1988. 777 I St. NW, DC; www.pocamadredc.com

San Lorenzo
Open: June 25
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: Chef Massimo Fabbri, known and loved for his cooking at Tosca and Posto, opened his own restaurant in Shaw in honor of his family and the cuisine of his home in Tuscany. The spot is named for Fabbri’s favorite neighborhood in Florence, and his son, who is named after the patron saint of cooks. The menu is succinct and simple, with classic Tuscan recipes and a few salutes to his time at Tosca. Start with antipasti like tuna carpaccio, panzanella or fried squash blossoms, and be sure to sample the fresh pastas. My favorite was the tortelli stuffed with robiola and black truffle complemented by a porcini mushroom sauce. Entrées range from sautéed scallops to a grilled T-bone steak for two. To finish, there’s a selection of traditional desserts like panna cotta and fruit crostata. The bar serves both signature cocktails and unaltered Italian favorites, as well as beer and wine. Though the space is narrow, the surrounds are cozy and inviting, with Art Deco Murano glass pendants, brick peeking through distressed plaster and Florentine-inspired patterned tiles. 1316 9th St. NW, DC; www.sanlorenzodc.com

NOTABLE

Test Kitchen Tuesdays
Date: Tuesdays during the summer
Location: The Oval Room
Lowdown: For Chef Bryan Moscatello at The Oval Room, the new Test Kitchen Tuesday series is the perfect outlet for culinary creativity. Each Tuesday, he creates a three-course menu that showcases unusual ingredients, cutting-edge techniques and out-of-the box dishes, all within a chosen theme. Previous Test Kitchen menus have covered ideas like “Memories of a Jersey Shore Clam Bake,” “The Parents Are Away So It’s Breakfast for Dinner,” and “Who Cooked Roger Rabbit,” with dishes ranging from a lobster burger to a take on steak and eggs with beef tongue and a quail egg. The menu is available at the bar or on the patio every Tuesday for $45 per person. There is also an optional $25 drink pairing. 800 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.ovalroom.com

Wandering Oasis
Date: Now through fall
Location: Various locations around DC
Lowdown: DC’s Mixtress, Gina Chersevani, has taken her show on the road. She recently debuted Wandering Oasis, a 27-foot traveling cocktail truck, at various locations around the District. The truck is covered with giant banana leaves and tropical birds and supplies drinkers with frozen and draft cocktails like a hibiscus lemon daiquiri, citrus sour margarita, grapefruit crush and bourbon mint tea. Every drink on the menu is 16 ounces and costs about $9. The menu of drinks will rotate each weekend. The truck’s planned stops are TBD, but it will definitely make a few cameos at Nats Park over the next few months. Follow Chersevani and her cocktail truck’s DC stops on Twitter at @MIXTRESSdc.

Photo: Courtesy of O-Ku
Photo: Courtesy of O-Ku

New & Notable: Mikko, Pappe 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

Mikko
Open: May 1
Location: Dupont Circle
Lowdown: The former chef to the Finnish ambassador just opened his own café serving the food of his homeland. Mikko Kosonen got his start at his family’s restaurant Stockholm and attended culinary school in Helsinki. In the U.S., he’s been cooking for diplomats, heads of state and royalty, but now he’s expanding his audience to include average Washingtonians. Nordic cuisine relies on simple preparations of ingredients like seafood, rye, mushrooms, berries and roots. The menu at Mikko is succinct but true to form, with specialties like house-smoked salmon, Danish-style open-faced sandwiches, Finnish soups and Nordic pastries. The café space is cozy, with dishes on display in a cold case at the entrance, a few seats at a counter facing the kitchen in the back and a street-side patio with additional seating, where I enjoyed a Karelian rice and egg pie alongside a gravlax sandwich. There’s also a small market offering a selection of Nordic cookies, chocolates, breads, jams and sauces. A note if you go: the operation is cashless. 1636 R St. NW, DC; www.chefmikko.com

O-Ku
Open: June 22
Location: Union Market
Lowdown: O-Ku, a Japanese restaurant with roots in Charleston and sister restaurants throughout the South, expanded to the Union Market neighborhood this summer. Each of the locations has its own executive chef with a distinct menu and the DC kitchen is helmed by Chef Bryan Emperor, who has studied Japanese cuisine for more than 25 years. His menu features traditional sushi and sashimi as well as modern interpretations of Japanese specialties and wood-fired, robata-style dishes from a binchotan grill. Highlights include puffed rice-crusted Japanese sea bass and an out-of-this-world king crab California roll. The industrial and minimalist two-story space has ample seating in the bar room and wood-accented sushi room, a plush Japanese whiskey lounge, and a roof deck with views of Union Market. 1274 5th St. NE, DC; www.okusushidc.com

Pappe
Open: June 4
Location: 14th Street
Lowdown: Vipul Kapila never ordered lamb vindaloo in Indian restaurants in the DC area because he couldn’t find a version that lived up to the fiery dish he remembers eating growing up in Delhi. That is, until he tried a truly authentic rendition at a restaurant in Falls Church. One bite, and he was hooked – so much so that he decided to team up with the chefs behind the dish, Sanjay Mandhaiya and Shankar Puthran, to open Pappe and finally bring a neighborhood Indian restaurant to 14th Street. That vindaloo is a star curry on the menu and I can attest, it is fiery. The menu also features three dishes that Mandhaiya learned while staging in India: butter chicken, chana pindi and taar gosht. Other popular items include vegetable samosas, prawn koliwada, junglee laal maas, fish chittnad and fire-grilled baingan bartha. The drink list draws on Indian spices like cardamom, tamarind and curry leaves for cocktails, sodas, teas and of course, mango lassis. The space is inspired by a New Delhi fabric market, with silk textiles draped over the tables, lanterns made from fabric-dyeing baskets and murals similar to those found painted on homes in Indian villages. The mural artist, John DeNapoli, is also behind the renditions of traditional Indian scenes that have been infiltrated with modern touches, such as a family in DC sports gear and an elephant marked with Uber and Lyft logos. The restaurant’s name means brother and Kapila said he wanted it to feel casual and welcoming while also capturing the bold, complex and exciting personality of his native country. 1317 14th St. NW, DC; www.pappedc.com

Tacos, Tortas & Tequila and Buena Vida
Open: May 4
Location: Silver Spring
Lowdown: Serbian restaurateur Ivan Iricanin, who popularized Balkan food in DC with Ambar and BABA, is steering his restaurant group south of the border with two new Mexican concepts in one building in Silver Spring. Both have a unique personality, but the common thread is house-made tortilla products and local, organic ingredients. Located on the ground floor, Tacos, Tortas & Tequila (TTT) is a casual taco joint that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu spotlights traditional tacos, tortas and tequila in addition to tostadas, quesadillas, taquitos, desserts, milkshakes, agua frescas, and Mexican sodas and beers. For breakfast, there are plenty of egg dishes and coffee drinks. On the second story, Buena Vida is a more upscale restaurant that offers an all-you-can-eat small plates deal for $19.99 during lunch and $35 during dinner. The dishes are more contemporary, like a mezcal-cured salmon tostada, a skate wing chicharron and fingerling sweet potato tostones. And Northern Virginia residents, fear not. Iricanin will be opening a second location of TTT and Buena Vida this fall in Clarendon opposite his Balkan spots. 8407 Ramsey Ave. Silver Spring, MD; www.tttrestaurant.com

NOTABLE

Butterfly Tacos y Tortas
Date: May 2
Location: Penn Quarter
Lowdown: José Andrés’ restaurant group, ThinkFoodGroup, has a spot in Penn Quarter dedicated to testing out new fast-casual concepts temporarily and gathering feedback from customers before officially debuting the restaurant. This R&D space is called ThinkFoodLab, and the latest occupant is Butterfly Tacos y Tortas. Think of it like the casual little sister of Oyamel, with a menu inspired by Mexico City’s street food. As the name implies, the two staple dishes are tacos and tortas. Don’t miss standouts like the taco filled with shredded beef in a smoky chile sauce and the torta stuffed with seared pork belly, guacamole, salsa, black beans and lime. There’s also a selection of salads, snacks, desserts and agua frescas, including fried potatoes with mole poblano and strawberry-lime-chile paletas. Fans of the concept will also be able to find the Mexican fare at a second location at D.C. United’s new Audi Field. 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thinkfoodlab.com

Hill Country’s Backyard Barbecue
Date: May 16
Location: National Building Museum’s west lawn
Lowdown: Hill Country Barbecue Market has once again taken over the National Building Museum’s west lawn for the annual Backyard Barbecue pop-up. It’s all part of the museum’s Summer Block Party, which centers on an interactive exhibit called “Fun House.” On the lawn in the afternoons and evenings (Wednesday through Sunday), the restaurant serves up sliced brisket, pulled pork sandwiches, Texas cheesesteaks and smoked hot link sandwiches, along with cocktails, wine and beer. On Fridays and Saturdays, there’s also live music. The pop-up runs through September 3. 401 F St. NW, DC; www.hillcountry.com/dc