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D.C.-area restaurants have Mother’s Day specials planned

i Ricchi, Via Umbria, Blue Duck Tavern and many others offering specials this weekend

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DC mother's day specials 2017, gay news, Washington Blade

Jalapeno-studded biscuits with poached egg are just one of the tasty options available at Espita Mezcaleria. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Our mothers work tirelessly for us in little ways every day — sewing buttons onto shirts at the last minute, praising our smallest achievements and bringing home the bacon — not to mention frying it up in a pan. So, the least we can do is give her a nice meal once a year and that time has come. Here are just a handful of options for a happy Mother’s Day.

For Christianne Ricchi, the chef/owner of i Ricchi (1220 19th St., N.W.), celebrating Mamma is a joyful event. “Eating in Italy is basically a family act,” she says, noting that a mother’s cooking provides a link between generations. While we usually take Mom out for Sunday brunch, this Tuscan family-style Mother’s Day dinner will be offered May 12-13 (Friday and Saturday), featuring tortelloni stuffed with ricotta and chard, Tuscan fried “spider web” chicken and stuffed veal shoulder.

Keep to the Italian theme, but in a different region, at Via Umbria (1525 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.), where a special brunch on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 14) will include local Ivy City Smoked Salmon with Pequea Valley yogurt dill spread, and pasta with eggplant, capers, olives, tomatoes and ricotta — along with bottomless Aperol spritz, mimosas or Bloody Marys.

Mom won’t go hungry at Teddy & The Bully Bar (1200 19th St., N.W.), where a hybrid brunch menu includes three plated dishes, family style sides and several buffet stations. Try the cereal-crusted brioche topped with bourbon syrup and vanilla mascarpone or the short ribs with fried eggs, refried white beans and spicy aioli. Check out the Lady Outlaw cocktail on tap, a perfect spring sipper made with vodka, elderflower liqueur, lemon sour and lavender bitters.

Treat Mom to a Michelin-starred meal at Blue Duck Tavern (1201 24th St., N.W.), where she can dig into waffles topped with cream cheese mousse and macerated berries (yes, please), lamb hash with potato, English peas and rainbow carrots, and fried chicken and biscuits with honey hot sauce and a sunny-side-up egg.

Classic Peruvian dishes are on the three-course menu at Nazca Mochica (1633 P St., N.W.), including steamed mussels in a lime and cilantro dressing, braised lamb leg in a dark beer reduction served with fried yucca, and potatoes in Huancaina sauce. Be sure to finish the meal with alfajores, traditional cookies filled with dulce de leche.

The rosé mimosa is just one way to make Mom happy at Espita Mezcaleria (1250 9th St., N.W.), but the smoky mezcal Bloody Maria might also do the trick. Highlights from their special brunch menu include a savory maitake mushroom omelette, jalapeno-studded biscuits with poached eggs and arbol hollandaise, and French toast topped with smoked agave nectar and mezcal-infused bananas.

Try one of the best brunches in town at Ambar (523 8th St., S.E.), where the Bottomless Brunch includes Balkan-style bread pudding made with chili flakes and country-style bacon, poached pear waffles, steak and eggs and roasted mushroom crepes. The flowing cocktails include the restaurant’s signature Ambar mimosa, a heady blend of champagne with peach and lavender purée, as well as cherry and mango mimosas. Should you decide to stop by for dinner on Mother’s Day, Ambar’s also offering a 50 percent discount on rakia (a kind of Balkan fruit brandy) shots, which Mom is sure to appreciate.

Should rum be your mother’s preferred libation, check out Cuba Libre (801 9th St., N.W.), where she can indulge in the Havana Hottie, a Bloody Mary made with dark rum and habanero peppers — and be sure to encourage her to reminisce about her misspent youth. Try the Panqueques, cornmeal pancakes topped with dark rum and molasses syrup and mango butter, or the Huevo Roto, a pile of double-blanced French fries with crispy chorizo, poached eggs and a tomato-hollandaise sauce.

Go old school with a classic brunch at the Top of the Hay at the Hay-Adams Hotel (800 16th St., N.W.), where Mom will receive a chilled glass of Taittinger bubbly upon arrival, which she can sip while enjoying one of the best views in D.C. Buffet offerings will include mushroom agnolotti, seared sea bass, and, of course, prime rib, along with a full omelet station. Don’t skip the dessert selection, from chocolate-dipped strawberries to coconut cake to Virginia rhubarb upside down cake.

An intriguing array of brunch-ready bento boxes are on offer at the Latin-Asian restaurant Sakerum (2204 14th St., N.W.), from grilled short rib with sushi rice, chimichurri salsa and a fried egg to a double-fried chicken thigh with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and fried egg. Box accompaniments include bacon-jalapeno home fries, mixed green seaweed salad, fried plaintains and tamago futomaki and Gina Chersevani’s creative cocktails round out the meal, from the Greek Frappé, with rum, cinnamon, instant coffee and cream, to the Lychee Mimosa.

The Hamilton’s (600 14th St., N.W.) popular Gospel Brunch is always a winner. Live entertainment by Wilbur Johnson and the Gospel Persuaders makes for a fun backdrop to Southern-style catfish, spring vegetable strata, collard greens, fried chicken and French toast.

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D.C.’s creative culinary scene thriving post-pandemic

The Wharf continues to expand and other highlights

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D.C. is getting plenty of new restaurants this fall.

Colorful foliage, colorful openings: While the dining industry has struggled under the weight of the pandemic, staffing shortages, supply chain crises, inflation, and a spate of closings over the summer, the spirit of colorful creativity in the District hasn’t slowed. This fall, we look forward to visiting brand-new ideas, creative concept changes, additional spots from beloved chefs, an ever-expanding Wharf, and more. Note that some of these restaurants have opened already, while others have planned opening dates through the rest of the year.

Bar Spero

From the owner of Georgetown’s tasting-menu Michelin-starred Reverie comes Bar Spero to the Capitol Crossing complex. Taking inspiration from San Sebastian, Spain, Bar Spero is named for its owner and chef Johnny Spero, with a dynamic energy, modern dishes, raw bar, and fiery grill that touches nearly all the dishes. Check out highlights like grilled imported Spanish turbot and lobster knuckle tossed right on the embers.

Butter Me Up

The little bakery that could is now opening its second brick-and-mortar shop just off 14th Street, N.W. The breakfast sandwich concept that began as a pop-up in May 2020 at HalfSmoke is now plating its celebrated breakfast sammies on toasted brioche butter rolls baked daily, as well as superfood bowls, toasts, and tots. On the liquid side, look to house-pressed juices, smoothies, and brunch cocktails.

Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips and Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen

Michelin-starred and TV shouter Gordon Ramsay is anchoring himself twice over on the expanding Southwest Wharf with new locations of his Fish & Chips and Hell’s Kitchen chains. Fish & Chips is Ramsay’s take on the classic British pub grub, with cod dusted and deep-fried under a crust of custard powder batter. The massive 14,000-sqaure-foot Hell’s Kitchen, with three other U.S. locations, takes cues from Ramsay’s fiery TV show (and personality). The menu will include the British chef’s signatures like Beef Wellington, the “HELL’S KITCHEN Burger,” and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Don’t miss cocktails like the Notes from Gordon (gin, green tea, peach), complete with a message from Chef Ramsay himself.

Le Mont Royal

French disco is back with a vengeance and a Canadian accent in Adams Morgan. With “the idea of a French wine dance party” in mind, the bar will specialize in “juicy” natural wines, grower Champagnes, and funky cocktails. Look out for offbeat plates like poutine with elevated add-on options like truffle, and a foie gras-ice cream-stuffed twinkie. The first floor will feature velvet banquettes for lounge seating; upstairs will include touches like a pool table, large-group seating, and plenty of space for dancing to enjoy the house collection of soul, funk, and disco vinyls. 

Nama Ko

14th Street mainstay Tico has closed its doors after eight years, making way for a new concept by the same owner, Michael Schlow. Schlow also operates sushi restaurant Nama and Italian restaurant Alta Strada. Nama Ko opened this week and offers a large cellar of Japanese whiskeys and sakes, plus a raw bar, full entrees, and its spectacular sushi selection with items like foie gras and golden eye snapper.

Nick Stefanelli at The Morrow

NoMa’s sleek new hotel entrant, the Morrow, will house three dining options care of Michelin-starred chef Nicholas Stefanelli, who runs tasting-menu Masseria in nearby Union Market. The ground-floor French-inspired Le Clou is a chic, brasserie-style restaurant (with an adjoining lobby cocktail bar), while the energetic rooftop bar, Upstairs at The Morrow, pours elegant cocktails and offers wide city views. The sophisticated Vesper lounge, with craft cocktails and live music, will open in the winter.

Philippe Chow

Celeb fave Philippe Chow drops down I-95 from Manhattan to another new spot on the Wharf for Chef Chow’s spin on fine-dining Chinese. Known for his modern and theatrical style, Chef Chow’s brings a menu of lavish, Beijing-style dishes like glazed spare ribs and tableside-carved Peking duck. The restaurant features sweeping waterfront views of the Potomac.

Tigerella at Western Market

The creators of celebrated Mt. Pleasant morning Mecca Elle have opened Tigerella in Foggy Bottom’s Western Market. This all-day locale begins with café-style coffee, toasts, and sandwiches, but the dining room adds shareable snacks, meat and cheeses, and Italian entrees. A happy hour will begin soon. Western Market will also soon welcome a fistful of new openings in the coming months, from Alitiko, a Greco-Middle Eastern concept, to ExPat, a sports betting bar, to Hippo Taco, an Asian-fusion concept.

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Mi Vida bringing customers together on 14th Street

Striking new location invites group-friendly grazing

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Mi Vida took over the massive former Matchbox pizza location on 14th Street. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

The striking new Mi Vida’s location in the heart of 14th Street, N.W., is no coincidence. Opened in early August, it’s an outgrowth of the gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design restaurant group’s wildly popular location on the Wharf. 

Mi Vida meets its customers where they are: on a bustling, pedestrian-friendly corridor where the soaring, three-story interior welcomes group-friendly “grazing” shareables, refined cocktail flights, and a mole as rich as the Oaxacan culinary culture that it draws from.

KNEAD founders and husbands, Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin, explain that they feel fortunate to meld their brand into a vibrant neighborhood that is a melting pot of nightlife and residential communities. “We are bringing Mi Vida to the people,” says Berry.

As with the Wharf Mi Vida, the duo brought on Chef Roberto Santibañez, who is also gay. Here, he extends to the lively neighborhood crowd with no-fork-needed skewers of agave-marinated chicken and sea bass enlivened by earth pumpkin seed salsa macha.

While the core menu is similar, Santibañez puts the festive in the “fiesta de botanas” platter: a “very fun, more communal” option, he says, for sharing, tasting, and intimately connecting with the food. Each platter comes with a bounty of the resto’s most popular apps and snacks, from crab empanadas to skirt steak skewers, accompanied by piquant habanero and creamy avocado salsas.

Berry notes that they “spared no expense” reimagining the hundred-year-old building that once played host to billiards, bowling, live jazz, and most recently, a Matchbox pizza. An “old building with a new core,” he says, the historic façade got a glow-up too: splashed atop a pink background is a vibrant mural of riotous shapes and patterns, a nod to what a diner might expect inside. Soaring pink fin panels greet guests at the entrance, flying across the 10,000-square-foot space. A patio on T Street promises heat lamps for cooler months.

From the top of the menu to the bottom, Mi Vida offers a “dulce suenos” shareable dessert platter that includes items like an ice cream volcano and espresso flan.

Beverage director Darlin Kulla took the group assignment to heart. “We are launching our Vuelo a Mexico, a flight of four of our favorite cocktails for groups to share.” Included sips are drinks like El Suave, a take on a margarita shot through with ginger, and the Ponche de Lola, a drink with the same mango vodka base that Reginbogin fine-tunes at each of KNEAD’s restaurants, whether with gin (The Grill), bourbon (Succotash), or tequila (Mi Vida).

New to this location is a trio of increasingly specialized tequila flights. Several imported Mexican beers and more than 100 agave-based spirits (tequila and mezcal) round out the extensive spirits menu.

Breaking into the birria trend, Berry ensured that this popular dish appears across the menu. It’s available as a short rib entrée, or the spiced stewed meat can be tucked into a quesabirria (“my weakness,” says Berry) – a tortilla that’s stained ocher by being tossed in a spicy broth before being slapped on the griddle. Santibañez also draws from his Oaxacan roots for his mole negro that masterfully combines the seeds of several chilies toasted in a comal and ground into powder.

The KNEAD and Santibañez collab was a logical one: Berry and Santibañez first met while working at Rosa Mexicano almost a decade ago, and stayed in touch since. Santibañez came on to the KNEAD team to act as culinary director for the Wharf Mi Vida opening.

As an institution, KNEAD supports a host of LGBTQ causes, including sponsoring the Pride run this year and fundraising for the Trevor Project. “We do what makes sense to be part of the fabric of this community,” Berry says. “It’s important to plant our flag.” Santibañez added that when bringing on staff, the team is highly intentional. “Our staff is diverse and inclusive,” he says.

In Mexico, the phrase “mi vida” is also used as a term of endearment for close family and friends to signify love and care, which is how the owners and chef see each other, the neighborhood, and even the cuisine through Santibañez’s expression from his upbringing in Mexico City.

“14th Street is a special place. It’s the heart of the city, a gay-friendly neighborhood. We’ve always had our eye on this location. It was the right next step for our team,” says Berry. 

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Restaurants have history as places for protest

ShutDownDC solicits tips for whereabouts of anti-Roe justices

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Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the target of a recent protest at Morton’s Steakhouse. (Photo public domain)

Food is inherently political — including the spaces that serve them. Restaurants, as “third places” in the public arena (outside of home and work), are accessible and open, a convener of society. Politicians in D.C. have traditionally treated restaurants as a half-third space: a semi-private location outside of the office to conduct business, utilizing restaurants as an extension of their workspace. This public presence, however, implicitly invites the public in — and lawful protesters have taken note.

On July 6, the dimly lit downtown location of Morton’s The Steakhouse chain became a protest stakeout. According to media reports, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was having dinner at the steakhouse when protesters learned of his whereabouts, convening a small demonstration.

The gathering was put together by an organization called ShutDownDC, which has called for peaceful action against the justices who voted for the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v Wade. Politico reported that Kavanaugh may not have even seen or heard the protests, but he did leave before dessert.

And while the Supreme Court did not release a statement, the restaurant’s management was perturbed. It sent a statement to a Politico reporter noting:

“Honorable Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh and all of our other patrons at the restaurant were unduly harassed by unruly protestors while eating dinner at our Morton’s restaurant. Politics, regardless of your side or views, should not trample the freedom at play of the right to congregate and eat dinner. There is a time and place for everything. Disturbing the dinner of all of our customers was an act of selfishness and void of decency.”

The response to Morton’s plea was swift and fierce. Commentators noted that protest is enshrined in the Constitution, while the right to eat dinner is not.

Notably, Morton’s The Steakhouse parent company is owned by billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who also owns the Houston Rockets. According to The Counter, Fertitta is one of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s biggest donors, providing more than $100,000 annually since 2015. His family has given several hundred thousand dollars of donations to other Republican politicians, including President Trump.

After this protest, ShutDownDC stated on Twitter that it will offer up to $250 to industry staff for tips of the whereabouts of justices who voted for Dobbs.

This incident, however, was not the first time that citizens have engaged restaurants as a space for protest. Restaurants, as these third spaces, have offered fertile ground for previous demonstrations – especially during the Trump administration.

Washingtonian noted that one of the most infamous was against former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at Mexican restaurant MXDC in 2018 during a controversy regarding DHS and treatment of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. Several other expressions of peaceful demonstrations against Trump officials took place during the rest of his term in office. Restaurant owners themselves are not immune to taking political action – during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, many restaurants offered food and other support.

During the tumultuous conclusion to that presidency, restaurants also had to contend with the specter of aggressive action. In preparation for what would turn out to be the Jan. 6 insurrection, many restaurants and other businesses closed their doors and fortified their exterior walls. In comparison to the peaceful restaurant protests, the Jan. 6 actions turned violent, denying restaurants revenue – and leaving many fearing for their safety.

Kavanaugh, meanwhile, was safely ensconced in his steakhouse, without fear of violence. Groups like ShutDownDC will continue to “use strategic direct action to advance justice and hold officials accountable,” according to its website, supporting nonviolent action in public places.

Anthony Aligo, a gay man and owner of wine bar Barkada, noted that, “This isn’t anything new. We believe everyone should be treated with respect and believe in the constitutional right to exercise your first amendment rights.”

This most recent event reinforces that restaurants, especially those known to harbor power lunches, must contend with the possibility of this type of protest. And leaders, when they decide to go out in these public spaces, must be aware that the people they represent also can be present there as well.

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