The moment Eric, suited in navy blue and gleaming white sneakers, welcomed me into The Lyle Hotel’s art deco lobby, I half-expected him to say, “We’ve been expecting you.” I knew we were in for a sophisticated, relaxing dinner.
I opted to get the party started so Eric ushered me to Lyle’s restaurant where I waited for my real estate pal, Josh Hedrington. We were passing through the private dining room when my eyes caught, two black, human-hand chairs – in sharp contrast to the other multiple red chairs.
Our dinner was a preamble to The Lyle Hotel’s opening last month. This newest, old hotel, stands like a neighborhood matron underneath New Hampshire Avenue’s lush tree canopy near the quirky shops of 18th, 17th, and U Streets.
The Lyle Hotel is the second U.S. property from London’s Lore Group. The hotel closed in September 2020 for a $15-$20 million refurbishment. Now, The Lyle Hotel and Lyle’s evoke the former halcyon days as the Hotel Carlyle.
As Eric and I walked past the human-hand-chairs toward Lyle’s, the anticipation was like waiting for a curtain to rise on Broadway. Enter Lyle’s and the soft lights against the white and caramel-colored banquette tables was immediately wondrous, spacious, and intimate. The vibe is reminiscent of 1950s Hollywood and Tinseltown’s celebrity restaurant scene.
Eric seated me, and on cue, Isaac, our waiter, glided by to welcome me and ask for water preferences. I settled into the plush table for six anticipating Josh’s arrival.
Moments later, he arrived, and it was time for cocktails and food.
The menu features nearly 70 wines, beer, and Lyle’s own cocktails. We each chose the Peach + Basil Collins. The surprisingly tall, cold glass of dark-lime-colored libation was hard to resist and as refreshing as the color suggested.
I expected watered-down cocktails. Au contraire. It had a surprising punch. For our second round, Isaac nudged us to sample the Lyle Smash. Its resemblance to a snow-cone made for a treat.
It was our first Lyle’s experience, so we opted for a mix of the chef’s creations.
For starters, we had the Small Plate (hardly small) of the Viking Village Scallop Crudo with jalapeno, green apple, and yuzu (an East Asian citrus); and the Spring Pea Fritter; plus a Large Plate of the Ravioli with spring onion, goat cheese, and asparagus.
The latter two were our favorites for the ravioli’s seasoning, creamy cheese center, and al-dente consistency. The Spring Pea Fritter came with a smooth hummus-like dipping sauce for the melt-in-your mouth fritters.
The listed entrées included seven meat and fish options. We chose the King Salmon with soy-ginger, Calrose rice, bok choy, and scallion, plus the fried chicken with hot honey, sunchoke, and pickled vegetables.
The chicken’s hot honey, crispy/crunchy coating made for a novel texture. The salmon’s topping reminded me of sesame seeds, adding a crunchy contrast to the smooth fish. After three starters, the entrée portions were plenty.
The chocolate hazelnut cake with caramelized marshmallow fluff and the banana bread with chocolate walnut topping completed the show. I’d return for the hazelnut cake (with ice cream).
The wait staff was the evening’s brightest star. Isaac was omnipresent without hovering, delightful, and gracious without being disingenuous. He knows his social cues. Isaac and Giovanni were impeccably attentive.
The delights didn’t end when we put down our forks. Isaac left us with a hand-written thank you note.
Then while Josh and I stood under the NH Avenue canopy, a woman walked by and asked, “Is this a hotel? Are they open? Are they serving food?”
We assured her that they are indeed open. Once we sated her curiosity, she smiled with a sense of relief and excitement — the neighborhood again has a buzzing centerpiece.
As we headed to the car, Johnny, the front-office supervisor came out to ask about our dinner. Such warmth and follow-up. The three of us chatted about the neighborhood and friends. Johnny thanked and welcomed us to return for dinner and a stay.
We’ll be back, and hope you’ll make this a regular stop. There’s no place like Lyle’s.
Tom Sommers is a D.C.-based writer, editor, and data analyst and former chair of CenterGlobal. Follow today @tomsommers1.
D.C. Restaurant Week returns
Celebrating a revitalized dining scene after COVID closures
After being confined to a to-go program for the last two iterations, Washington, D.C.’s Restaurant Week is back this summer to celebrate the revitalized dining scene in the city. Summer Restaurant Week 2021, run by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), is scheduled to kick off Monday, Aug. 9, and last through Sunday, Aug. 15.
The signature summer dining event returns to a one-week promotion this year, though restaurants have the option of extending their promotions. Diners can enjoy three-course menus at a range of indoor/outdoor comfort levels at more than 200 restaurants, ranging from fast-casual eateries to fine-dining destinations. In addition, the to-go family-style options that were introduced last year are not gone, however, as many restaurants will also offer this off-premise option. Of course, many spots plan to include a cocktail pairing as well.
Dinner is the main event for participating restaurants, with the classic three-course dinner priced at $35 per person. Several restaurants with higher overall price points are also offering an elevated $55 dinner with exclusive items. Three-course lunches run $22, and weekend brunch is also $22.
Finally, many restaurants will also offer “RW-To-Go” dinner meals, available at two price points: $60 or $120 for two people and $100 or $200 for four people.
These RW-To-Go dinner meal packages are available for takeout or delivery, and diners can order RW-To-Go either directly from the participating restaurant or check their delivery app for the offer.
D.C. restaurants remain open at 100 percent capacity, but Mayor Bowser last week reinstated mask mandates for indoor spaces.
New restaurants participating in Summer Restaurant Week include Angolo, ANXO, Flower Child, Le Sel, GATSBY, Glover Park Grill, Gypsy Kitchen, and Truluck’s in D.C.; and Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in Virginia.
“This year’s Summer Restaurant Week is not only providing diners with great options at great prices for dining out, but is also the first time all restaurants across our region are able to accommodate diners at full capacity both indoors and outdoors,” says Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. “Being fully open is a step toward recovery for the industry and also toward a return to our dynamic local restaurants in their spaces which help to elevate the dining experience.”
RAMW is the regional association representing restaurants and the foodservice industry in the D.C. Metropolitan Area. RAWM also runs the RAMMYs, the awards for the food and beverage industry.
Restaurant operators themselves reinforced how important the promotion is to them. “Restaurant Week is an opportunity for us to showcase our resilience and commitment to serving our staff and community,” says Salwa Laaraichi of Station 4.
For Eric Heidenberger, a partner at The DC Restaurant Group, which owns spots like Shaw’s Tavern and 801 Restaurant, the past year has been a challenge. But RAMW, he says, “has been very supportive to the D.C. restaurant community and a key a resource in helping us navigate the challenges of the pandemic. We’re excited to participate in the first “normal” restaurant week in almost a year and a half. Restaurant week is a great opportunity for us reach new diners and showcase new dishes to our regular/repeat customers.”
All of gay-owned Knead Restaurant + Design’s locations are participating in Restaurant Week. Co-owners Jason Berry said that he hopes that Restaurant Week “offers a way for diners to begin dipping their toe by taking advantage of these well-priced promotions. Restaurant Week brings a much-needed lift to August revenue and is especially meaningful this year as so many restaurants have been hurting these last 16 months.”
As for what’s going to be offered at his restaurants, which include Gatsby, The Grill, Mi Casa, Mi Vida, and Succotash, most of which debuted just this year, “each of our restaurants takes a unique approach to offering seasonal additions, fun new items and crowd pleasers so that all guests have something for them during Restaurant Week.”
D.C.’s restaurant scene bustling again
Western Market, range of new eateries arrive as COVID wanes
From pandemic slumber to summer awakening: the D.C. dining scene is wasting no time in opening back up after restrictions were lifted in June. Make the best of eating and drinking inside or outside with a full plate of what’s to come in summer 2021. Check out all the openings and happenings in this list:
To take in the entire dining scene, take part in Metropolitan Washington Summer Restaurant Week, running Aug. 9-15. Unlike the previous restaurant week, this will return to a focus on on-premises dining, but keep the family-to-go dinner meals and cocktail pairings for those who still want the takeout or at-home experience.
In Barracks Row, Crazy Aunt Helen’s is a new spot from a veteran in the D.C. food industry. The all-day casual comfort food and diner-style spot is run by first-time owner and former marketing director of lesbian-owned Hank’s Oyster Bar, Shayne Mason. Images of icons like Jackie Kennedy line the wall, with dishes like fried chicken, house-cured pastrami Reubens, and mushroom “crab” cakes.
The Line Hotel closed two of its restaurants during the pandemic, but is now set to open No Goodbyes. It will serve Chesapeake-based dishes, with crab cakes as the star. Fried chicken and catfish will also be on the menu.
Replacing the B Too spot in the heart of 14th Street will be Maiz 64, an upscale Mexican spot to highlight small-batch mezcal. It is a “modern homage to authentic Mexican cuisine,” that uses local ingredients. Check out the ceviche raw bar, as well as the creative taco bar with creative options like charred broccoli mole and suckling pig with pork rinds and avocado.
On the wharf, the enormous Ilili brings elegant Mediterranean-Levantine cuisine to D.C. “with a New York attitude” as it is the second spot outside of its first Manhattan location. The chef tops labneh yogurt with Petrossian roe, and stuffs kibbeh with steak tartare.
Just north of U Street, taking over the vacant former Quarter & Glory space, will be St. James. The owner and chef is Peter Prime, who currently runs Cane on H Street, N.E. (Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant). He is now overseeing this sister project with a much larger footprint. Named for a city in his home country of Trinidad, the restaurant brings flavors from across the Caribbean through Prime’s modern lens.
In Adams Morgan, a pop-up brings Bolivian cocktails and street food courtesy of Carla Sanchez and her brother. Called Casa Kantuta, the pop-up runs until Aug. 8 in the bottom level of the Spacycloud restaurant-shop. Bartender Luis Aliaga slings drinks using Andean ingredients and inspiration with fun names like the Angry Llama.
Just north in Adams Morgan is Shabu Plus. In the same building as Death Punch Bar and Shibuya, the same owners (Chef Darren Norris and wife Candice) bring a Japanese hot pot experience. Diners start with a choice of one of three broths, plus vegetables, and the order meats like wagyu and lobster tail by the ounce.
Over in Shaw, the former Bistro Bohem space is set to be refreshed as Quattro Osteria. The owners, originally from Naples, bring an Italian flair, with well-known and modern dishes and drinks.
In Foggy Bottom, a huge new marketplace called Western Market will open later in the fall. The 12,300-square-foot space will transform a historic market, originally built in 1802, into a hall with more than a dozen food and beverage vendors. Taste everything from lobster rolls to sushi to arepas, and even sub sandwiches from Shaw’s Capo Deli.
Chef Alfredo Solis already has three Mexican restaurants (Anafre, El Sol, Mezcalero). His next venture travels farther afield in the form of Mariscos 1133 on 11th Street. Mariscos 1133 celebrates the coastal cuisine of the entire continent of communities, with inspiration from California, Pero, Mexico, and beyond. Diners can expect dishes like Brazilian moqueca (fish stew), ceviches, and with a nod to the local, a spin on crab cakes.
Gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design’s latest opening is Mi Casa in Dupont Circle. Inspired by Chef Roberto Santibañez’s years living in Texas and his Mexican heritage, Mi Casa’s “border cuisine” concept aims to marry Mexican, TexMex, and the American Southwest.
Hungry now? Get a taste of restaurants that opened during the spring:
Las Gemelas Cocina. This dual-concept restaurant in La Cosecha brings a casual taco bar as well as an upscale sit-down Mexican menu. It comes from the operators of Espita in Shaw.
The Point. This enormous seafood restaurant anchors new development in Buzzard Point, near Audi Field. Crab doughnuts are the star, plus lots of fish and lobster rolls. It’s run by the owners of Ivy City Smokehouse and Tony & Joe’s.
Dauphine’s. This elegant homage to cuisine from New Orleans brings not only a raw bar (for seafood) but a boucherie, a whole-pig butcher style of service popular in Cajun cooking. Casual dishes like po’ boys are offered next to headcheese and caviar.
La Famosa. This Navy Yard spot channels Puerto Rico through a relaxed, waterside vibe and lots of fried plantains and rum.
Makan. This Malaysian restaurant in Columbia Heights narrows Southeast Asian dishes to hone in on this particular country. Taste the unripe mango salad, as well as the pandan leaf that appears in both drinks and dishes.
Caruso’s Grocery. This homey Italian spot by Matt Adler (from Osteria Morini) is set near the Potomac Avenue Metro. A deep wine list accompanies dishes like burrata, shrimp scampi, and chicken Parm.
Chicatana. This Mexican restaurant lands in an area of 14th Street of Columbia Heights with several other Mexican eateries nearby – but has a twist. It’s named for a type of ant used in traditional Oaxacan cuisine, tossing a couple tiny crunchy ants (similar to chapulines, or grasshopper) on anything from ceviche to cocktails. The menu, instead of focusing on tacos, offers a broad and modern take on Mexican food.
Lupo Pizzeria. This 14th Street location comes from the same group as Lupo Verde. Lupo Pizzeria offers a menu of elevated Italian street food, Italian cocktails, and lots of bubbly. The signature from the chef is pizza made with handmade black squid-ink dough.
After pandemic, local gay restaurateurs thriving at Knead
Berry, Reginbogin plan to open several new spots in coming year
At the outset of 2020, D.C.-based Knead Hospitality + Design founders and co-owners (and partners for more than 20 years) Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin envisioned big plans for their rapidly expanding realm of restaurants across the D.C. area.
“In March 2020, however, we thought that we were going to lose everything,” Reginbogin says.
Today, Knead has recovered, and then some. In the context of the sweep of more than 100 restaurant closings in D.C. since then, Berry and Reginbogin pulled out four restaurant openings, with several more planned for the rest of this year alone.
Not since the (somewhat slower) growth of Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup has the city seen a locally based firm with a diverse set of concepts open so widely. Andres launched the first Jaleo back in 1993; his ThinkFoodGroup now runs 10 restaurants in D.C., plus stalls at Audi Field.
Yet Berry and Reginbogin promise that it’s not size that counts. “Biggest isn’t always best. We want to be the best operator in the city for the types of restaurants we offer.”
This spring’s opening of glitzy-retro diner Gatsby speaks directly to Reginbogin’s vision for that “our restaurants are experience-driven. They focus on the visual as much as the food and beverage offerings.”
Gatsby, located in Navy Yard, is a direct outgrowth of Berry’s belief that “like the Roaring ‘20s after the Spanish flu, there’s all this pent-up demand…. People will want to celebrate life, and they want to be part of that return to society,” he says.
In 2014, Berry served as COO for the Rosa Mexicano Restaurants, and Reginbogin had been working as director of operations for other large brands like B.R. Guest Restaurants, TAO, Milos, and Sushi Samba. After living in cities like Los Angeles and New York, they decamped for Washington, D.C., a city they’d visited dozens of times for work, with an idea of creating their own style of dining experience.
Both having attended the University of Southern California, the two met on AOL in their early 20s and started dating soon after. They have worked in the restaurant industry for their entire careers.
“D.C. is a beautiful, diverse city,” says Reginbogin, “but of all the cities we had lived in, we felt there was the most opportunity in D.C. The growth of the restaurant industry has been because of a welcoming regulatory environment as well as a city of quality, unique, and amazing restaurants. We want to surround ourselves with peers who are of the same philosophy.”
He says that they felt at home, welcomed “both professionally but also personally.” To further connect them with the LGBTQ community, the pair ensured that they were prepared for Pride month, setting up drink and food specials at their restaurants, with proceeds going to LGBTQ organizations.
“There was always the question of being able to both live and work with your partner,” Berry notes, “but because we excel at different areas, it works out. Our background in the restaurant industry gives us the perspective on how the restaurant should be constructed.”
When Berry and Reginbogin plan each new concept, they first analyze its urban and social geography. By understanding the restaurant’s space, interior and exterior, they put together a concept and then a menu (often along with a celebrity chef) to follow. But they also target specific parts of town.
“We tend to favor neighborhoods that are not reliant on one demographic for attracting a guest base,” says Reginbogin. “We tend to open where we can establish roots…. The pandemic taught everyone that it’s easy to lose a prized group of guests. You don’t want that one type to be the only guest you attract.”
This outlook led them to Navy Yard, the Wharf, and Penn Quarter, among other neighborhoods.
When they kicked off in 2015, opening Succotash in National Harbor, they invested some of their own capital, raised money from friends and family, and took on loan debt. “Our newer big restaurants are roughly $6-7 million projects. We are also opening smaller restaurants that cost significantly less, in the $2 million range,” said Reginbogin.
As of June, Knead operates five other concepts: Succotash, Mi Vida, The Grill, Gatsby, and Mah-Ze-Dahr, which abuts Gatsby and is run by baker Umber Ahmad, a 2019 James Beard semifinalist. They also run four quick-service stands inside Swingers, the massive adults-only minigolf concept out of London that just opened in Dupont Circle. Berry promises there is more to come in 2022 and beyond.
Knead’s other planned openings this year include Bistro du Jour, Mi Casa, another Succotash location in Penn Quarter, and another Mah-Ze-Dahr by the new Amazon HQ.
Back to Gatsby, the glam atmosphere showcases the group’s focus on space and design as much as menu. As the location is across from Nationals Stadium, the two envisioned an all-American restaurant. Yet the interior and atmosphere did not express to them a stereotypical diner with an Airstream and laminate-covered booths. Instead, the two visualized the swinging, Art Deco style of the 1920s when diners started to become popular. As it translates to plating, this means the overflowing bowl of pasta that might appear on a multi-page diner menu is lightened and elegantly served; the Caesar salad is vegan. No detail is spared, from soaring ceilings and retro prints to translucent silver plates with textured patterns.
“We want people to eat with their eyes,” Berry concludes. “Everything is important: the lighting, music, tableware, even the restrooms. If everything looks good and feels good, then everything tastes better, too.”
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