January 16, 2015

Three Hot New Openings

Super Diamond, Asaf Avidan and Spandau Ballet are all performing at the 9:30 Club. For the full concert lineup, visit 930.com.

This week saw three hot openings in downtown DC, starting with the long-awaited Mango Tree. The new restaurant from chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval and Mango Tree founder and CEO Pitaya Phanphensophon is a real looker in CityCenterDC

We snuck in for a sneak peek in the final moments before the restaurant opened on Jan. 15. A buzzy downstairs bar is where you'll warm up before heading upstairs to an expansive, attractive dining room. It's there that we snapped chef Paul Kennedy and managing director Trevor MacKenzie, who is in from Bangkok for the launch of the first Mango Tree in America. Trevor says the Thai-based restaurant group also scouted New York, Boston and the West Coast. “If you fail in New York, you can't open anywhere else,” he tells us. He continued to explain that he digs how DC is constantly reinventing itself.

Chef Paul Kennedy runs his kitchen with an accent, but it's not Thai. He hails from England, and has spent five years embracing not only Thai food, but Thai culture too. Mango Tree scooped him up in Dubai, where he was working as a chef for Formula 1 racers, among other gigs. “I've been cooking Thai so long that there's a little Thai in me.” His menu includes this tom yum soup with Maine lobster; crispy catfish with green mango salad; and, of course, various forms of satay. The restaurant is now serving dinner, with lunch coming soon.

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Date Night: A New Cozy Bar

A pint-sized Whiskey bar with a flickering fireplace and little nooks for privacy opened yesterday, just in time for couples canoodling on Valentine's Day (or the other 364 days a year you're allowed to show affection). You'll find the Root Cellar Whiskey Bar tucked under Chef Barry Koslow's Pinea restaurant in the W Washington DC Hotel. While whiskey is spotlighted, it also makes a mean barrel-aged Negroni. Nibble on snacks from Pinea's “merenda menu” with your cocktail, like well-composed platters of house-made charcuterie. Expect to see a monthly, intimate dinner series.

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What to Expect at Bakers & Baristas

A little piece of Vienna, Austria, just landed near the Verizon Center in the form of a Viennese-inspired coffeehouse and bakery dubbed Bakers & Baristas. The project is from Aaron Gordon, whom we snapped on the café's bleacher seating inspired by the nearby National Portrait Gallery. He noticed people love to sit there and take in a quick snack. The snacks at Bakers & Baristas, however, are sophisticated. “The danishes are especially extravagant and delicate, sometimes requiring 30 layers of pastry,” he tells us. “It takes so long, that's why no one does it.”

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In addition to apple, blueberry and strawberry danishes, you can treat yourself to bready butterkuchen topped with almonds, a brioche bun filled with orange blossom cream or a cinnamon snail, to name a few. Blue Duck Tavern's distinguished pastry chef, Naomi Gallego, consulted on the menu, but Lindsay Meehan will run day-to-day operations. The coffee that goes along with their treats is from local roaster Compass Coffee, which we've introduced to you. Bakers & Baristas opens Wednesday, Jan. 21, with a full lineup of pastries. Lunch sandwiches and desserts will follow.

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One Heck of a Field Trip

Crane & Turtle chef Makoto Hamamura just returned from a trip to Japan. But he wasn't alone. His team of chefs, Katy Kinch, Craig Duquette and Kyle Rubin, accompanied him to Tokyo and his hometown in the Kochi prefecture. Some have worked in sushi restaurants for years but never visited Japan. “We ate sushi just outside Tsukiji Market in Tokyo—it was what you call a blow-your-mind experience for them,” Makoto says. We snapped Craig with Makoto and Kyle during dinner Thursday night. Craig confirmed the Tsukiji Market sushi was his favorite bite from the trip.

Makoto explains the purpose of the trip wasn't so much to come home and infuse the menu with new dishes—but to educate his staff and connect them to the food they prepare. “They saw how Japanese people take care of fish, and how fresh it is; sometimes it's still moving,” he tells us. More chefs are taking their sous chefs and line cooks out into the field to inspire them and connect them to food products—few though, get to take a trip like this. You're looking at Crane & Turtle's signature hay smoked tuna tataki.  

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A Rare Duo at Poste

This is no ordinary tartare. Rather, it's goat tartare in truffle vinaigrette, pine nuts, pomme rosti, arugula and shaved Parmesan from executive chef Kyoo Eom. The starter was part of a four-course goat dinner paired with Grenache wines. It turns out both goat and Grenache have range. In the capable hands of sommelier Matthew Rancourt, we started with bubbles, progressed to a white and a red and finished the evening with a unique wine from the Rhone Valley—the 2012 Banyuls from Michel Chapoutier. Chapoutier has been printing wine labels in braille since 1996 as a tribute to Maurice de la Sizeranne—a blind French philanthropist with an attachment to the Hermitage appellation. Poste has plans for other dinners with cool spins in 2015.

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What's Cooking in Union Kitchen

Down an alley where the Union Station train tracks tangle with one another is a food incubator full of passionate artisans making everything from pizza and sipping vinegar to boozy cupcakes and fruit-based Thai hot sauce. Typically just a nerve center of kitchens—every once in a while Union Kitchen invites in the food community for happy hour. At the Jan. 9 event, we snapped the mother and daughter team behind Popcorn Queens. Like many, daughter April Wardlaw (right) maintains a day job—as an English teacher. But mom Bonnie Wardlaw is all in. “April actually got me to quit my job,” she tells us. The two sell nine flavors of popcorn online like bourbon pecan and chipotle.

Also in the house Friday was Timber Pizza Co. The mobile wood-fire pizza company is headed by Andrew Dana and Chris Brady, whom we snapped. They have a lot on tap in 2015 including the release of take-home pizza kits and a pizza pop-up dinner at Dolcezza Gelato Factory on Jan. 30. They were slicing the “Green Monster” for the happy hour, which features pesto, fresh mozzarella, feta, kale and summer squash. Find out about the happy hours by signing up for Union Kitchen's e-newsletter.

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