To keep tabs on every D.C. restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Let’s eat.
As we slide into summer, the dining scene in D.C. is abuzz with new openings, many of which bring much yearned-for foreign lands right to your doorstep. From Spanish comfort food fare to must-see Mexican culinary spectacles, from the arrival of a high-end seafood chain to the rebirth of an old Italian standby, here’s where we’re most excited to eat this month.
You’re here because … You’re an oyster-tarian (read: a vegetarian or vegan who eats oysters — and yes, it’s a thing), or you’re just excited to see this fine-dining plant-forward restaurant from Estadio owner Max Killer and ex-Hazel chef Rob Rubba finally come to fruition after three years in the making. And who could blame you? Last year, the pair rolled out a takeaway menu boasting many of the house-made ferments and ultra-local ingredients they always planned to use at this 35-seat restaurant. Now, it’s finally time to see the full extent of what this team can do.
You’re dining on … The $70 “micro-seasonal” tasting menu of local, sustainable produce culled from some of DC’s best (no greenwashing, guaranteed). Root and Marrow, Karma Farms and Moon Valley Farms are all on speed-dial, here; even the cooking oil comes from non-GMO Pennsylvania sunflowers. The menu understandably changes all the time, but it might include a carrot “steak” with grains, eggplant schnitzel or poached kohlrabi with summer squash and chanterelles (mushrooms — both oyster and otherwise — are frequent fliers here). The menu can be tweaked to be vegetarian, vegan or oyster-tarian, the latter including environmentally beneficial oysters from the Chesapeake. An optional wine pairing ($55) combines sustainable wines or local cider.
1440 Eighth St., NW
You’re here because … You don’t want to have to go to New York to experience José Andrés’s Spanish comfort food fare, and now that Spanish Diner — a spinoff of the chef’s spot in NYC’s Little Spain food hall — can be found in downtown Bethesda, you don’t have to. Within this vibrant, colorful space from Spanish architect Juli Capella, you’ll find a 48-seat patio and an assortment of both high and low tables that not only provide excellent opportunities for continued social distancing but also give the space an upscale food court feel.
You’re dining on … An assortment of Spanish snacky bites like olives, boquerones, and cured meats and cheeses, as well as fare Andrés himself grew up with, like arroz a la Cubana with eggs and tomatoes. Heartier options include the stewed lentils the chef fed his family during lockdown as well as Madrid-style callos with tripe or smoky fabana beans with morcilla (read: blood sausage) and spicy chorizo. For the offal-averse, the deceptively simple olive oil-fried “broken” eggs over crispy potatoes are the perfect choice. Pair with an upscale play on the Coke-and-red-wine kalimotxo (yup, it’s a thing) that here gets a grownup makeover with orange and artichoke liqueurs.
7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda
You’re here because … You’re ready to lean back and let someone else do the grilling — and you’re ready for a spectacle! This grill-focused Mexican dining room has a dramatic appeal, with its wraparound bar and a rustic, wood-burning hearth. It’s the ideal stage upon which to witness the tableside tequila flambage of the tomahawk ribeye for two.
You’re dining on … Chef Carlos Camacho’s modern Mexican fare, with shareable starters like a tuna tartare tostada or grilled oysters with smoky chipotle and bacon relish. Tacos run the gamut from crispy shrimp with pickled onion to short rib with chile de arbol peanut sauce, while the house iteration of fajitas dresses up the classic with wagyu beef. Pair with a tequila flight or one of four different house margaritas.
476 K Street NW
You’re here because … You’re ready to see how Paolo Sacco made lemonade and, during a year’s closure, revamped this 20-year-old D.C. dining staple, formerly a stalwart of lobbyist business lunches. The new Tosca is far more relaxed than its former iteration, with a new chef – second-generation Italian-American Phil Marzelli, formerly of Casa Luca — and a new vibe.
You’re dining on … A brand-new, seasonally-driven dinner menu that toys with the more classic offerings this spot was once known for. Now, a dish of pappardelle with morels and ramps sits side-by-side with Hamachi crudo or whole grilled Dover sole. If you’re feeling adventurous, sidle up to the new chef’s tasting counter, with its $135 six-course menu. And fans of the old Tosca need not worry — a few stalwarts, like short rib agnolotti, remain.
1112 F Street NW
Mt. Vernon Triangle
You’re here because … Maybe you’ve visited one of this upscale seafood chain’s other outposts in Houston or Chicago or La Jolla. Or maybe you’re just drawn to the appeal of cocktails, crab, and clams in the “stone crab lounge.” Either way, you’re pumped to grab one of the 400 seats at this splashy restaurant and dig into some spectacular seafood.
You’re dining on … a blend of classic seafood apps like jumbo shrimp cocktail or lump crab cakes, as well as a few innovative choices like salt and pepper calamari with Vietnamese chili sauce or crab tarama salata. Mains include New England pan-seared scallops with olive oil and lemon or miso-glazed seabass. And of course, as at the restaurant’s 11 other outposts nationwide, when Florida crabs come back into season, they’re sure to be a house specialty.
700 K St., NW, Suite 70