New York chefs offer bizarre options—a centerpiece Barbie dressed in rib-eye slices! Mystery courses in total darkness! Service by ninjas! But D.C. chefs pursue more worthy directions.
Fabio Trabocchi has built an empire on his native Italian cuisine, but at the District Wharf’s Del Mar, he romances the foods of Spain, the home country of wife/partner Maria. That wish to explore reflects a current passion of master chefs, and for Fabio, now 20 years married, “Spanish cuisine is well ingrained in my DNA.”
This James Beard winner, known for luxe fare, encourages sharing, whether raw bar platters (one a silver “octopus” basin), tapas or paellas rich with lobster, mussels, calamari and Bomba rice.
Expect treats like gazpacho with passion fruit, Japanese snapper with avocado, peppers stuffed with lump crab or grilled Spanish branzino. From high-tech cellars come fine cavas, Basque country wines and aromatic Albariños. An interior design team from Barcelona has created a “Spanish villa” with a blue tile mural awash in sea creatures. Servers in Maria- designed jackets oversee the main room, alfresco cafe in the piazza and cabanas by the water.
At Maydan, cred-rich chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan play with fire. In the center of their 100-seat gathering spot, a vast former laundry, they’ve placed a rare Georgian bread oven and blazing hearth. Grilling (a trend!) sparks recipes scored during their travels “from Tangier to Tehran and Batumi to Beirut.” Re-discovered “grandmother” fare emerges as small plates and to-share entrées like turmeric-rubbed whole chicken, chermoula-crusted barramundi kebabs of tenderloin and (a Syrian refugee’s dish) pistachio-crusted lamb. Mediterranean wines enhance these options plus exotic condiments, blackened carrots, flatbread-ready dips like Armenian “Itch” (bulgur and pomegranate molasses) and a creamy pudding with nuts and apricots.
Down a well-lit alley, a door opens into a foyer and bustling bar, and a dramatic staircase leads to a mezzanine that overlooks the rightly named scene. “Maydan,” after all, means a plaza for enjoying food and friends.
Tasting his way through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Ashok Bajaj found the name for his “modern Israeli” restaurant—“Sababa,” slang for “cool.” Indeed, the 86-seat space offers desert respite with its billowing “tent” ceiling, pillows and ottomans, antique tiles, backlit screens and lanterns. Twelve can sit beneath a lattice “grape arbor” at the bar sipping cocktails like the mezcal-laced Gardens of Haifa and the Phoenician Frappe of Green Hat gin, Etrog liqueur, arak and lavender.
Mediterranean wines pair well with meats and fish in addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes. Stars of a recent meal: roasted halloumi, charred eggplant, fried cauliflower with golden raisins, shakshuka (poached egg on tomato-chili broth, see above), beets with pistachios and lamb shank with dates and citrus. Chef Ryan Moore brings to this an impressive resume— stints with chefs José Andrés and Yannick Cam plus time in Dubai and Egypt.
Robert Wiedmaier owns eight eateries but spends time, when he can, with fellow fishermen. For Siren, his first fine seafood spot, he asks international and local sources for catches unusual, lesser-known and, of course, “fresh caught.” The result: a menu and raw bar starring Australian prawns, Japanese sea urchin and Spanish barnacles as well as Chesapeake Bay eels and Alaskan white ivory salmon.
The setting’s whimsical—a nautical vibe with 3-D mermaids, cozy booths with optional curtains and a bar with a colorful mural. But Beard-winner Wiedmaier and chef-de-cuisine John Critchley bring serious focus to yellowtail crudo with citrus-pickled wood-ear mushrooms, caramelized black cod, salt-crusted branzino and sides like Vidalia onion brulée with crispy kale, country ham, pecans and peppers.
The mythical Siren lured sailors onto the rocks with her songs. This Siren lures seafood lovers with Wiedmaier’s James Beard cred, beautifully plated fish and (late Thursday to Sunday) live jazz.
The name of the city’s newest steakhouse, Rare, signals “meat” but also the restaurant’s uniqueness on two counts. First, Rare hails from Wisconsin (not New York or Texas), and its owners tout their in-house butchering and climate-controlled aging rooms. Second, the site is a dual-concept haven. At street level, a tavern serves burgers, brats, beer and oysters, its long bar already a downtown happy-hour hub. Upstairs, however, with chandeliers, white tablecloths and leather banquettes, classic service prevails, as in Caesar salad and bananas Foster prepped tableside.
Highlights: blue crab cake with avocado remoulade, lobster with black trumpets, tender filet mignon, puffy potatoes Dauphinoise and carrots with pistachios. Many nice wines come by the glass, but inventive cocktails like “Of All the Gin Joints” rule.
True to its original outposts in another capital (Madison), Rare knows how to cater to power brokers, even as it warms to regular folks. Lodged within a trade union HQ near Farragut Square, it aims for “a Midwest welcome.”