Celebrity chefs and hometown heroes have opened some stylish digs of late, ones that (for the most part) scuttle tablecloths and dress codes. No matter their worldly recipes and credentials, these chefs give an affectionate nod to American cuisine and regional sources. One clear indication of their fresh confidence and inventiveness? The ubiquity and many guises of the hamburger.
The 2010 Iron Chef, restaurateur (a dozen plus venues now), James Beard 2009 Best Chef Mid-Atlantic and author of two cookbooks, Jose Garces brings D.C. the warmth—social and literal—of Argentina. At Loews Madison Hotel, his new Rural Society steakhouse stars meats and fish grilled on a nine-foot parilla over quebracho hardwood. The name evokes an annual livestock show in Buenos Aires, so no surprise early visitors tout the Uruguayan rib eye with Malbec butter and pork tenderloin with provolone. But Garces and exec chef Louis Goral think beyond the beef to pasta like ham and cheese stuffed raviolis, pizza and sides like hand-cut fries with smoky aioli. Happy hours at the marble-top counter feature Argentine lager alongside local beers, wines (mostly South American) and cocktails zinged with herbal tea, Fever Tree tonic, vanilla-chili sugar syrup and even American Coca-Cola.
Joe's Seafood and Steak
A century ago in Miami, Joe and Jennie Weiss set up tables on their front porch and, by the 1920s, sent out the crab legs, harvested (sustainably) one claw at a time. Today, in Chicago, Vegas and now steps from the White House, the luxe descendants of that enterprise serve legs from an upscale menu at Joe's, in clubby atmosphere, with fine service and wise sommeliers. The spectacular interior of a former downtown bank yields a soaring “saloon,” a subdued (yes, tablecloths and tuxedoed waiters) dining room and, up a dramatic staircase, private party spaces with their own bar. At lunch and happy hour, find full menu or light fare and slightly lower price points, but the more formal room offers evenings of some elegance. One recent span of tastings: from cocktails (a Whiskey Cobbler and Pimm’s Cup) to a Sonoma Flowers pinot noir, from stone crab claws (note: 1922 mustard) to a 16-ounce New York strip and lump crab-stuffed shrimp, rich sides like potatoes Lyonnaise and, of course, Joe’s legendary pumpkin chiffon pie.
The man who 100 years ago oversaw the conversion of this city’s muddy cesspools to a clean water system would be pleased. In his namesake spot, a sparkling glass of “Chateau Potomac” is now the server’s first pour. Soon enough stiffer drinks and “honest food” here demand respect—wines from Virginia, Maryland, Spain, France and female (!) vintners, 18 bourbons, an array of beers and 13 whiskeys like a George Dickel single barrel. In a spacious, clubby room below street level, discreet TVs glow above the step-up bar, while cylinder lights illuminate tables and banquettes. In any zone of Boss Sheperd's, dishes prove chef Jeremy Waybright lives up to his name: “way-good” oysters fried or shucked, crab (lump blue) cakes, chicken pot pie fritters with sausage-sage gravy, house-cured corned beef, North Carolina trout with grits, lard-crackling chicken with three sauces and chocolate-pecan “mud” pie. Then, of course, The Hamburg—a merger of chuck, short rib and brisket on brioche.
DBGB Kitchen & Bar
Welcome back, Daniel Boulud! The Lyon native arrived here at 25 (in 1982) and within two hours, went to work in the kitchen of the late, great Jean-Louis Palladin. After two years as private chef to a European Union count, he left for New York, fame and an empire (Vegas, London, Canada, Singapore) capped by three Michelin stars (Manhattan’s contemporary French Daniel). At CityCenterDC he’s opened, with much good press and fanfare, an outpost of his New York brasserie DBGB, the name a likely homage to a nearby punk club on Bowery Street. Now the acronym’s variously decoded—Daniel Boulud Good Burger (credit him, as he does, with the serious elevation of that staple 20 years ago)? Or is it Gastronomic Bistro, a staffer’s more recent but satisfactory notion?
Whatever the intent, Boulud promises face time (he has a daughter here), even though Ed Scarpone, alum of DB Bistro near Times Square, moved here to oversee the French DNA-meets-American signatures: calamari with pickled peppers and kaffir lime sauce, in-house sausages like boudin Basque, Black Angus steak (hanger, tartare), The Frenchie of beef with pork belly and morbier cheese, the suckling pig feast (for eight) with 48 hours notice and Baked Alaska flambéed with kirsch. Among nods to D.C., well Maryland: a flounder entrée, a crab-rich croustade and a burger that stacks the meat with, yes, blue crab. Diners choose between the see-in-from-H Street Bar Room and a dining room where open shelves hold wine bottles, stems and ceramic plates designed by other, well-wishing chefs. (New York has a gallery of pots and utensils, gifts from pals like D.C.’s own José Andrés, Patrick O’Connell and Michel Richard.) Where’s own interview and shoot with Boulud make all the camaraderie and respect understandable.
On the restaurant-rich main drag of Shirlington (in Arlington, Virginia), words on a window make this stop’s mission clear—Farm to Table. Chef Allan Javery brings French Culinary Institute savvy, a New England childhood and Asian sojourns to Copperwood Tavern's locally sourced menu: pecan-crusted trout, poached lobster claw atop wild mushroom risotto, pork chops with apple chutney, brussel sprouts with fried onions, chili-rubbed osso buco and in-house ice creams. Equal billing goes to bar master Boris Stoj-kovic (it’s a “tavern,” after all), who grew up in his Serbian family’s coffee shop. He puts seasonal ingredients to syrups and mixers for drinks like Commonwealth Mule (vodka and ginger-lime) served in a copper mug. He stocks 20 drafts, 30 small-batch whiskeys, 40 wines and 10 kinds of moonshine, but he’s creative with cocktails, taking inspiration, he says, from classic bar recipes and music by The Doors. Wood barn walls, knotty roof beams and a pendant canoe set a nostalgic country scene.
Macon Bistro & Larder
With b&w family photos and floral pattern wallpaper, vintage mirrors and a menu that says “supper,” diners have the right to bet on soulful cooking at Macon Bistro & Larder. And they win: deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes with pickles and cobblers served in Mason jars. The name of this spot in a Chevy Chase D.C. arcade signals not just chef-owner Tony Brown’s hometown in Georgia but a sister city in Burgundy. Expect a southern garden party that morphs to bistro, thanks to the dual personality of Brown’s culinary CV. So equipped, he brokers fortunate marriages like a Beaujolais and scallops lapped by a beurre rouge sauce or a rich granache/syrah blend and fork-tender short ribs with stone-ground grits. In the kitchen, Mike Matis oversees baked-to-order Essie’s biscuits, charcuterie boards, chicken with collards, sides like brussel sprouts in a glaze of black strap molasses, Gigi Mama’s coconut cake and the coffee praline sundae.
In April on a corner near Dupont Circle, the sidewalk buzzed with burly guards and women in LBDs with guest list clipboards. The rep of its siblings—The ONE Group’s club scenes—had preceded the gala-crush opening, and indeed happy hours and late nights now matter here. But the surprise: an exec chef named Marc Hennessey who brings his cred to the notion that a steakhouse with an inventive menu can co-exist with a sexy-sleek lounge.
Order STK's steak in three sizes and toppings like foie gras butter and King crab. Other star dishes: tuna tartare with avocado on taro chips, lil’ burgers of wagyu beef on sesame buns, chili-rubbed rack of lamb with pea purée, short rib with cipollini, lobster Cobb salad and a mini ice cream cone sampler. The central bar (its illuminated wall with surreal sculpture) anchors the action, whether the prix-fixe weekday lunch, á la carte Sunday brunch (bottomless cocktails and a DJ) or the dinner hours. Cocktails tempt with names like Green Intensity (Absolut elyx with lime, basil and jalapeno) or the District Darlin’ (thyme honey and apple pie moonshine).
America Eats Tavern
José Andrés refers to America Eats Tavern as the reincarnation of his D.C. pop-up (2011) as “2.0.” And it does honor the same mandate: serving “lost” dishes that tell America’s culinary history, the subject of vintage cookbooks this super-chef passionately collects. Now his exec chef Nate Waugaman puts a worldly spin to those old receipts—pickled oysters (New York, 1700s), flaky-top chicken pot pie (1805) and crawfish jambalaya (1853). Then he riffs on Buffalo chicken wings (1964), blackened scallops (Paul Prudhomme, Louisiana, 1984) and the soft-shell crab sandwich (in 2013, voted Maryland’s state sandwich 43-1). Newly sworn U.S. Citizen Andrés also pays tribute to American beverages—the indigenous cocktail, light to full-bodied bourbons and Virginia wineries from Middleburg to Monticello. Tucked into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Tysons Corner (McLean, Virginia), the restaurant has the look of a folk art museum with its ceiling flag, old signage and whimsical touches like a wall of bike handles. The menu encourages “travel through time,” an idea now made even easier with the Metro’s new Silver Line stop here.
James Beard-winning Boston chef Michael Schlow has opened Tico, a seriously fun place on 14th Street. First impact: the space itself, gold mosaics at the bar, a carpet-stenciled ceiling and (by artist-wife Adrienne) soaring free-spirit murals and portraits in hallucinogenic colors. Second impact: a cocktail like the chili-meets-pineapple Papa Made Bail or the hibiscus margarita or the ale from Tico’s tequila barrels, all served smoothly by a handsome staff. But remember that Beard award. Food’s the charm, after all, and delicious—ceviches like scallops with green onion pico and crispy rice, manchego with pomegranate-honey sauce, cabbage salad (yes, cabbage) with salsa verde and almonds, calamari with ancho-lime aioli, chorizo with chimichurri and duck tacos with four heat-level sauces. Small plates rule, but entrées no doubt win—a bacon-cheeseburger, “pressed” chicken, skirt steak with cabo sauce. Exec chef George Rodrigues makes the picks for groups who “Can’t Decide?”—Kind of Hungry, $35 a person, Forgot to Eat Lunch, $55 or Full On Tico Experience, $85. Sounds fun.