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In the February 2016 Issue

No Reservations


Is the Wait Worth It For In-Demand Hotspots?

by Michael Coleman

“No Reservations” isn’t just the name of Anthony Bourdain’s former show on the Travel Channel; it’s the hottest trend in Washington’s booming restaurant scene.

Patrons hoping to score a table at the nationally renowned Rose’s Luxury on Capitol Hill start lining up about mid-afternoon or earlier, even though the restaurant’s doors won’t open until 5 p.m. Show up after five and expect to wait in line, put your name on a list and then wait some more — sometimes for several hours.

Rose’s, as well as many other in-demand restaurants that don’t take reservations, estimates your seating time and promises to text when your table is ready. That leaves diners a choice: have a drink at the restaurant bar (if there is one), cool your heels at a neighboring bar, go home and wait or run an errand or two. The policy rankles some, but the restaurants say it gives more people a chance to dine without making a reservation that could take weeks to honor. It also puts more customers in the limited seats. We’ve been to Rose’s several times and generally feel the culinary payoff is worth the hassle.


In the January 2016 Issue


Festive Lunches


Delectable Midday Breaks Also Offer Holiday Respite

by Michael Coleman

The arrival of the December holiday season has us thinking about leisurely lunches that allow us to unwind with friends and colleagues in cozy settings with delicious food and ambience to spare.

There are plenty of these types of restaurants scattered across Washington, from Georgetown to Dupont Circle to Penn Quarter and beyond. As the chill of autumn set in, we visited three such establishments to see how they measured up at lunchtime. Two of our choices are relatively new or have recently been reborn on the D.C. dining scene, while the third is a well-established eatery that we hadn’t visited in several years.


In the December 2015 Issue

Festive Lunches


Delectable Midday Breaks Also Offer Holiday Respite

by Michael Coleman

The arrival of the December holiday season has us thinking about leisurely lunches that allow us to unwind with friends and colleagues in cozy settings with delicious food and ambience to spare.

There are plenty of these types of restaurants scattered across Washington, from Georgetown to Dupont Circle to Penn Quarter and beyond. As the chill of autumn set in, we visited three such establishments to see how they measured up at lunchtime. Two of our choices are relatively new or have recently been reborn on the D.C. dining scene, while the third is a well-established eatery that we hadn’t visited in several years.

In the November 2015 Issue


Suburbia Adventure

Hidden Ethnic Gems Offer Taste of Exotic Next Door

by Michael Coleman

In the second installment of The Washington Diplomat’s globetrotting, two-part series on ethnic dining, we visit Bolivia, Yemen and Thailand by way of three suburban restaurants that stay true to their culinary roots.

As we explained in this space last month, The Diplomat — inspired by George Mason economics professor Tyler Cowen and his indispensable ethnic food blog — has been scouring the Virginia and Maryland suburbs in search of the most authentic and affordable ethnic eateries. While the District of Columbia certainly has its share of delicious international fare, we’ve found that some of the most exotic cuisine is found at lower price points — and with less pretension — in the suburbs. Last month, we had mostly good and entirely authentic experiences with Moroccan, Mexican and Burmese food.


In the October 2015 Issue

The Real Deal

Out-of-the-Way Ethnic Hotspots Offer Authentic Experiences

by Michael Coleman


If you want decent ethnic food in Washington, D.C., you don’t have to look far.

Restaurants within the relatively small borders of the District of Columbia span the globe. But if you want truly authentic, even exotic food at a fraction of the price you’ll pay in the city — and if ambience isn’t a high priority — you must visit the sprawling Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor who maintains an indispensable online ethnic dining guide in his spare time, knows this well. Cowen’s extensive reference tool contains short entries on often-obscure ethnic restaurants ranging in nationality from Belgian to Bolivian, Laotian to Lebanese, Uruguayan to Uzbekistani and beyond.

I stumbled across Cowen’s guide last February as I searched for a bright meal to offset the dreary doldrums of an endless Washington winter. I’ve returned to his free online resource many times in the months since, almost always to my satisfaction. So, in tribute to the adventurous foodie/economist, during the months of October and November, The Diplomat will devote its own food pages to exploring a half-dozen of his most intriguing suggestions. Our first three robust dinners each came in at under $50 for two before tip — a figure that’s hard to duplicate in the District.

In the September 2015 Issue

H Street Adventure


Revitalized Corridor Comes Alive With Fresh New Restaurants

by Michael Coleman

It’s been more than a decade since the District of Columbia launched its much-hyped revitalization of the H Street corridor in the northeast section of the city.

Although the return of streetcars to H Street has been beset by delays, 10 years into the major urban renewal project, the long-dilapidated thoroughfare has come a long way as a nightlife hub, with a slew of bars, beer gardens and music clubs catering to eclectic tastes. But until recently, H Street has remained a ho-hum dining destination. A couple of important restaurant openings in the past six months have helped turn H Street into not only a fun place to party, but also to enjoy a daring, flavorful meal.

In the August 2015 Issue

CityCenter Branches Out

Fig & Olive, Mango Tree Inject Welcome Flair to Washington

by Michael Coleman


When construction began four years ago on CityCenterDC, the posh, mixed-use development in downtown Washington, some of us were a bit skeptical about the upscale chains announced as part of the restaurant roster.

Sure, the prices at well-established eateries such as the Dallas-based Del Frisco’s and New York’s STK would allow the recruitment of capable chefs and quality ingredients, but would the new restaurants offer anything beyond standard fare done well? With the openings of international Thai powerhouse Mango Tree in February and the Mediterranean-inspired Fig & Olive in June, the answer appears to be yes.

In the July 2015 Issue

Hot Kitchens

Chefs Soak Up Summer With Seasonal Flair

by Michael Coleman


The mere phrase “summer in Washington” tends to elicit groans and grumbles accompanied by mental images of high temperatures and hellish humidity.

But thankfully, the Washington region’s steamy summers do offer a significant upside: restaurant menus packed with locally sourced fruits, vegetables and seafood that thrive in the region’s verdant climate and myriad waterways. No matter what type of cuisine one is craving — from American to Asian to Eastern European and beyond — chances are good that an area chef is serving it up using fresh, local ingredients.

This month, let’s globetrot to three different area restaurants that showcase summer in all its culinary glory. And since it is July, when that most American of holidays known as the Fourth of July occurs, we’ll start close to home with American cuisine, followed by French and Italian.


In the June 2015 Issue

Andrés’s Latest Journey

Peru, Japan, China Collide In Dizzying China Chilcano

by Michael Coleman


Step into China Chilcano, José Andrés’s trendy new Peruvian-Asian restaurant in Penn Quarter, and it immediately feels like a night on the town — and around the world.

A swirl of vibrant colors, inviting aromas and a buzzy, upbeat vibe envelope you, creating a sensory “wow” factor that is unrivaled in D.C.’s dynamic dining scene. Even better, the cheerful hostess informed us that our reserved table was ready when we arrived — no cooling our heels over expensive drinks at the bar, which seems to be the modus operandi at many upscale eateries these days.

While it’s tempting to describe China Chilcano as a fusion restaurant, prolific restaurateur/celebrity chef Andrés apparently resists that label. There is, in fact, a historical correlation between Asian and Peruvian cuisine.

“In late 19th century, Chinese and Japanese settlers traveled to Peru and made it their home, bringing with them the time-honored cooking traditions that sparked the beginning of the rich multicultural offering that is Peruvian cuisine,” a glance at the dinner menu informed us.


In the May 2015 Issue

Natural Pioneer

Pouillon Recalls Going Organic, Before Everyone Else Did

by Michael Coleman


When chef Nora Pouillon opened the now-iconic Restaurant Nora near Embassy Row in 1979, she received some friendly advice from Sally Quinn, the consummate D.C. socialite and wife of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

“She told me don’t say the word ‘organic’ — it sounds like a biology class,” Pouillon recalled with a smile during an April 8 press luncheon for her lively new memoir “My Organic Life: How a Pioneering Chef Helped Shape the Way We Eat Today.”

Of course, today “organic” is widely considered the gold standard in dining and nutrition — so much so that the term has almost become passé. The food trend has become a multibillion-dollar international business and something of an obsession among particularly health-conscious, educated consumers. Pouillon, who grew up in the Austrian Alps and later moved to Vienna before landing in Washington as a young chef, is now among the nation’s most celebrated and respected purveyors of organic food. In addition to being a local dining destination, Pouillon’s restaurant was the nation’s first certified organic restaurant, meaning that at least 95 percent of all ingredients used are produced by certified organic farmers, growers and suppliers.

In the March 2015 Issue

Life’s a Beach

Summer House Santa Monica Brings West Coast Warmth to D.C.

by Rachel G. Hunt


On a cold and dreary February day, when it seems like winter might go on forever, who hasn’t fantasized about escaping to the tropics? Last month, chefs and partners Jeff Mahin and Francis Brennan tapped into the fantasy, brilliantly exploiting the winter doldrums by opening a California beach-inspired restaurant, Summer House Santa Monica, in the Pike & Rose development complex on Rockville Pike in Maryland.

It is a delightful antidote to gray skies and winter blues. The restaurant is light and airy with high ceilings and wide-open spaces. Lots of white paint, pale and golden woods, wicker furniture, bright lights, hanging plants and living walls of potted herbs (that will be spectacular when the plants get bigger) create an atmosphere that will transport you, if only for a few hours, to an oasis free of muddy boots, road salt and Arctic blasts of cold air.

In the February 2015 Issue

Grown Up

Gardner’s Mighty Pint Matures into Second State

by Rachel G. Hunt


Located on the block made famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) by the local watering hole Sign of the Whale, the Mighty Pint recently closed up shop and ditched its frat-boy look for a suit and tie.

Restaurateur Reese Gardner recently abandoned the Mighty Pint’s sports bar concept in favor of the more mature, cuisine-focused Second State. His restaurant group, the Wooden Nickel Bar Company, celebrated the first anniversary of its other farm-to-table eatery Copperwood Tavern in Shirlington, Va., last fall by opening Second State in the M Street rowhouse location.

Gardner looked homeward for the inspiration behind his newest restaurant venture in the D.C. metro area (two more are pending for early in 2015). A native of Altoona, Penn., Gardner pays homage to his home state, the second to ratify the U.S. Constitution (hence the restaurant’s name), by featuring a variety of seasonal, farm-to-table American dishes with a Pennsylvania twist.

In the January 2015 Issue

Family Style

Trabocchi at Home in Latest Italian Creation, Casa Luca

by Rachel G. Hunt


Since returning from New York a few years ago, chef Fabio Trabocchi has been busy doing his part to reestablish the preeminence of Italian cuisine in the D.C. restaurant world, reviving a star that had dimmed with the closing of Galileo and Teatro Goldoni.

His first solo venture, Fiola, which opened in 2011, has garnered numerous accolades and awards. Though less formal than Maestro, the upscale Tysons Corner restaurant that Trabocchi helmed when he earned a James Beard Award for best Mid-Atlantic chef, Fiola has entered the galaxy of its estimable predecessors. It has matured out of its original trattoria conception into an elegant destination, perfect for celebrating a special event. Fiola’s evolution left empty the niche for a simple, less expensive concept that could fill everyday dining needs (although “everyday” does not imply mundane, something Trabocchi’s food can never be accused of being).

To fill the void, Trabocchi opened Casa Luca in the space on New York Avenue left vacant by the premature closing of Againn gastropub. A victim of a neighborhood in transition, Againn was caught between its desire to be a casual eatery while also attracting high-end diners with touches like private scotch lockers. Ultimately, the idea proved unworkable. In opening Casa Luca, Trabocchi avoided the pitfalls of that contradictory approach by rejecting the pretensions that weighted down its predecessor. His formula for the restaurant is based on the Italian osteria, a casual establishment centered around wine and simple food, the kind of restaurant you can bring the family to for Sunday dinner. (We applaud Trabocchi and designer Peter Hapstak’s decision to reuse some of the interior finishings of Againn rather than throwing them in the dump.)


In the December 2014 Issue

Del Frisco’s on the Pike

Big Texas Taste Comes To Big New Development

by Rachel G. Hunt


A few months ago, the Texas-based Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group continued its national expansion by opening the second of its Del Frisco’s Grilles in the area, and the first in Maryland, joining the group’s other concept restaurants, Double Eagle Steak House and Sullivan’s.

Double Eagle, in fact, recently opened a steakhouse in the massive CityCenterDC luxury complex in downtown D.C. Likewise, Del Frisco’s Grille opened in a large new development project that’s also trying to modernize and transform the face of its respective neighborhood — this one in a part of Maryland long dominated by big box stores and drab strip malls.

The new Del Frisco’s is the first commercial tenant to open in Pike & Rose, one of those huge mixed-use complexes that are springing up along Rockville Pike, in what promoters call the “repikealization” of the area.

Del Frisco’s is big, Texas style, with a total seating capacity of 250, including 27 at the bar and 54 outside seats. The design theme, a play on urban industrial, is handsome and understated with gray walls, rich wood architectural features, polished concrete floors and accents of red in the seating, lighting and scant carpeting. When crowded, the design fades into the background, but early in the evening, it easier to appreciate what the designers have done with the space.

In the November 2014 Issue

Quiet Revelation

Comfy Nage Makes Itself At Home in Washington

by Rachel G. Hunt


Since opening in 2006, Nage in the Marriott Courtyard Embassy Row has been quietly building up a local following among diners looking for good food at reasonable prices in a comfortable, casual bistro setting.

Nage, a younger sister of the popular Rehoboth Beach eatery of the same name, has seen a number of changes since opening. Last year, owner Josh Grapski transformed the smallish space by replacing the rather staid and slightly oppressive red-and-beige color scheme with a lighter, more contemporary look. Reclaimed barn-wood walls sport patches of living moss, while light earth colors are illuminated by Edison light bulbs that give the space a cheery glow and a more relaxed feel.

Staff has changed along the way as well. In January, Dwayne Motley joined the team as executive chef, replacing Miles Vaden. A Washington native, Motley spent the last decade honing his skills in New York working under several renowned chefs. His experience cuts across international cuisines and shows up in his choice of ingredients and the ease with which he imports techniques to create his essentially American dishes.


In the October 2014 Issue

Bullish Prospects

Toro Toro is Sandoval’s Latest Latin Fusion in D.C.

by Rachel G. Hunt


Earlier this year, Richard Sandoval, the award-winning international restaurateur/celebrity chef who has built a global culinary brand while treating D.C. diners to his contemporary version of classic Mexican cuisine, opened Toro Toro, a pan-Latin steakhouse with a sister restaurant in Dubai. In fact, Sandoval, a former tennis player, has 30 restaurants under his belt from Serbia to Qatar. Toro Toro joins his growing local empire alongside other popular Sandoval staples such as Zengo, Masa 14, El Centro and Ambar.

The restaurant takes its name from the Spanish word for bull and from the Japanese word for the fatty underbelly of the blue-fin tuna that figures prominently in sushi, reflecting its Latin, and subtly Asian, underpinnings. In creating Toro Toro, Sandoval looked south of his roots in Mexico City to tap the cuisines of Central and South America. He merged a Latin-steakhouse concept with a small-plate approach reminiscent of Masa 14 (the Latin-Asian restaurant he owns jointly with master sushi chef Kaz Okochi), helping it stand out among several other steakhouses that have opened in D.C. recently.


In the September 2014 Issue

Ripple Makes Waves

New Chef Racks Up Accolades, Keeps Neighborhood Mainstay Fresh

by Rachel G. Hunt


It has been a banner year for Cleveland Park’s Ripple, with nods from local and national groups alike. The little restaurant just across the street from the Uptown Theater opened back in 2010 as a wine bar. This year, it won the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s RAMMY Award for its wine program, as well as a RAMMY for best upscale casual restaurant of the year, a sign of Ripple’s evolution and all-around appeal.

Like all good businessmen, owner Roger Marmet, a former executive for The Learning Channel with no previous restaurant experience, did his homework before opening Ripple in a potentially risky location — several well-established spots are within a stone’s throw (and several have closed). Looking carefully at the attributes of successful ventures in the area, he put together a casual concept that incorporates local and seasonally sourced ingredients, eco-friendly wines, house-made charcuterie and unusual cheeses, a winning recipe that has not only endured but also thrived. With its combination of whimsy and solid performance, Ripple’s stature has grown as a comfortable neighborhood restaurant and as a destination in its own right.


In the July 2014 Issue

Real Thai

Soi 38 Serves Up Authentic Bangkok Street Food Classics

by Rachel G. Hunt


All over town, chefs are taking it to the streets in brightly colored food trucks to ply their wares to hungry officers workers and tourists, but Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip reversed the trend when they brought classic Thai street food to Soi 38, the elegant new restaurant they opened in April.

There is a long tradition of excellent street food in Thailand, and Sukhumvit Soi 38 — a side street in Bangkok after which the restaurant is named — is one of the city’s most renowned late-night market and street food districts. There, locals and visitors alike gather around rickety tables after conventional restaurants close to sample authentic Thai dishes until the wee hours of the morning.


In the June 2014 Issue


Personalized Republic

Jeff Black’s Latest Restaurant Pays Homage to Quirky Takoma Park

by Rachel G. Hunt


Jeff Black, cofounder and chief of Black Restaurant Group (roles he shares with his wife Barbara Black), has a genius for knowing his audience. One after another, he has opened (and reopened in some cases) restaurants carefully tailored to the local population of each new neighborhood. His newest location, Republic in downtown Takoma Park, Md., is no exception.

The restaurant is designed with the city’s nonconformist eccentricities in mind, from the name Republic — an allusion (perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps sincere) to the little village’s fierce independent streak — to the funky décor, to the menu that offers sustainably sourced fish, local produce and a bigger selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes than his other locations. Black’s uncanny ability to capture just the right tone to reflect and reinforce the character of his location has produced a place that is as interesting and appealing as Takoma Park itself.

In the May 2014 Issue

Down Home in D.C.

Southern-Inspired Carolina Kitchen Lends Creativity to Comfort Foods

by Rachel G. Hunt


Spring has finally sprung and, despite the mid-April burst of chilly temperatures, believe it or not summer is just around the corner, with its long, hot days and warm evenings perfect for picnics and barbeques. Just in time, chef-owner Lance London has opened up his first D.C. location of the Carolina Kitchen in the Rhode Island Row complex in Brentwood, NE.

London’s Southern cooking-inspired Carolina Kitchen concept has been picking up steam after an initial setback in 2003 when the first restaurant, a carry-out in an office building in downtown Silver Spring, Md., fizzled out. He reopened two years later in Largo, Md., followed by another Carolina Kitchen in Hyattsville, Md., that’s twice the size of the Largo restaurant.


In the April 2014 Issue

Suburban Sustainability

Groundbreaking Founding Farmers Cultivates Loyal Following in Maryland

by Rachel G. Hunt


Back in 2011, the new Potomac Park development project just off Route 270 in Montgomery County, Md., became the suburban proving ground for a successful downtown D.C. concept restaurant that had been redefining high-volume dining since it opened in 2008.

Founding Farmers, the inspiration of the Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, tapped into the growing fascination with local and seasonal ingredients and other eco-friendly practices that were increasingly driving high-end boutique restaurants in the area. Pairing sustainable sourcing with a focus on the farm and a down-home approach to cooking, Founding Farmers emphasizes classic comfort foods built entirely from scratch. While the idea was not new, the fact that it was done on a large scale and at a price point that made it widely accessible was. The success of its second location in a sprawling suburban complex overlooking the highway confirms the durability and transportability of the concept.

In the March 2014 Issue

Donna Doubles Down

Acclaimed Chef Goes Casual For Piedmont-Inspired Alba Osteria

by Rachel G. Hunt


In December, restaurateur Hakan Ilhan and chef Roberto Donna joined forces again to open another Italian concept eatery, Alba Osteria, which is nearly double the size of their other restaurant, Al Dente, but smaller in price, with a more laidback menu inspired by Italy’s Piedmont region.

In 2012, Al Dente (originally called La Forchetta) was named one of the 20 best new restaurants in America by Esquire magazine, which also recognized Donna as its chef of the year. Alba is another step in the restoration of Donna’s reputation after years of legal and financial woes and reveals the culinary genius that made him one of the leading chefs in the area when he presided over Galileo (arguably the best Italian restaurant ever in the District) and roughly a dozen other successful restaurants since coming to D.C. in the early 1980s.

In a shift away from Donna’s usual formal style, the partners based Alba on the osteria model. More casual than a trattoria, osterias began as places to drink the local wines while munching on simple fare but gradually evolved to emphasize the food as well.

In the February 2014 Issue

New DC Noodles

Pollert Uses Temporary Shutdown To Expand His Pioneering Concept

by Rachel G. Hunt


After the presidential inauguration of 2009, Sak Pollert shut down Simply Home, his U Street establishment that paired Thai cuisine with a boutique featuring home furnishings, gifts and fresh flowers. But he didn’t abandon the unusual concept altogether.

Like all smart businessmen, he reassessed his market and decided to rework the concept. What emerged was one of the earliest and best upscale Asian noodle venues in the area. A vanguard in the trend that has been growing steadily since 2009, DC Noodles kept a few successful items from the Simply Home menu but shifted the focus from Thai cuisine to a more pan-Asian approach based almost exclusively on the remarkable versatility of this humble carbohydrate.

Then, over a year ago, construction of a massive redevelopment project on the southwest corner of 14th and U Streets called Louis forced DC Noodles and Stem (the retail portion) to close temporarily. Once again, Pollert had the opportunity to take stock of what he had and where he was going. At the end of November, DC Noodles reopened like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

In the January 2014 Issue

Flood of Possibility

Ma Makes Smart Career Move With Arlington’s Water & Wall

by Rachel G. Hunt


Over the past few decades, Washington has seen the comings and goings of chefs with impressive culinary pedigrees as it has developed into a serious restaurant town. Older chefs who have been cooking their entire professional careers stand shoulder to shoulder in the local pantheon of culinary luminaries with celebrity chefs and hot-shot newbies whose lives revolve around food.

Recently, a new type of chef is joining their ranks. The area is welcoming chefs who began their professional careers in entirely different fields but could not ultimately resist the pull of the kitchen. These are not hobbyist restaurateurs. They are savvy individuals who study the industry before diving in to make sure they understand what is required for success. Some have gone on to receive formal training, others have joined the teams of established ventures, while others have jumped right in by opening their own spot, though they frequently partner with seasoned professionals.

In the December 2013 Issue

Slice of Everything

Italian Global Brand Piola Churns Out Pizza, Plus So Much More

by Rachel G. Hunt


Weekend brunch options in Columbia Heights got a little more continental this summer when Piola, the newly opened D.C. branch of a well-established Italian pizzeria brand, began offering an endless pizza special.

The brunch is a happy solution to one of the biggest problems with Piola: trying to figure out what to order. There are so many enticing options from a menu that offers 44 varieties of pizza, 11 pastas and a healthy sampling of salads, meat courses and small plates. Given extra time and a big appetite, the weekend brunch offers a hearty taste of what Piola is all about.

And what it’s about is, of course, pizza — but this is so much more than a simple pizzeria, although simplicity is part of its charm.

The brunch menu includes smaller versions of many of the same pizzas as the regular menu, such as the Capricciosa — a balanced combination of ham, artichoke and mushrooms on a thin bed of tomato sauce and mozzarella — as well as other breakfast-themed varieties such as the Cancun, which features smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers on a traditional base. Bottomless sparkling drinks and sangria (for an extra charge) can make for an extra enjoyable, and lengthy, weekend outing. If you miss the brunch, Piola also offers a daily L’Aperitivo Italiano, a happy hour when guests can sample complimentary small bites of whatever the chef feels like whipping up, along with discounted drinks.

In the November 2013 Issue

Thally Throwback

Tanaka’s Refined Food Pays Tribute to Shaw’s Relaxed Roots

by Rachel G. Hunt


An appealing new addition to the rapidly developing Shaw neighborhood opened at the end of the summer under the watchful eyes of executive chef Ron Tanaka and his longtime friends and partners, general manager Sherman Outhuok and Paolo Sacco. The co-owners, all well-established professionals in the Washington area restaurant scene, bring a balanced pedigree to Thally.

The new 70-seat restaurant is the culmination of Tanaka’s distinguished career that began in the pantry of Morrison-Clark Inn in the mid 1990s and includes a string of stints with such local notables as Michel Richard’s Citronelle, Frank Ruta’s Palena and Eric Ziebold’s CityZen. Tanaka’s individual talent emerged when he took on the executive chef spot at Cork Wine Bar and later revived the flagging New Heights, earning it a spot on Washingtonian’s 2012 list of “100 Very Best Restaurants.”

In the December 2013 Issue

Slice of Everything

Italian Global Brand Piola Churns Out Pizza, Plus So Much More

by Rachel G. Hunt


Weekend brunch options in Columbia Heights got a little more continental this summer when Piola, the newly opened D.C. branch of a well-established Italian pizzeria brand, began offering an endless pizza special.

The brunch is a happy solution to one of the biggest problems with Piola: trying to figure out what to order. There are so many enticing options from a menu that offers 44 varieties of pizza, 11 pastas and a healthy sampling of salads, meat courses and small plates. Given extra time and a big appetite, the weekend brunch offers a hearty taste of what Piola is all about.

And what it’s about is, of course, pizza — but this is so much more than a simple pizzeria, although simplicity is part of its charm.


In the November 2013 Issue

Thally Throwback

Tanaka’s Refined Food Pays Tribute to Shaw’s Relaxed Roots

by Rachel G. Hunt


An appealing new addition to the rapidly developing Shaw neighborhood opened at the end of the summer under the watchful eyes of executive chef Ron Tanaka and his longtime friends and partners, general manager Sherman Outhuok and Paolo Sacco. The co-owners, all well-established professionals in the Washington area restaurant scene, bring a balanced pedigree to Thally.

The new 70-seat restaurant is the culmination of Tanaka’s distinguished career that began in the pantry of Morrison-Clark Inn in the mid 1990s and includes a string of stints with such local notables as Michel Richard’s Citronelle, Frank Ruta’s Palena and Eric Ziebold’s CityZen. Tanaka’s individual talent emerged when he took on the executive chef spot at Cork Wine Bar and later revived the flagging New Heights, earning it a spot on Washingtonian’s 2012 list of “100 Very Best Restaurants.”


In the October 2013 Issue

Inventive Cooking

Friedman’s Newton’s Table Is Apple of Bethesda’s Eye

by Rachel G. Hunt


In 2011, diners in Bethesda, Md., welcomed the opening of Newton’s Table, the first solo venture of one of its hometown boys, chef Dennis Friedman. A Montgomery County native, Friedman’s beginnings in the industry were humble, waiting tables at Ledo Pizza in Bethesda. That didn’t last long. Getting the cooking bug, he embraced a culinary career rather than the law career he’d originally intended to have.

After finishing his training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Friedman worked with renowned chef Daniel Boulud at Boulud’s eponymous restaurant in New York City. He soon returned home, however, to cook in Washington at Kinkead’s and Citronelle, under Michel Richard. Friedman got his chance to take on a leadership role when he became chef and co-owner of Bezu Restaurant in Potomac, Md., and he hasn’t looked back since.

In the July 2013 Issue

Fabio, Simplified

At Fiola, Maestro Wunderkind Comes Down to Earth With Heavenly Creations

by Rachel G. Hunt


When Fabio Trabocchi returned to Washington in 2011, it was to open Fiola, the first restaurant of his own. The location was significant. It was the spot where Bice once operated, and where he began his career in Washington. The goal of Fiola, a modern upscale trattoria, was to use traditional Italian dishes, many of which Trabocchi learned as a child growing up in Le Marche (a heavily agricultural region of Italy on the Adriatic Coast), as a springboard for his modern adaptations.

The chef was laden with accolades for his modern interpretations helming Maestro, the ultra haute restaurant in the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton. He was named Food & Wine magazine’s best new chef in 2002, chef of the year in 2005 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, and the James Beard Foundation’s best chef in the mid-Atlantic in 2006. In 2007, he left Maestro to open Fiamma in New York. Despite earning high praise from critics, and changing the menu to make it more broadly accessible, the primary owner closed Fiamma to open another concept in the space.

Some initial reactions to Fiola suggested that Trabocchi did not reach the same pinnacle that he’d achieved guiding the kitchen of the acclaimed Maestro. But he had returned from New York with a lesson learned from the economic downturn — that even a much-lauded restaurant can be too expensive to survive. And the Maestro model was an exorbitant one.

In the June 2013 Issue

Starr Attraction

Le Diplomate Parisian Bistro Cozies Up to D.C. Diners

by Rachel G. Hunt


Philadelphia’s prolific and eclectic restaurateur Stephen Starr opened his first D.C. location recently in an old dry cleaner’s building on 14th Street in Logan Circle. It has been fascinating to watch the transformation from impersonal industrial to cozy French bistro over the past several months — a credit to Starr’s instincts and imagination. In fact, he only decided what kind of restaurant he would open after he had found the empty space while touring Washington.

The decision seems to have paid off: Le Diplomate is generating buzz and business as a Parisian haven in Washington, D.C.

Starr turned to Shawn Hausman, who’s designed the interiors of several of his other restaurants, to bring his vision for Le Diplomate to life. Hausman and colleague Jessica Kimberley scoured France for artifacts and have brought together a pleasing assemblage of pieces that recreate the feel of an authentic French bistro, notably the large zinc bar.

In the May 2013 Issue

Grandmother Russia

At Mari Vanna, Hospitality Complements Hearty Fare

by Rachel G. Hunt


Eating out in Washington got a little cozier — Slavic style — in January when Mari Vanna opened downtown. Defying the minimalist and industrial chic trends that have been prevalent in the area for some time now, Mari Vanna’s delightfully overstuffed interior surrounds visitors with chintzes and china. Chandeliers, Russian tchotchkes, bookshelves, old family photos and comfortable worn rugs combine to create the feeling of being in someone’s dining room. And that’s the whole point.

Mari Vanna was a mythical Russian grandmother who invited weary travelers into her home and fed them traditional dishes and drinks before sending them on their journeys. The restaurant recreates this legend of Russian hospitality embodied in Mari Vanna in a 6,500-square-foot eatery on Connecticut Avenue. Patrons are welcomed warmly by staff and shown to tables where heavy dark bread made with dried fruits, fresh green onions and radishes, with salt and oil for dipping, arrive to satisfy the hungriest and heartiest of travelers.

In the April 2013 Issue

Hidden Garden

Jardenea’s Farm-to-Fork Approach Checks in to Rejuvenate Melrose Hotel

by Rachel G. Hunt


There is a well-kept secret in Foggy Bottom. Tucked away in an inconspicuous corner of the newly renovated Melrose Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, Jardenea is a talented newcomer that’s plating out beautiful and flavorful dishes for lucky hotel guests and local diners who have discovered the secret.

When Remington Hospitality Services undertook its distinctive revamp of the Melrose Hotel near Georgetown, they set out to create a restaurant that matched the elegantly chic new feel of the boutique property. To do that, they brought in a team from their One Ocean Resort and Spa in Atlantic Beach, Fla. Culinary Director Ted Peters and executive chef Nate Lindsay, previously from Azurea, the acclaimed restaurant at One Ocean, hope to repeat their success in Washington by making Jardenea a refuge for hotel guests and a destination dining spot for area residents.

Though newcomers to D.C., Peters and Lindsay are well versed in the slow food paradigm prevalent in Washington fine dining. They describe Jardenea’s farm-to-fork take on the concept as “inventive, current and conscientious.” (Jardenea derives its name from the French word for garden, jardin.)

In the March 2013 Issue

Balkan Modernization

At Ambar, Serbian Native Re-Imagines Hearty Fare Through Modern Filter

by Rachel G. Hunt


In January, Ivan Iricanin opened his first restaurant in D.C., Ambar, finally realizing his wish to give Washington-area diners a chance to sample the cuisine of his native Serbia. Knowing that Balkan cuisine — especially in its purest traditional form — might be too much for American palates, even in an internationally savvy city like Washington, Iricanin decided to give his menu a modern twist.

Iricanin had help from his partner chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval and friend and colleague Kaz Okochi. The team that created the popular restaurants Masa 14 and El Centro have been successful at introducing new cuisines to the area and knew what they had to do with Ambar.

To create the right menu, last summer Iricanin took a tasting trip to the Balkans, where he immersed himself in the cuisine while looking for the right staff to lead the kitchen. He discovered a creative young chef in Belgrade who was already reinterpreting traditional Serbian dishes through a modern filter at his restaurant Mala Fabrika Ukusa (which translates to Little Factory of Taste). The team invited chef Bojan Bocvarov to take on the challenging job of transforming the protein-rich, fat-laden cuisine of Serbia and the Balkans into dishes that would be accessible to American diners.

In the February 2013 Issue

Impressive Range

Voltaggio Migrates to Chevy Chase With Emporium of Specialties

by Rachel G. Hunt


Locally grown celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio has returned to the Washington area with Range, his new venture in Friendship Heights that gives diners a chance to discover what Frederick, Md., has been enjoying since Voltaggio left Charlie Palmer Steak in 2008 to open Volt, his first solo venture in his hometown.

A year later, he and his brother Michael were the finalists on Bravo TV’s hit show “Top Chef,” catapulting both to culinary fame. Michael took the title of “Top Chef,” but Bryan certainly hasn’t done too badly for himself. The James Beard Award nominee continued to rack up awards and acclaim for Volt, which put Frederick on the dining map (also see “After Four Years of Fame, Volt Still Energizes Historic Frederick” in the August 2012 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

Also See: Civil Cigar Lounge is a rare treat, offering up one of the few premium cigar lounges in the entire area.


In the January 2013 Issue

Buben Branches Out

New Woodward Eatery Earns Well-Deserved Spot at the Table

by Rachel G. Hunt


For almost two decades, chef Jeffrey Buben has helped shape the D.C. dining scene. With the opening of Vidalia, his lauded Southern-infused modern American restaurant in 1993, Buben set a high standard early on for fine dining in the District.

With an almost obsessive reputation for quality, Buben led Vidalia from one accolade to another, garnering practically every major culinary award the area has to offer. Following on Vidalia’s success, Buben opened Bistro Bis in 1998 to almost equal acclaim. Located in the Hotel George, the contemporary French restaurant quickly became a Capitol Hill fixture. For the next 15 years, Buben and his staff turned in consistently superior performances at both locations, along the way training several young chefs who went on to make names for themselves, including Peter Smith of PS 7’s, Eric Ziebold of CityZen, and R.J. Cooper of Rogue 24.


In the December 2012 Issue

Tight Ship

Geoff Tracy Applies Statistician’s Eye To Replicate Success of Chef Geoff’s

by Rachel G. Hunt


In September, Geoff Tracy expanded his growing culinary imprint with Chef Geoff’s Rockville, bringing his hard-nosed business approach that has built up a string of successful area restaurants to a location that could use it. Chef Geoff’s Rockville fills a void in the old space that once housed Houston’s restaurant for many years, and more recently was the site of the defunct British gastro pub Againn Tavern.

The expansion of Tracy’s evolving dining empire to the Maryland suburbs (there are two other Chef Geoff’s in Washington, D.C., and one in Tysons Corner, Va., as well as Lia’s in Chevy Chase, Md.) will introduce Rockville diners to the casual-fine dining formula, dictated by exacting standards, that has made his other restaurants popular hotspots.

In the November 2012 Issue

Busy Isabella

‘Top Chef’ Vet Adds Bandolero To Growing Local Empire

by Rachel G. Hunt


Chef Mike Isabella is a busy man — and a growing brand. Not that long ago, the tattooed “Top Chef” contender turned D.C. culinary restaurant phenom was dishing out Mediterranean tapas at Zaytinya under the watchful eye of José Andrés. But since his last appearance on Bravo’s proving ground for aspiring celebrity chefs in 2011, Isabella has opened two unique concept restaurants — Graffiato and Bandolero — and has two more in the works (the Greek-themed Kapnos and a sandwich spot called G).

He’s also got a new cookbook and just last month was designated a State Chef as part of the State Department’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership program (see story). His new title added a few embassy stops and outreach meetings with restaurant owners and vendors to his recent trip to Greece and Turkey, which he took to conduct research for one of his upcoming projects.


In the October 2012 Issue

Going Whole Hog

At the Pig, No Animal (Part) Is Left Behind

by Rachel G. Hunt


When founders David Winer, Antonio Oquendo and Josh Hahn created EatWell DC in 2003, they wanted to give local residents good and affordable dining-out options in Logan Circle and the surrounding area, options they believed were sorely lacking at the time.

Beginning with Logan Tavern, the group expanded to include Commissary and the Heights, also bringing Winer’s previously owned Grillfish into the fold. While the company keeps growing, the opening of its newest place, the Pig on 14th Street just north of Logan Circle, represents a departure, and downsizing, of sorts.

The Pig is a cozy neighborhood spot that’s smaller than other EatWell establishments — seating only 80 diners (with another 15 at the bar). It’s also more of a concept-driven destination than its sister ventures, which focus more broadly on American cuisine.

But that doesn’t mean the Pig is any less ambitious — quite the opposite. It goes whole hog, literally.

In the September 2012 Issue

French Fixture

La Côte D’Or Brings Café Coziness to Virginia

by Rachel G. Hunt


Just off Route 66 in a rapidly transitioning area on the Falls Church-Arlington border sits a squat little building that looks a bit out of place amid the recent development. The building is the home of La Côte D’Or Café, a cozy, romantic spot for a special occasion or just an excellent meal. Though it’s been a long-time favorite of many loyal patrons, the French eatery remains relatively unknown to those outside of Northern Virginia.

La Côte D’Or is the inspiration of Raymond and Lynne Campet. Veterans of the D.C. restaurant world, the Campets sold their enormously popular French restaurant on Capitol Hill, La Brasserie, in 1992 to open a new restaurant closer to home.


In the August 2012 Issue

Electrifying Run

After Four Years of Fame, Volt Still Energizes Historic Frederick

by Rachel G. Hunt


Nestled on the piedmont of Catoctin Mountain, Frederick is a charming small city in Maryland that has a long, rich history, as well as a bright future. Since it was laid out as a town in 1745 by German settlers less than 50 miles north of Washington, D.C., Frederick has played an important role in Maryland’s history, serving as a strategic crossroad between east and west, north and south. So perhaps it is not surprising that it should be the birthplace of a pair of talented young brothers destined to establish themselves as important players in the evolving contemporary American fine dining movement.


In the July 2012 Issue

Wine and Dine

The Curious Grape Satisfies Both Oenophiles and Foodies

by Rachel G. Hunt


When the owners of the Curious Grape wine shop lost their lease in May last year, they were faced with both a challenge and an opportunity. After 10 years in Shirlington, Va., during which time they garnered praise as one of the Washington area’s top wine shops and venues for private wine tastings, they wanted to find a new location in Shirlington Village that would be convenient to loyal customers. Changing space gave owners Suzanne McGrath and Katie Park, both of whom hold certifications from the Society of Wine Educators, the chance to bring to life an idea that had been percolating for some time.


In the June 2012 Issue

Nightclub with Taste

Lima Broadens Its Base With Latin-Asian Fujimar

by Rachel G. Hunt


Washington’s pulsating nightlife scene is usually more flash than substance when it comes to the food, but every once in a while, culinary quality shines through the glam.

In February, local hospitality entrepreneur and promoter Masoud Aboughaddareh reopened the restaurant at his popular K Street nightclub Lima. With a new concept and design, Fujimar intends to up the culinary stakes and broaden its young club-going customer base with a nouveau Asian-Latin theme.

In developing the menu, executive chef Raynold Mendizabal explores how Asian immigrants to Latin America may have adapted their cuisine to the new ingredients and culture they encountered. (Diners familiar with the former Lima’s menu will see some continuity between the new and old menus.)


In the May 2012 Issue


Casual Comeback

Can Low-Key La Forchetta Resurrect Roberto Donna?

by Rachel G. Hunt


The much-acclaimed and much-talked-about chef Roberto Donna has returned, once again, to Washington, D.C. Joining forces with Hakan Ilhan, a highly successful local restaurateur, Donna has taken the executive chef role at La Forchetta, an Italian trattoria in the Spring Valley neighborhood on the edge of American University’s campus.

When Donna left the area after Galileo III, his highly touted comeback venture, shuttered last fall amid widely reported legal and financial troubles, it looked like it would finally be the end of an era marked by incredible highs and lows. A protégé and partner of iconic chef Jean-Louis Palladin, Donna himself was responsible for developing many of the area’s top chefs in his various kitchens.

In the April 2012 Issue

Madison’s Rebirth

The Federalist Harkens Back To Different Time — Sometimes

by Rachel G. Hunt


When the iconic Madison hotel was purchased last year by Atlanta-based real estate investment firm Jamestown Properties, the new owners set out to restore the property to its former glory as the hotel of choice for statesman, politicians and celebrities alike. The plan included a complete makeover of the interior and a new restaurant that would link the hotel to its historical referents.

It was the latest reincarnation of a hotel that seemed to be experiencing an identity crisis of sorts — the type that periodically afflicts many of the city’s historic properties as they find themselves tugged by the desire to preserve their traditional appeal on the one hand, while keeping up with the changing times on the other.

In particular, the Madison, opened in 1963, has sometimes struggled to balance its historic character with its modern leanings (most evident in the building’s contemporary façade), but a $20 million renovation seems to have struck the right blend of old and new.

In the March 2012 Issue

Acacia Act II

New Chef Rejuvenates Casual But Creative Bistro

by Rachel G. Hunt


Acacia Bistro and Wine Bar is the type of place that you might drive or walk by time and again before you even realized it was there. A small spot, seating only 60 people in the dining room and eight at the bar (95 with outside dining area), Acacia takes advantage of its corner location on Connecticut Avenue and Yuma Street with huge windows on two sides that let in plenty of light, even on drab winter days. The sidewalk seating expands the space significantly and is a lovely spot for clement days any time of year.

In the February 2012 Issue

Intoxicating Elisir

Fine Dining is in the Details At Enzo Fargione’s New Eatery

by Michael Coleman


A decade ago, Penn Quarter was a culinary wasteland; today, it’s pure gourmet glitz.

With gentrification, cheap Chinese takeouts faded as Oya and Sei began serving up sumptuous sushi and sultry ambience. Rasika showed us Indian food could be saucy and chic. Proof seduced with upscale comfort food, bold wines and big buzz. Today, neighborhood chef Michel Richard is even trying to make meatballs cool.

Penn Quarter’s ongoing evolution has sparked intense interest in the downtown restaurant scene. But unfortunately, a refined dining experience can be hard to find amid all the hype.

In the January 2012 Issue

Lucky Route 13

Charlotte Hotel in Onancock Offers Delectable Eastern Shore Escape

by Rachel G. Hunt


Wintertime in Washington, especially after the holiday madness winds down, can be a bleak, even boring time. But that’s all the more reason to venture out of town for a short daytime excursion. Local getaways are not only for the prime spring and summer months — they also make for nice wintry escapes, especially when there’s good food at the end of your destination that offers a welcome change of pace to D.C.’s frenetically ultra-trendy dining scene.

Blink twice though and you may miss the turn off Route 13 that takes you west and back through time to the small former colonial tobacco port of Onancock, Virginia. Located at the southern end of the Delmarva Peninsula, Onancock sits on a small area at the head of Onancock Creek

In the December 2011 Issue

Fame and Substance

Mike Isabella’s Graffiato: ‘Top Chef’ Recognition with Jersey Italian Roots

by Anna Gawel


Photo: Jessica Latos

The Blacks are back with their fifth restaurant, continuing with the quality, seafood-driven concept that’s earned Jeff and Barbara Black local acclaim while venturing into new territory: the trendier urban confines of downtown D.C. The husband-and-wife chef-owners behind Black Restaurant Group, responsible for BlackSalt, Black’s Bar and Kitchen, Black Market Bistro and Addie’s, have churned out another gem with a bright future in Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and the separate bar space Black Jack along 14th Street in Logan Circle.

Having hewn closer to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in suburbs such as Bethesda and Rockville, Md., Pearl Dive marks the Blacks’ first foray into a more up-and-coming downtown locale. Up-and-coming though is a clichéd description of Logan Circle, which in recent years has firmly established itself as a destination in its own right, very much in the youthful bohemian spirit of the U Street or H Street corridors.

In the October and November 2011 Issues

Rachel Hunt’s Dining column is on a temporary haitus and will return in December.

In the September 2011 Issue


Fame and Substance

Mike Isabella’s Graffiato: ‘Top Chef’ Recognition with Jersey Italian Roots

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

In June, the Chinatown/Penn Quarter transformation continued with the opening of chef Mike Isabella’s first restaurant, Graffiato, in an abandoned print press building on 6th Street. After three successful years as the executive chef of Zaytinya under the direction of José Andrés during which time Isabella’s work garnered much critical acclaim, and two stints on television in Bravo’s popular show “Top Chef,” Isabella has turned his attention to a project that allows him to explore the possibilities of the traditional Italian cooking he learned from his grandmother growing up in New Jersey.

Using a small plates concept, Isabella has designed a menu that brings together influences from his prior work in New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as his travels where he mastered the nuances of Latin, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine.

In the August 2011 Issue

Hearty Cheers

The Queen Vic British Pub Adds Royal Fun to H Street

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

The evolving Atlas District, heart of the H Street corridor revitalization in Northeast, became a bit more spirited this spring with the opening of the Queen Vic British pub. The brainchild of Ryan Gordon and his British wife Roneeka Bhagotra, as well as partner Kevin Bombardier, the Queen Vic is named after a pub in the long-running British television soap opera “EastEnders.”

Like its namesake, the Vic gives guests a glimpse of this storied English tradition, offering them first and foremost a comfortable spot to — what else? — drink. The Queen Vic’s drink list features more than 30 beers from Great Britain as well as a few Indian varieties that pair nicely with the curries on the menu.For the more adventurous, the Vic offers beer and hard cider-based cocktails that are nothing if not inventive. Noel’s seduction, a bizarre concoction of Guinness, Kahlua and Frangelico, is dark, rich and makes a perfect dessert if you forgo the more solid options.

In the July 2011 Issue

Savvy Business

901: Von Storch’s Latest Venture Is Smart Addition to Penn Quarter

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

Washington’s Penn Quarter neighborhood continues to evolve as one of the area’s premier dining destinations with the opening of 901 Restaurant and Bar. Located at 9th and I Streets across from the Washington Convention Center, 901 is the first upscale venue for developer David von Storch, owner and president of Urban Adventure Companies Inc., the group responsible for the Capitol City Brewing Company as well as an expanding D.C.-based Vida Fitness.

Through his latest restaurant, von Storch aims to offer diners the kind of high-end experience that typifies his other ventures. To achieve the look, he turned to Stoneking/ von Storch Architects, his brother Stephen’s Virginia-based company, as well as Hallock Design Group out of Miami to create an industrial chic space that is stunningly eye-catching.

In the June 2011 Issue


Healthy Appetite

Seasons 52 Satisfies With Fresh, Affordable, Filling Food

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

Seasons 52, a Florida-based chain noted for its fresh and healthy cuisine, opened its 17th restaurant — and the first located in the Washington area — last month, just in time for the “quick let’s get fit for the summer” season that’s suddenly upon us. After months of being wrapped in heavy sweaters and stoking the fires with rich, heavy comfort food to stave off the cold, appetites turn to lighter fare. And Seasons is the perfect place to feed that need while staying fit.

As the name suggests, Seasons has a menu that is reworked four times a year to reflect seasonal availability, while adding new dishes weekly to capture ingredients at their peak of flavor and quality — inspired by the fresh appeal of farmer’s markets that generally last 52 weeks a year (hence the second reference in the name). The Seasons 52 concept, which originated in Orlando in 2003 with the opening of the first Seasons, pairs the trend of seasonal-based freshness with the growing desire to eat well while still feeling well about it.

In the May 2011 Issue

Soul Searching

Michel Richard Ventures Into Virginia Carrying Echoes of His D.C. Restaurants

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

Michel Richard has been wooing Washington diners since he launched Citronelle in 1994, his flagship restaurant that immediately took hold and catapulted Richard — and in the process, Washington, D.C. — from national to international acclaim. Richard’s particular brand of California-nuanced French (or is it French-infused California?) was new to the area and set the watermark for fine dining that emphasized lighter and more creative dishes with a dash of humor.

Following the success of Citronelle, Richard eventually separated from his other ventures in California to make the East Coast his base, opening a second D.C. restaurant, Central, in 2007. Joining the ranks of celebrity chefs wishing to offer diners a more accessible venue to taste their wares, Richard designed Central along the bistro line and developed a menu that included classic yet casual foods such as burgers and fries, fried chicken, mussels and ribs. While the palate is very different, the approach to the food is much the same, whimsy in conception and design, with devout seriousness paid to the execution. Central has indeed been noted for offering the quality and consistency of its much pricier cousin.


In the April 2011 Issue

Reliable Source

Newseum Restaurant Delivers Puck the Chef, Not the Celebrity

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

Being stuck in airports several times this winter, I had idle time to consider the ubiquity of the Wolfgang Puck Express kiosks and eateries that seem to have sprouted like mushrooms in response to the airlines’ decision that they aren’t, after all, really responsible for feeding their passengers anymore. After so much growth, diversification and sheer market saturation — have you bought the latest Puck casserole dish? — I wondered how the rest of Puck’s culinary empire was faring, and whether his brand success has impacted the quality of his bread and butter: the celebrity chef’s signature restaurants. A visit to The Source sheds some light on whether Puck has become more celebrity than chef.

Born in Austria, Puck began cooking, sometimes as a pastry chef, with his mother when he was a child. After stints in some of the best kitchens in France, including Maxim’s in Paris, he was advised by a friend to come to the United States, and the rest, as they say, is history.


In the March 2011 Issue


Dim Sum Deliciousness

Ping Pong’s Little Parcels of Creativity Pack Big Flavor

by Rachel G. Hunt


Photo: Jessica Latos

Welcoming the Chinese New Year and the “year of the golden rabbit” seemed to call for firecrackers and dancing dragons, so on a recent chilly February morning we headed out to Chinatown for our annual dose of sparkly cordite and savory Asian fare. It also seemed like the perfect occasion to stop by Ping Pong Dim Sum to see how things have evolved since its opening a little over a year ago.

Less than two blocks from the iconic Chinatown arch, Ping Pong Dim Sum is worlds away from the old-fashioned Chinatown of yesteryear. And although the restaurant, like many of the hotspots that have opened up since the Verizon Center inspired revitalization of the area, is part of a chain, it’s a far cry from the formulaic tourist traps that are crowding out the neighborhood’s original inhabitants.