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Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 03/16/2011

Owners of Oya and Sei to open high-concept Sax

Gold leaf being added to the ceiling of Sax in advance of its May opening. (Justin Rude/The Washington Post)
It has such a high concept, that it’s hard to tell exactly where Sax , a new restaurant from the folks behind Oya and Sei, will fit into the D.C. dining scene when it opens in May. One safe bet though: It will lead the field in sheer volume of mirrors, gold leaf and red velvet.

In the design of their new upscale lounge and restaurant, Nancy Koide and Errol Lawrence seem to be attempting to create an anachronistic fusion of a French cabaret and an opera house at the height of the Venetian Renaissance. Two levels of seating face a 20 foot stage that is fronted by an inward facing one way mirror and backed by a mirrored wall. The effect is an infinitely reflected stage. On this stage, a series of performers will work through short routines throughout each dinner service. Floors, walls and ceilings are being marbled, gold-leafed and velvet draped. Vertical antiqued mirrors are a common design element, and the ceiling will be populated with dozens of chandeliers and gilded ornaments. In the back of the dining room, a series of wall murals will depict famous historical and contemporary political figures and their various scandals, sexual and otherwise.

Sax will occupy the old Posh space at 734 11th St. NW. It’s a location that the restaurateurs have long had their eye on. “We’ve had this concept in place for eight years,” Lawrence says, “and we wanted it to be in this space. I even used to send [building owner] Bob Johnson emails every other month.” The pair got lucky one evening last year when a regular customer at Sei brought Johnson by the restaurant for a meal. “We told him how much we loved the space, and three months later he called me and said, ‘Errol, it’s ready to go.’”
A framed velvet wall decoration hangs near a column that is in the process of being marbled. (Justin Rude/The Washington Post)

The 150-seat dining room will have a fixed-price menu that starts at $50 and is priced based on where you sit. The menu will be contemporary French, with a focus on shareable small plates that don’t necessarily require utensils -- think Waygu beef and lobster sliders, sea bream canapés and specialty fondues. To execute this menu, Koide and Lawrence have tapped Jonathan Seningen, who most recently was in charge of the menu at Oya. Sommelier Andrew Stover is putting together a wine list that will include the city’s largest selection of sparkling wine, with more than 50 bottles, including 10 available by the glass. This will include some bottles, like the South Ridge Brut from England, previously unavailable in the District. And, as you would expect whenever the words opulent, decadent and lounge are thrown together, bottle service will be available, including pre-set and themed minibar packages, like the “Sex and Chocolate” which includes bottles of Godiva chocolate liqueur, Grey Goose and M Lawrence Brut Rose.

On the stage, choreographer Hilary Wright has built a program around a nine-person house dance troupe. Rather than choreograph the vignettes around specific pieces of music, the performance pieces are designed to work at specific tempos, allowing the dancers to keep performances consistent even as the restaurant’s contemporary soundtrack rotates. Performances will range from ballet-inspired dance and still-portraits to numbers that are more in the realm of traditional cabaret and vaudeville. Later in the night the shows will grow more risque, steering toward the burlesque. Sundays will be Alternative Night, with performances geared toward an LGBT audience.

Amid all this food, dance and scandal, there is a playful tone that cuts through all the chandeliers and rococo architecture. For example, the designers have incorporated an unexpected element: alongside the numerous gilded finials that hang from the walls and ceiling are smaller gold-leafed baubles fabricated from, of all things, ring pops.

By  |  10:50 AM ET, 03/16/2011

Categories:  Restaurants | Tags:  restaurant openings

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