Azur set to sail on Saturday in Penn Quarter

Seafood will star on the menu at Frederik De Pue's Azur. (Juan Carlos Briceno)
Seafood will star on the menu at Frederik De Pue's Azur. (Juan Carlos Briceno)

Frederik De Pue thinks “meat is an easy way out” for chefs, which is one of several reasons why the Belgium native decided to go with a seafood theme for Azur, his soon-to-launch Penn Quarter restaurant at 405 Eighth St. NW.

Another reason: Ingredients from the water bring back fond memories of one of his favorite jobs, as a cook at Sea Grill (the recipient of two stars from Michelin) in Brussels.

The chef says his latest endeavor, scheduled to soft-open for dinner Saturday (reservations are available starting April 18), will be “a little bit Washington and a little bit Brussels.” The Washington influence will be the amount of space Azur is devoting to its two bars on multiple levels. The Brussels aspect is expected to surface in the European ambiance and design. Picture clean lines, neutral colors, lots of light, dark floors and retro chairs.

De Pue, who recently opened Table in Shaw, has hired the former chef de cuisine of Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, Robert Rubba, to assume the same position at Azur. Even so, says the boss, “I have every intention of being in both restaurants every night.” (Good thing the two businesses are just a mile apart, and De Pue can use his bike for the commute. Good thing, too, he’s decided to cut back on his other gig, 42 Degrees Catering.)

Sustainable seafood will star on the menu, a signature of which will be clams, mussels and lobster presented in a choice of four different flavored broths. A six-seat raw bar on the third floor will feature oysters, caviar and house-cured fish (all available for retail sale, by the way). Diners can also anticipate oyster croquettes, roasted turbot with almond espuma and red mullet, the top chef’s favorite catch, with accents of rhubarb, pink peppercorns and black garlic vinaigrette.

The name Azur is meant to signal “blue” and “the ocean,” says De Pue, although customers of his 135-seat restaurant, previously home to Cafe Atlantico, can catch the theme the moment they look up inside the four-level, 6,000-square-foot expanse, dominated by a custom-made chandelier created from over 60 glass balls: giant air bubbles.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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Ryan Little · April 7, 2013