John Shields returns to familiar turf as D.C. restaurant falls through

Chef John Shields says his plan to open a restaurant in Georgetown at 1050 Potomac St. NW has fallen through. "We couldn't make the numbers work" said the former chef of the late, acclaimed Town House in Chilhowie, Va.

John Shields and Karen Urie Shields of the Town House restaurant. (Beall + Thomas)
John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, formerly of the Town House restaurant. (Beall + Thomas)

While Shields is still actively looking for space in Washington, he's also "itching to get back to cooking," he said. So, beginning in April, he and his wife, pastry chef Karen Urie Shields, plan to return to the remote part of Virginia that made them famous and offer intimate dinners two weekends a month at Riverstead, the small inn that offered lodging to Town House patrons before the innovative, 26-seat restaurant closed two years ago. Chilhowie is approximately five hours from D.C. 

The couple's first dinner will be held April 18 and repeated the next night. Early meals are expected to cost $150 for more than a dozen courses. Dinners will initially be BYOB, says Shields, who may extend the event to Sunday depending on demand. The event promises to be exclusive: Riverstead, a renovated farmhouse, can accommodate just 14 customers.

A preview of what the couple has in store for guests finds, among other creations, scallop cured in herbs and flowers, slow-roasted chicken with wheat and garlic, and "ember" ice cream. "It tastes like burnt cookies and cream in the best possible way," the chef says of the dessert, which will get a boost from mint, lime and eucalyptus.

The couple met at the late Charlie Trotter's in Chicago; John Shields went on to serve as sous chef at the experimental Alinea, also in the Windy City. In 2008, the two turned down an offer to open a restaurant in Las Vegas to do their own thing in Appalachia.

"We are still fully committed to getting the D.C. restaurant off the ground," Shields said by e-mail, "but at least this will get us back in the mix."

For reservations and additional information, see riverstead.com.

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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