Lobbyist Vinoda Basnayake says pal chef Spike Mendelsohn has ‘soul’

Vinoda Basnayake (Photographer Joy Aisco).
Vinoda Basnayake (Photographer Joy Asico).

Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn and lobbyist Vinoda Basnayake recently went from being “boys” to business partners. Last week the two friends opened “The Shepphard,” a “no pictures allowed” speakeasy in Dupont (1337 Connecticut Ave., NW) with a maximum capacity of just 35 VIPs. So far, fellow “Top Chef” alum Mike Isabella, Democratic D.C. mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser, a couple of Redskins players and a few congressmen have taken the “decrepit elevator” ride up to the tiny lounge tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript office building. “People keep saying ‘this is going to be my regular spot,’” said Basnayake, who also owns Kabin Lounge. So what’s his?

“Okay, I know Spike and I are friends, but Béarnaise [Mendelsohn's one-year old French bistro] really is my favorite spot,” said Basnayake.

Spot: Béarnaise, 313 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E.

How he found it: Spike and I started talking about doing a project together — combining a lounge and restaurant — and he was like, “Yeah I’m actually doing something [already].”  He was really excited about doing French cooking again so that he could stretch his culinary chops. Really that’s what everyone wants, to be able to present your craft.

Why he loves it:  As a lobbyist I’m always on the Hill, and at first I expected to step into this cookie-cutter high-end D.C. restaurant. They all look the same inside. But I was pleasantly surprised. Béarnaise is understated as opposed to Restoration Hardware does a French bistro. I just love the feel of the place — warm and with a soul. And they have the best Brussels sprouts in the city.

Photo by Vinoda Basnayake
Photo by Vinoda Basnayake

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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