Let’s take a break for a moment from all the empire builders, boldface names and hip designers who tend to populate this space and consider one of Washington’s more unassuming additions to the dining scene.
Allow me to introduce you to Dunya Restaurant & Bar, which popped up in Shaw in December with a mostly Mediterranean menu.
What was once a corner barbershop has been transformed into a 50-seat dining room on the ground floor and a lounge with as many perches — plus a fireplace — a flight of stairs up. The walls are red, the music embraces Spanish classical guitar and the rustic tables turn out to be made from old joists in the building.
The food comes by way of Rafael Viera, a native of El Salvador. Before Dunya, the chef cooked at Carriage House in Adams Morgan, the late Axis Bar & Grill on U Street NW and the Whole Foods Market in Tenleytown. Circle Bistro in the West End was an even earlier employer.
A cheery server at Dunya encourages us to start with portobello fries, and we’re glad to have followed her lead. The finger-length spears of mushroom, presented in a cone, are juicy inside and crisp from a dusting of panko. A dip into cool basil mayonnaise tames the snack’s heat. Chickpeas seasoned with smoked paprika and partnered with sauteed spinach and a fried egg seems like something you’d make from what you have on hand at home when time is short. The combination is good for a few bites.
Lamb shank gets cooked in beer with cloves until it’s tender and sweet, then transferred to a bed of pearled couscous. Nice enough. Chicken is flavored with preserved lemon, green olives and cumin— accents that help a diner forgive the fact that the roasted entree is dry in parts. Finesse is not this kitchen’s strong suit.
But dessert is. The sweets, made from scratch, include a pleasant panna cotta and a better cheesecake, tinted green with pistachios and easy to finish.
You wouldn’t drive miles to try Dunya, which translates into “world” in Arabic. But if it happens to be where you are, and you’re hungry, the restaurant makes a cozy roost for a meal.
801 Florida Ave. NW. 202-332-0207. dunyadc.com. Entrees, $15 to $25.