Correction to This Article
This column incorrectly said that the Atlas Room on H Street NE is co-owned by Matt Cordes and Bobby Beard. Cordes is the sole owner of the restaurant; he and Beard are co-chefs.

First Bite: The Atlas Room, a chic addition to H Street NE

By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 2:43 PM

The dining possibilities on H Street NE now run to German, Ethiopian and Japanese plus gimmicks as offbeat as indoor miniature golf (on the second floor of H Street Country Club, which serves tacos, black bean soup and tres leches cake). Until recently, however, a diner looking for a sophisticated plate of food and serious cocktails under the same roof was more or less obliged to head to another neighborhood.

Then the Atlas Room crept on the scene last month, tempting customers with an intimate 30-seat dining room, a Sazerac that summons New Orleans and not one, but two chefs whose resumes add up to a pocketful of stars.

Co-owners Bobby Beard, 37, and Matt Cordes, 36, met 13 years ago while both were employed at Vidalia downtown. Since then, Beard has cooked locally at Bourbon Steak, Vermilion, Pesce and Michel Richard Citronelle; Cordes counts time at Evening Star Cafe, the late Colvin Run Tavern, Gerard's Place (now closed) and 701, among other restaurants.

The Atlas Room is dressed with shimmering green curtains, handsome maps and a gently lit bar with a slate-stone veneer. The start of the fancification of bohemian H Street? "We're not trying to change the neighborhood, just give it another option," says Beard.

The chefs' menu is novel. Instead of grouping dishes by course, it lists food types. Under the heading "Pork," for instance, you'll find a flatbread arranged with shredded pork, another plate featuring pork loin, and a stew made with the meat. The dishes are priced at $9, $13 and $19, respectively (think snack, appetizer and entree).

The early hits include a meatless pot au feu chockablock with chickpeas, lentils and other beans, enlivened with a pesto made with the herb savory and crushed walnuts; juicy pan-roasted chicken with herbed gnocchi; and beef loin served with a fine mush of eggplant and yogurt and a rim dusted with toasted cumin and other zingers. That flatbread was underbaked yet nicely chewy, and it gained more flavor with a slather of butternut squash puree and glossy parsley. In all, the food makes me eager to return.

Although both men now cook together, Beard comes in earlier in the day to clean and prep. Cordes stays to close the place: "He has a new baby," says his business partner.

1015 H St. NE. 202-388-4020. Entree-size plates, $17 to $22.

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