What’s making waves on Washington’s dining scene? A new Mediterranean menu from a prolific restaurateur, an island escape from a Food Network winner and Union Market’s new destination for French wine and cheese.
Chaia: Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema is enamored with the first offshoot of Georgetown fast-casual destination Chaia. “Simply walking into the new Chaia in Mount Vernon Triangle makes you feel virtuous,” he writes. “Sunlight streams through the big windows, and what’s not white (subway tile) or blond (wood) is good for the Earth (the utensils and packaging are all compostable). Then there’s the plant-focused menu: $4 tacos, made before your eyes in a glass-fronted kitchen and filled with delicious vegetables, including roasted butternut squash and goat cheese dappled with chipotle yogurt and crisp-soft cabbage, striped with charred tomato salsa and finished with queso fresco.” 615 I St. NW.
Coconut Club: Chef Adam Greenberg has five victories on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” Will that make a difference in the kitchen of his own restaurant? Coconut Club, in an industrial building on the north end of the Union Market district, has an island vibe, thanks to vacation-spot photos on the walls, swings like birdcages and a “Miami Vice” color scheme. The menu contains multiple nods to Hawaii, including poke, a selection of fish flown in daily, and a section featuring Spam, including Spam fried rice. On weekends, there can be as many customers standing around the bar as sitting at tables, drawn by such cocktails as the Waking Up From a Disco Nap — a rye-and-coconut concoction for two served in a sparkling disco ball — or the Gohan is My Homeboy, which combines sake, rice-washed gin and the tangy sourness of pickled daikon. Non-drinkers aren’t left out of the fun: The most appealing beverage on the menu might be the Fresh Cracked Coconut, which is simply a virgin coconut, opened and served with a straw. 540 Penn St. NE.
Olivia: Ashok Bajaj is not a man to rest on his laurels. After five years of running Nopa Kitchen + Bar in Penn Quarter, Bajaj has converted the American-themed restaurant into Olivia, which embraces the flavors of the Mediterranean. Critic Tom Sietsema leans toward the seafood dishes, such as “steamed Manila clams in a broth of mint and potatoes that leads to repeat bread mopping, and cod draped in a loose cover of ground chorizo, herbs and lemon zest — a perfect winter pick-me-up.” 800 F St. NW.
Jake’s Tavern: The newest entrant to Shaw’s crowded bar scene isn’t quite ready for prime-time yet: While the comfortable first floor bar is pouring drinks and showing sports, the back patio and the second level, which contains another bar and dining room, won’t open for a couple of months. For now, Jake’s, which comes from the owners of Black Whiskey in Logan Circle, is a simple place with a Nantucket color palette, basic beer and cocktail options, and bar snacks from a variety of D.C. purveyors, including Sloppy Mama’s BBQ and Prescription Chicken. 1606 Seventh St. NW.
La Jambe Union Market: When is a French wine bar not a French wine bar? When you can’t get a glass of sancerre or bordeaux superieur with your charcuterie or fromage. La Jambe, the lovely little French cafe in Shaw, opened a counter at Union Market in December, but it waited more than a month for a liquor license. Thankfully, the wine, beer and aperitifs began flowing on Jan. 18, so you’ll have something to wash down baguettes stuffed with ham and triple-cream brie. Happy hour, which includes $5 wine by the glass and a selection of $4 snacks, runs from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. 1309 Fifth St. NE.
Red Boat H Street: Red Boat’s fusion of familiar Vietnamese and Korean dishes has won fans in Baltimore and College Park. Its first D.C. location opened on H Street mid-month, and our first two visits found waits of at least an hour — even for takeout — as the kitchen struggled to keep up with demand. Things seem to have finally settled down. In addition to pho and banh mi, the menu includes distinctly American twists, including a jumbo hot dog piled with bulgogi beef, kimchi and toasted seaweed, and lemon grass pork tacos topped with carrots, cilantro and chile peppers. 500 H St. NE.
Urbano 116: How far will restaurants go for authentic flavors? The owners of the Alexandria-based Common Plate Hospitality group (Mason Social, Catch on the Ave) found up-and-coming chef Alam Méndez Florián in Mexico City, persuading him to trade it for Old Town. Expect tacos on tortillas made of heirloom Oaxacan corn, whole grilled fish and fried churros with a choice of sauces, while the lively bar serves mezcal and tequila cocktails. 116 King St., Alexandria.