"I'm a true believer in gut feelings," says Haidar Karoum, chef-owner of the new Chloe in the Navy Yard. In preparation for the worldly restaurant he named after his oldest niece, Karoum scouted numerous neighborhoods, eventually signing for a corner location in a new building in Southeast Washington, where he says the residents looked happy, dogs were abundant and the waterfront called to him.
"I'm a Pisces," says the chef, 43. "I'm obsessed with water."
I'm bewitched with the debut menu of Karoum's first solo venture. It's been a year and a half since the former chef of Doi Moi, Proof, Estadio and other venues last cooked for a crowd; Chloe took its sweet time to open, but diners' patience is rewarded with dishes that incorporate the bullet points of Karoum's life. His time as a youth in Germany's Black Forest is acknowledged with a lovely white (pork) sausage laced with mace, coriander and white pepper; Karoum's tenure at the late Asia Nora in the West End is recalled with a Vietnamese-style chicken that the staff is already billing as Chloe's signature.
The menu, says the chef, is "based on stuff I want to eat, food that excites me." His passion becomes ours after tasting broiled oysters tricked out with horseradish crème fraîche and crisp rye crumbs, as well as one of the best pâtés in town, a pistachio-and-cherry-veined slab made sublime with pork shoulder and duck liver.
The surprise lesser dish turns out to be the popular brined, air-dried chicken; while the flesh is succulent, its chile-lime dipping sauce lacks verve and the accompanying greens prove salty.
Desserts let you be a kid again or feel virtuous. Cue the decadent brownie sundae, dressed with slivered almonds and butterscotch sauce, and the relatively restrained — but equally spoon-worthy — chai panna cotta garnished with pear relish.
The style and sureness of so much of the food, which is portioned for sharing, springs in part from a kitchen staff composed completely of cooks Karoum has previously worked with, some as far back as Asia Nora.
The dining room, patrolled by an able fleet of servers, encourages return visits, too. Wraparound picture windows are life-size promotions for the Navy Yard; the view takes in a gym, a grocery store and snazzy apartments in the near distance. "I'm a big fan of Scandinavian design," says Karoum, whose taste is reflected in plants gracing the facade of his open kitchen.
Pulse check? Right out of the gate, Chloe feels like a keeper.
1331 Fourth St. SE. 202-313-7007. restaurantchloe.com. Plates to share, $15 to $28.