The two namesakes of the Chevy Chase bistro Little Beast — Mila, 4, and Vivian, 18 months — do what many little beasts do. Vivian will “have a good laugh and a smile on her face for hours at a time,” says co-owner Aaron Gordon of his spirited daughter. But “if you take a toy out of her hand she will scream like you couldn’t believe. . . . She encapsulates both the best and worst of little beasts.”
So, as a resident of the District neighborhood, he wanted to create a place where other parents could feel comfortable bringing their own little beasts. There are crayons and kids’ offerings designed to appease even the pickiest of eaters. It’s all in service of helping neighborhood families have a good night.
But the menus are not all about cheese pizza and buttered pasta, because as of last month a familiar face is leading the kitchen. For the past few years, chef Naomi Gallego’s talents were focused solely on desserts and baked goods at restaurants including Blue Duck Tavern, Le Diplomate, Neighborhood Restaurant Group and a Chinatown cafe Gordon owns called Bakers & Baristas. Little Beast puts her in charge of an entire restaurant for the first time in her career.
“I haven’t given up anything. I’ve only gained,” says Gallego, who was eager for a new challenge in this bright and cheery space, outfitted with monster murals painted by German artist Kim Köster. “I’ve been cooking since I was 16. The fundamentals, like cleaning fish and breaking down sides of veal — those things never leave you.”
She turns out plates of fried calamari with kicky fried peppers and a horseradishy cocktail sauce; buttery-soft braised short ribs, and a cloud of ricotta drenched in honey and olive oil; and wood-fired pizzas with a chewy crust she describes as “not totally Neapolitan in its thinness” but with “those big fat bubbles in the edge” nonetheless. The romesco pizza, which gets some depth from smoked chicken and almonds, is a winner.
Early missteps at Little Beast seem to be service-related, though all were promptly corrected with a gratis drink or appetizer — something I witnessed at other tables as well as my own. But strangely, given Gallego’s pastry expertise, no one ever handed me the restaurant’s dessert menu on any of my visits. The chef continues to make a small selection of cakes served by the slice and is also developing a pastry basket for brunch service, which will begin next month.
Shortly after it opened in October, Little Beast had a daytime coffee and cafe component but that has ceased because Gordon said the evenings were too busy to do both well, given the small amount of space. A patio will soon be enclosed and heated, giving the restaurant more tables and decreasing waits — Gordon says there’s a big rush around 5:30 p.m., when the neighborhood’s young families come in.
Some of those neighbors you might see are the little beasts themselves, who take great pride in having a restaurant named after them.
Mila “oftentimes gets up in the morning and says, ‘Dad are we going to the Beast today?’ ” Gordon says. He acknowledges her motivation may not be pure: “It happens to be half a block away from a great toy store.”
Little Beast, 5600 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-741-4599. littlebeastdc.com. Entrees, $13 to $26. Tom Sietsema will return next week.