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Fancy Radish: 600 H St. NE. 202-675-8341. fancyradishdc.com.
Open: Dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Prices: Mains $15 to $18.
Sound check: 71 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
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The following review was originally published April 6, 2018.
Fancy Radish dazzles diners with no need for meat
There’s a new restaurant that’s practically impossible to access at a normal dining hour, and its name says a lot about how far Washington’s food scene has evolved in the past few years. Fancy Radish comes to the Atlas District from the husband-and-wife owners of two of the most enticing restaurants in Philadelphia, Vedge and V Street. The former, set in an old mansion, is upscale; the latter is a collection of worldly small plates.
Both are vegan.
If you don’t eat meat, Fancy Radish is a momentous occasion. Owners Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby, the respective chef and pastry chef, have devoted a lot of time to creating dishes that are full of flavor and as pleasing to the eye as the tongue. The draws include a half avocado heaped with pickled, “riced,” turmeric-brightened cauliflower. A base of romesco sauce enriches the eating.
If you’re a carnivore, Fancy Radish is likely to surprise you, in the best way possible. You leave dinner thinking not that it’s good for what it is, but rather, the meal is outstanding on its own. I’m dreaming now of the rutabaga fondue that’s as creamy as any cheese version I’ve had, but happens to be a tangy blend of the root vegetable, miso, nutritional yeast, tofu mayonnaise and more. The crock comes with pickled carrots, cauliflower and radishes tucked into a ramekin and, in a nod to the City of Brotherly Love, house-baked pretzel bread for dipping.
There’s more where those dishes come from: a ringer for steak tartare (composed from minced beets and capers), and dan dan noodles slicked with black vinegar and tahini and zapped with numbing peppercorns. “Sichuan food is my passion now,” says Landau. The plant-based dishes are explained by guides who seem intent on your welfare in a dining room whose mission statement is slyly revealed in the design. Shades of green, the color of life, enliven the banquettes, ceiling and water glasses in the narrow dining room.
Leave any earthy-crunchy preconceptions at the door. This is not food that is merely plucked from a field and waved over some steam. Asked about the zesty whole carrot — a Vedge signature, bedded on black lentils, that made its way to Washington — Landau says the vegetable gets blanched, roasted with Moroccan spices, hot smoked, chilled and finished on the plancha before it exits the kitchen. The lengthy process results in a flavor-packed carrot whose consistent, firm-but-yielding texture has us wishing all carrots were cooked so well.
As they commute between here and Philadelphia, the couple enjoy at Fancy Radish the support of their culinary director, Lauren Hooks; chef de cuisine David Gravenmier, their former sous-chef at Vedge; and sous-chef Stephanie Tarnowsky, previously with the like-minded Fare Well on H Street NE.
Why Washington? Jacoby fell for the city as a student at Georgetown University, and Landau has family in the area. More significantly, the couple couldn’t help but notice that a swath of their customers in Philadelphia were booking tables from 202 and other area telephone codes.
The cooking and the hospitality explain my one concern about Fancy Radish. No sooner did it open in March than online reservations for other than 5 or 9 p.m. became a fantasy, for weeks and weeks out.
Good luck getting in — but be prepared to be wowed once you’re past the hurdle.