Teresa’s husband, Tony, and son, Zak, get credit for the place’s look, inspired by family trips to Berlin. African mahogany covers the ceiling; indirect lighting casts a glow over the interior, outfitted with a handsome communal table. The restaurant is based on the chef’s German-Irish grandmother, says Tessa, but could be anyone: “We all have a Betty in our lives, someone who makes a kick-ass dinner.” In Washington, that’s her mom.
La Betty: 420 K St. NW. 202-408-8000. la-betty.com .
Open: Dinner Wednesday through Monday.
Price: Mains $15-$26.
Sound check: 75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following was originally published on June 21, 2019.
La Betty in Mount Vernon Triangle gives its diners a family hug
Teresa and Tony Velazquez tend to see a hole and fill it.
A lack of decent coffee and pastries inspired the entrepreneurs to open Baked & Wired in Georgetown in 2001. Fourteen years later, a paucity of good-quality bread to grace their dinner table prompted A Baked Joint in Mount Vernon Triangle. Now, together with daughter Tessa and son Zak, the couple have rolled out La Betty, a full-fledged restaurant next to Joint. Tessa Velazquez says the dining room is meant to bridge the gap between the city’s fast-casual and fancy spots by serving “food you might have at home or from a good cook at a dinner party.”
Deviled eggs, anyone? One of the brined beauties is not enough. Whispering of cayenne and spunky with pickle juice, the yellow centers are also smooth as silk after a push through a chinois.
There are stellar corn dogs as well, a treat Teresa remembers making with her father as a child back in Ohio. Of all the dishes on her menu, corn dogs were the hardest to get right, says the head chef. But mission accomplished; the wrap around the beef sausage is by turns crisp and fluffy. The snack improves with a dip in “Betty” sauce, based on a French ravigote, and also begs the question: Who’s Betty?
Betty is based on Teresa’s German-Irish grandmother, says Tessa, but she could be anyone: “We all have a Betty in our lives, someone who makes a kick-ass dinner.” In this case, it’s Teresa, who has a knack for turning basics into something special. Boneless chicken breast is pounded flat, dipped in egg whites and whole-grain mustard, coated with panko and cooked to a fine crisp. A hillock of salad atop the schnitzel all but hides the prize. Tender roast beef with warm red cabbage and squiggly egg noodles (made with an heirloom spaetzle press) has Sunday supper written all over it, at least for this fellow Midwesterner. Vegetarians are considered with dishes including roasted cauliflower set in a moat of almond mole fueled with three kinds of chiles and dotted with white cashew crema. The idea is to break apart the head with a fork and drag the pieces through the liquid heat.
Tony, a trained architect, and Zak were responsible for the inviting look, based on interiors they admired in Berlin, one of the family’s favorite destinations. (Hence the beer-steamed curry wurst, a beloved German street snack, on the menu.) Wood is their medium of choice. African mahogany covers the ceiling, which is sloped here and there. Stained red oak makes for handsome booths, while red and white oak pave the floors. Indirect lighting casts a glow over the space, which comes with a communal table that seats up to a dozen diners. Tessa says customers should feel like they’re “getting a big hug from the restaurant.” And they do.
La Betty’s drinks program is as approachable as the cooking. Wine brings just three choices (red or white Cotes du Rhone, plus a sparkler) and beer (blond or dark) is served in eight-ounce glasses from a custom-made tray modeled on carriers the family saw in Germany. There’s no need to ask for another cold one; servers will continue to deliver suds until you give them the sign to stop — a coaster place atop your glass. Stronger stuff, such as rum, tequila and bourbon, is offered by the shot rather than in fancy cocktails.
Anyone who has sampled the handiwork at Baked & Wired knows to stick around for dessert at La Betty, which features the bakery’s confections. The nicely tart cherry pie makes you feel like summer has truly arrived, and the oh-so smooth cheesecake proves the best in recent memory. Topped with a layer of sweetened sour cream, the wedge is served with a shard of housemade graham cracker to help scoop the blueberry garnish.
Coming months may bring spaghetti and meatballs, says Teresa. Colder seasons are apt to see ham-and-bean soup served as a special.
Telling her a dish that reminds you of something you’ve loved before, says the chef, is “the best gift my customers can give me.” I didn’t thank her on my way out, but I did call my mom when I got home. Same thing, right?