Here’s what happened instead: Requin, introduced as a pop-up in the Gypsy Soul digs in December, proved such a success, Isabella and Carroll decided to make it a permanent restaurant in April. Everybody wins. Isabella won’t have to retool the design for a different cuisine, and Carroll gets to continue to refine her menu in a dream of an inherited kitchen. (The 5,000-foot-expanse includes a 38-degree butcher room flanked by four walk-in coolers.)
Diners are the biggest beneficiaries of all. Carroll, a former sous-chef at Le Bernardin in New York, the best seafood restaurant in the country, brings to the table skill and a sense of humor. Almost everybody does chicken wings. Requin counters with quail drumettes, twice-fried for extra crunch and glossy-red thanks to butter and beet puree in their coq au vin glaze. And Carroll’s dozen or so petits plats (small plates) include an adult take on pot pies, her childhood fascination. The update is a bar of puff pastry supporting a rich cancan of escargots, mushrooms and garlic-laced béchamel. (The crust is intentionally goopy, but I’d prefer something crisp.)
Best of all, a menu aimed at moviegoers, but available to anyone, makes eating here on a regular basis possible. Three courses for $28 from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday beats the prospect of popcorn or nachos for dinner.
French speakers might be raising an eyebrow. Requin translates into English as “shark,” after all. Isabella likes the name for the way it captures Carroll’s driven nature. Carroll appreciates the allusion to seafood and the reverence for sharks. All I know is, I feel a bit aggressive whenever her fritto misto hits the table. Among the sea treasures are scallops, calamari and prawns that have been dipped in milk and dusted with potato starch before being immersed in hot canola oil. Just before it’s served, the seafood is scattered with cilantro, chilies and lemon zest. The crackle and the fireworks put me in attack mode, too.
But first, you might want some hors d’oeuvres. Requin offers eight or so snacks served with crostini, a collection that considers a variety of wishes. The most novel snack infuses julienned smoked celery root with “pastrami spices”: smoked paprika, caraway, cumin, pepper and more. The heft of the seasoning is lightened with celery leaves. Delicious rillettes are shaped from smoked blue catfish, smoked salmon and creme fraiche as well as artichokes and white beans. Another tip of the chapeau to those who don’t eat meat is an eggplant ratatouille that’s rich with herbs and brighter than most; undercooking the tomatoes and adding olive oil and lemon juice at the end support the cause. The spreads are all better in the company of some cocktails. The bar delivers, with drinks including Fever Dream, a liquid fantasy coaxed from mezcal, Pernod, yellow Chartreuse and agave.
In her five years under the esteemed Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, Carroll learned a lot. The biggest lesson, she says: “Make the fish the star of the plate.” As obvious as that sounds, it’s tempting for a chef to insert herself into the equation — to show off — and emphasize ego over ingredients. Carroll, for the most part, demonstrates restraint. And good taste. “I love acid. I love citrus. I love vinegar,” says Carroll, a transplant from Philadelphia. She’s also an equal-opportunity chef who likes to elevate junk food on occasion. In a riff on cheese fries, she combines smashed fingerling potatoes with whipped raclette, fried salami and a punchy mustard vinaigrette. It looks like the refrigerator raid it is and tastes like something you’re glad to see after a late night out. Poutine, meet your match.
Not that her selections can’t be beguiling. She pays tribute to her favorite vegetable by serving baby carrots three ways — raw, dehydrated and roasted — in a vibrant salad that shines with the support of toasted almonds, fresh ginger and a citrus vinaigrette. Standing in for croutons are crisp dried carrots.
As at so many new restaurants, Requin follows small plates with platters designed for two or more. There’s no finer roast chicken in Northern Virginia right now than Carroll’s brined beauty served with a buttery whip of potatoes and a garland of roasted vegetables. The succulent flesh is flattered by a skin made delicately crisp after a day of air-drying. There’s fish for sharing, too, maybe pan-seared black bass or grilled whole red snapper.
Requin demonstrates that soufflés aren’t the sole province of luxury restaurants, with a billowing, chocolate confection accompanied by hazelnut ice cream and a price tag of just eight bucks. But the dessert that brings out my inner shark features profiteroles accompanied by scoops of brown butter ice cream and candied sliced kumquats hinting of star anise and orange. At the table, a waiter streaks the composition with warm caramel. Bon appetit, and diet tomorrow.
The 110-seat dining room, whiter and airier than Gypsy Soul, is about to double in size. By August, Isabella hopes to open a rooftop bar and dining room that can be enclosed in cooler seasons.
The second Requin is a year away from serving diners in the District. Until then, think of the original in Fairfax as an amuse bouche: both a tease and a promise of good things to come.
Location: 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax, Va. 703-462-8662. requinbymic.com.
Open: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Prices: Dinner snacks $5 to $7, small plates and shareable main courses $12 to $89 (for dry-aged rib-eye).
Sound check: 88 decibels / Extremely loud.
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