The good bones of the former Equitable Bank Building contribute to one of the most sumptuous new restaurant interiors in Washington. Design enthusiasts will no doubt applaud 9,500 square feet of gleaming dining rooms, multiple bars, free-floating mezzanine and seemingly endless ceiling.
Chowhounds should be cheering just as loudly. Here’s why: Edward Lee, a “Top Chef” alum and cookbook author who helped put Louisville on the food map with his Southern-minded 610 Magnolia, is the brand behind the menu at Succotash, a spinoff of the same-named restaurant he rolled out two years ago at National Harbor.
Better yet, Lee (“45 going on 65,” he jokes) has relocated with his family to Washington, where he expects to spend 25 days or so a month. Enough of his customers at National Harbor told him that they’d come more often if Succotash were closer to the District. More important, he says he didn’t want to open a place in Washington “just to say I had a D.C. restaurant.” To be part of the city’s growth, “I had to make a commitment.”
I’m consigned to visiting Succotash as often as I can. If that sounds like the milk punch talking, well, the libation has plenty of competition for my appetite. Any meal is better when it begins with some smoked chicken wings, dappled with white barbecue sauce and festooned with thin ribbons of celery, then fits in sassy pork ribs, flattered by finishes of stinging pickled peppers and mellow fried black-eyed peas. Sweet corn panna cotta is a lovely idea, dressed as the custard is with spoonbill caviar, nasturtium leaves and teasing chowchow, elements you want to fit on every spoonful for full effect. Just one problem: The panna cotta is so loose, it almost qualifies as a liquid.
Lunch at the bar to the side of the door finds me spearing into a circus of a Cobb salad, accessorized with intense bacon jam and clever corn bread croutons in addition to the expected avocado, egg, blue cheese and chicken. The last — “dirty” boneless thigh meat — leaves your lips burning, at least until some buttermilk dressing crosses them. Dinner, er, “supper,” in the comfort of a leather booth beneath a chandelier might bring blue catfish fried to a golden crisp, enlivened with a mint-jalapeño aioli and garnished with sliced green grapes — cool punctuation. Here and there, the Brooklyn-born, Korean American chef inserts his heritage. An order of collard greens is bolstered not just with aged country ham but with kimchi. Credit for the heat in the dirty fried chicken goes to gochujang, or sweet-spicy red chile paste.
Knead Hospitality + Design inherited a raw, worn space with a leaking roof and crumbled moldings, and transformed it into a thing of beauty. Mexican mahogany trims the walls, mosaic tiles pave the floors and plaster rosettes grace the second of three levels of the historic building. “We wanted it to look new, but not too new,” says Michael Reginbogin, co-founder of the firm. Hence the intentionally distressed columns supporting the mezzanine, which overlooks the ground-floor dining room.
A sense of largesse permeates the experience. With any dish that might involve fingers touching food, hot towels and a lemon wedge are set out. An order of hummingbird cake, served on a plate that looks like something from grandma’s stash, is portioned as if everyone at the table is sharing the monumental wedge. “It looks like the bow of the Titanic,” cracked a companion. (The flavor is just as big.)
Good Southern cooking is underrepresented in Washington — or was, until the arrival of the $6 million Succotash in September. Let the eating of shrimp and grits, and bourbon milkshakes, begin.
915 F St. NW. 202-849-6933. succotashrestaurant.com. Dinner entrees, $17 to $48.
A previous version of this story mislabeled the name of Edward Lee’s Louisville restaurant.