The former Zola takes on a different four-letter moniker on May 6. That's when NoPa, restaurateur Ashok Bajaj's newest dining room, will open to the public near the Verizon Center. And while many of Bajaj's other restaurants, like Rasika and 701, are more formal, guests won't need to make NoPa (it stands for "North of Pennsylvania Avenue") a special-occasion-only place.
"People's wants have changed. They don't want to have three courses," Bajaj said. He aimed to make the restaurant extremely approachable, beginning with the cocktail list. "There have been how many ... $20 cocktails?" he said, referring to a recent spate of high-priced drinks. "We wanted to start with $10 cocktails."
The menu from executive chef Greg McCarty is similarly accessible: American brasserie cuisine, with entrees ranging from $12 to $38. Many have a subtle Asian influence, thanks to the time McCarty spent working at New York's Nobu 57.
Some of McCarty's personal touches include a Chilean sea bass with baby eggplant and wasabi peas, and a platter of vegetables pickled according to Japanese nukazuke technique, fermented with rice bran. A smoked bluefish pate recalls McCarty's first restaurant job in Nantucket. McCarty said he was also inspired by the Penn Quarter Farmer's Market, and the menu has plenty of small-plates options for vegetarians.
If you're just looking for a place to grab a quick bite before a concert at the Verizon Center or a play at the Shakespeare Theatre, a bacon-cheddar burger, avocado-topped barbecue chicken sandwich and a vegetarian sandwich with cauliflower puree are options for an inexpensive dinner at the bar. As for those $10 cocktails, expect a rotating menu of five classics, like a French 75 and a Sazerac, and five signature cocktails, like a play on a gin and tonic, but with Cinchona bark and lemongrass.
The former Zola space has been totally transformed into an airy, industrial-chic space; it may be one of the most naturally light-filled restaurants in Washington. Huge mirrors in each room spread the light around, but touches of leather, brick and zinc keep it grounded. It's the brainchild of Martin Vahtra of Projects Design Associates, who also designed Rasika West End, but Bajaj picked out much of the furniture and art himself. Taxidermied animals on the walls lend another whimsical touch; Bajaj says they came from eBay.