Shuttered for three years, the Iron Gate -- once the longest continuously operating restaurant in the District -- will reopen Nov. 19 with chef Tony Chittum at the helm.
"To me, this is a culmination," Chittum, formerly of Vermilion, said. "I moved to D.C. in '99, and this is 14 years coming. This is what I've always wanted."
The restaurant will have a split menu. In the historic carriage house, Chittum will offer a four- or six-course tasting menu. On the covered outdoor patio and in the bar area, there will be a less formal a la carte menu. The entire menu has been inspired by Chittum's travels to Italy and Greece -- especially the latter, as his wife is Greek. The restaurant's capers, oregano and fennel were even brought back in her suitcase after a trip to visit family.
"Traveling in Italy and Greece, and eating in restaurants there, I love the family mentality of it, and sharing, and it being more of an experience than just a meal," Chittum said.
Outdoors, expect house-made breads and crackers for starters, with spreads like spicy feta, or house-made yogurt. Chittum sources as locally as possible, so the charred octopus with squid ink comes from Savannah, Ga., and the oysters and clams come from the Chesapeake, near where he grew up. Baked Chincoteague oysters are topped with spinach, shredded phyllo and kefalotyri cheese -- a play on spanakopita and oysters Rockefeller.
The kitchen is making its own dried pastas; "guitar"-cut spaghetti gives the noodles a flat edge and the perfect texture for the pomodoro Chittum began serving during one of his previous executive chef gigs at Notti Bianche. He's also planning to roast whole animals on the rotisserie grill, and serve a different selection each night.
As for the prix-fixe menu, it's divided into five sections, and guests will be able to make selections in each category, depending on how many courses they've ordered. Everyone begins with the chef's choice of antipasti, and those who have ordered the four-course meal ($50, beverage pairing $25) will choose two selections and a dessert. Those who opt for the six-course ($75, beverage pairing $40) get three selections, a cheese course and a dessert. For opening, the menu's "garden" section includes salads made of locally foraged mushrooms or autumn squash, while the "water" section includes octopus and garlic-crusted fluke. "Pasture" offers sweetbreads and lamb, and dessert is the choice between a maple brown butter semifreddo and a gianduja chocolate terrine.
Those who visited the previous Iron Gate will see a restaurant transformed. The space in the alleyway just behind the restaurant's namesake gate is now enclosed by a glass door to make it appealing for all seasons. That's also where you'll find a zinc bar, eight taps, plenty of ouzo and seating for 26. The newly opened Bluejacket Brewery, which is also part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, will be producing a special saison for the restaurant that uses Greek mastika liqueur. The driveway will also be used as an outdoor patio with seating for 20. Inside, under the wisteria, guests will be protected in the rain by retractable awnings. The carriage house, which seats 48, will have an elevated ceiling and different placement of the horse stall dividers that were part of the former restaurant.
Chittum was announced as the chef-owner of the Iron Gate in May 2012, and the restaurant has been a long time coming. The restaurant was originally scheduled to open in the spring, but structural problems contributed to delays. The space had been "slightly neglected," Chittum said.
The delay has had its benefits. On the one hand, "It gave me an opportunity to travel and stage, and think about the menu and all the things I've been micromanaging. The bread, the cheese, all of these things we've really wanted to make -- we've had time to practice." On the other hand, it will soon be too cold for people to make good use of Iron Gate's patio, as the heaters and provided blankets will only be able to ward off the cold for so much longer (The patio will not open on Tuesday with the rest of the restaurant).
But that's okay, Chittum said: "We'll be able to get more comfortable with the space. It's a pretty small kitchen for two concepts."
See more photos of the new Iron Gate below: