Partners and former "Top Chef" contestants Mike Isabella and Jennifer Carroll debated about it for months, but they could ignore the obvious no longer: The former Gypsy Soul space, with its elegant open kitchen tricked out with the latest equipment, was almost tailor-made for their refined French-Mediterranean seafood concept, Requin, which has been operating there as a pop-up since December.
So why surrender the property and dump countless dollars into a renovation to retrofit the space for sister restaurant, Kapnos Kouzina, the home-style Greek eatery under the same Mike Isabella Concepts umbrella? It made no sense, which is why Isabella and Carroll have decided Requin will remain where it is.
And just like that Carroll, a Philadelphia native, has backed into her official Washington debut as chef: Requin is now permanent in the Mosaic District in Merrifield. Not to fret, Isabella and Carroll are still moving ahead with their plans to open Requin in the Wharf development, the multi-billion-dollar playground on the Southwest Waterfront, which attracted Carroll to the District in the first place. It's scheduled to open late in the summer of 2017.
“I think it’ll help build the brand to get us ready for D.C.,” Isabella says about Requin in Merrifield. “It’s going to be two different restaurants and two different locations, with similarities. We just thought it would be a good move instead of shutting the restaurant down. We’re already open and running.”
Plus, Carroll cracks with a laugh, "I get to have something to do for the next year that’s mine.”
The former Gypsy Soul space, which chef R.J. Cooper was forced to vacate last year over back rent, is currently getting a minor facelift to give it a "lighter, airier feel," says Carroll. But the Requin partners are also investing in a project to add a 3,000-square-foot rooftop lounge, which would double capacity during the warmer months. Isabella and Carroll plan to keep Requin open during the expansion.
“You only have a 100 seats downstairs in the restaurant. So we fill up, and we can’t take any more reservations because we don’t have the space," says Isabella. "We figure by doubling the capacity and adding a second bar upstairs and having a kitchen that can turn out [food] for both, we’ll be a lot more profitable."
If all goes according to plan, Isabella and Carroll hope the rooftop lounge will open in late summer. Later, they will partially enclose the space so that 60 percent or more of the roof will accessible year-round.
So how does Carroll feel about now officially debuting her seafood concept in the suburbs instead of along the waterfront, as she originally intended?
"Not being close to the water, I’m okay with. It’s definitely far away. But this area is so great, and it’s so up and coming still,” Carroll says. "At the Wharf, [Requin] is going to be a little bit more upscale, so we’ll have a different feel. I might have a little bit more high-end ingredients on the menu at the Wharf. Here, I think people just want to eat what they’re used to and have a little bit of a twist. But nothing too crazy and nothing too far out there.”
Once Requin on the Wharf opens, Carroll expects to spend a lot of time there.
"I’ll be here in Fairfax as much as possible, but the focus will be to get the Wharf up and running perfectly," the Requin chef says. It's "up to me to have [the Mosaic team] trained properly and ready to go for the times when I’m not here.”