Kwame Onwuachi, the former caterer, line cook and "Top Chef" contestant, will soon be a chef for real: He will open his debut restaurant, the Shaw Bijou, on Nov. 1.
Onwuachi has set a high bar for the fine-dining Shaw restaurant, which will mark the first time he has ever managed a kitchen. Despite his rookie status, Onwuachi, 26, will ask diners to fork over $185 for an advance ticket to enjoy his 13-course tasting menu. Meals will start in the upstairs bar, move to the downstairs kitchen and wind up in the eight-table dining room.
Tickets go on sale Monday via Tock, an online system launched last year by Chicago restaurateur Nick Kokonas (Alinea, Next). The price of the Shaw Bijou ticket includes only the meal; diners will pay tax and gratuity upon checking out from the Tock site.
Drinks will be billed separately at the restaurant. Onwuachi says diners interested in wine will receive a call before their meal from sommelier and wine director David Blackburn (formerly of Del Posto and Babbo). "The wine pairings will be tailored," Onwuachi said. "You'll explain exactly how much you're willing to spend for a wine pairing. . . and we'll tailor something for you with the information you give us."
The minimum wine pairing will cost $50. Which means that, with the cheapest wine pairing, the final price tag at Shaw Bijou will hover around $300, making it one of the highest-priced restaurants in the District. By comparison, the four-star Pineapple and Pearls charges $250 per person, but the price includes drinks, taxes and gratuity.
The chef has already developed an opening menu, but he's not sharing many details, other than the menu will offer globally inspired dishes inspired by Onwuachi's personal history, including a two-year stay with his grandfather in Nigeria. The tasting menu will also be customized for each diner's diet and allergy restrictions. (A second food and drink menu will be available at a members-only bar on the second floor, overseen by bar director Benjamin Long.)
The only menu tease Onwuachi will offer is an opening-day seafood dish: a Norwegian king crab cooked in a roasted-garlic beurre monté, dusted with shavings from house-made uni bottarga. "It's really sweet and briny," Onwuachi said.
The Shaw Bijou has encountered more than the usual delays as it inched its way toward opening night. The District, for example, required Onwuachi and business partner and general manager, Greg Vakiner, to rezone the Shaw rowhouse as a commercial property before the owners could start construction.
During the downtime, Onwuachi traveled extensively and worked on various projects: He cooked at the James Beard House, offered Washingtonians a small taste of his fast-casual Philly Wing Fry concept, wrote an autobiography-cookbook and even prepared a layered red velvet crepe-cake at the annual White House Easter egg roll. But he also lost some cooks hired more than a year ago for Shaw Bijou.
“That’s what happens when projects take so long to open," Onwuachi said. "People drop off.”
This post has been updated.
The Shaw Bijou, 1544 Ninth St. NW. Opens Nov. 1 for dinner. 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. $185 tickets go on sale Monday via Tock.