This post has been updated.
Chicken has a reputation for being one of the least exciting proteins — you know, the safe choice on many a wedding and banquet menu. Chef Michael Bonk, however, is ready to pay chicken its rightful due at the Bird, opening Monday night in Shaw. The restaurant, from EatWell DC group (the Pig, Grillfish, Commissary, Logan Tavern), will also highlight other poultry, including duck, pheasant, quail, guinea fowl and grouse.
The idea originally was to open a fried chicken spot in Gallery Place, Bonk said, but when the deal fell through, he saw an opportunity to expand the concept to all types of birds. Fried chicken is still a highlight of the menu, and the chef said he took inspiration from fan favorite Popeyes. The chicken, sourced from Senat Poultry out of Lancaster, Pa., is seasoned overnight before being coated in a wet batter and then a dry mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour.
Bonk said he tried to keep at least a decent part of the menu approachable and affordable, with individual dishes ranging from $7 to $33. “It's a neighborhood place,” he said. “We're not on 14th Street.”
About a third of the menu isn't intimidating for less adventurous diners, Bonk said, with such dishes as the fried chicken. The next third is “slightly more challenging.” Think quail stuffed with sausage — a step up from chicken but not a huge leap. The last third is “super challenging,” a category in which you can include the ostrich sasheem, which features raw ostrich wrapped around carrot, apple, celery and radish. (Bonk said it eats a little like tuna.)
Other menu items include the whole roasted chicken for two (served with the feet on!), "duckchetta” (deboned duck stuffed with sausage, onions, prunes and olives) and an egg flight, consisting of a pickled egg, deviled duck egg and Scotch quail egg that is poached, covered in sausage, breaded and fried.
The drink program focuses on wine, said EatWell beverage director Kyle McNeel, also the Bird's bar manager. There will be more than 60 bottles on the wine list, largely selected to pair with Bonk's food. In the spirit of the Italian aperitif, an Early Bird happy hour will feature lower-proof drinks with a bitter edge, including an Aperol Spritz. Drinks during happy hour will be served with three complimentary bites from the kitchen.
Other drinks on the regular cocktail list take inspiration from some of Bonk's ingredients. Pistachios, incorporated into the “five birds roast” (kind of reminiscent of a turducken), are part of the Magpie in the Morning, along with rum, rosewater, Amaro Nonino and Oloroso sherry. And sumac, which is also served with Bonk's foie gras, plays a role in the Owls Are Not What They Seem, with gin, stone pine liqueur, rosemary and cedar syrup. Beers come from Maryland and Washington producers, with four of them on tap.
The decor is inspired by the four seasons, operations director Peter Eskra said. The restaurant commissioned local artists to create summer, fall, winter and spring areas of the restaurant. The restaurant has two bars, with a summer-themed bar upstairs that will share space with a pending outdoor terrace with retractable awning. Between the two floors and outdoor seating, the Bird has room for more than 150 people.
The Bird, opening Monday for dinner daily, with weekend brunch to follow. 1337 11th St. NW.