<<EDIT 5/22/09 @ 9:45 AM: A couple of changes since we posted this. Blue Ridge has pushed back its opening to the very end of the month, instead of next week as originally stated. Additionally, Brightest Young Things and others have indicated that Justin Guthrie will no longer be tending bar, having taken a position as the beverage director for the new W Hotel. Silver lining: table-service punch bowls are still expected to be on the menu at Blue Ridge.>>
We’re in the middle of another heat wave when it comes to restaurant openings here in Washington, and there are few hotter prospects than Eli Hengst’s Blue Ridge. When it opens just after Memorial Day, DC diners will not only be treated to a RAMMY-winning Rising Culinary Star in the kitchen, they’ll also be able to enjoy cocktails mixed up by one of the all-stars behind the sorely missed Hummingbird to Mars.
We had an opportunity to take a look around the space – formerly occupied by Thai restaurant Busara – over the weekend, and it’s clear that they’re putting the finishing touches on what will be an impressive blending of modern and classic elements in a space that is roughly 100 years old.
Yesterday’s Washington Post offered some insight into Chef Barton Seaver’s commitment to sustainability, and it sounds like he’s going to have a chance to bring it to full fruition in the new Glover Park locale. With a farm-to-table ethos that’s going to emphasize “whole animal” cooking, Blue Ridge is poised to bring a new level of sophistication to this stretch of Wisconsin Avenue without breaking the bank.
More photos, philosophies and details on what to expect behind the bar after the jump.
Guests entering Blue Ridge will immediately find themselves in the bar area, much as they do at Sonoma on Capitol Hill. An exposed brick wall, dark wainscoting, and a century-old bar recovered and shipped in from Pennsylvania give the space a very Georgetown feel…and I mean that in the best way possible (think solid, refined). It will be very easy to settle in at the bar and cozy up to a cocktail or three.
As if the ambience of the bar area weren’t enough to encourage lingering, the bartender’s pedigree might. Justin Guthrie is a founding member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild and one of the three men who brought us the labor of craft-cocktail love that was Hummingbird to Mars while it lasted. Most recently, he was behind the bar at Central, where he demonstrated a familiarity with plenty of old classics and a comfort with creating some new ones of his own. You can expect to see some unique concoctions being mixed up at Blue Ridge.
And to sweeten the deal just a little bit further, Blue Ridge will taking an aspect of craft bartending – the creation of punches – to a new extreme by offering bowls of punch for an entire table to share as one of their signatures. Priced at roughly $40 per bowl, they promise to become a major attraction in short order. I suspect Guthrie’s cucumber milk punch from his party at Sonoma earlier this week will make an appearance sooner, rather than later.
But punches aren’t the only special items that will be available at Blue Ridge. Once they’ve settled into their grove, Chef Seaver is intent on offering regular “Meal for Two” specials as part of his menu. Entrees sized for two people to share will come with a selection of side dishes. No word on pricing yet, but if they stick to their plan of pricing most entrees under $20, it should make for a very reasonable night out.
Seaver will be offering up interpretations of classic American dishes with one eye on sustainability and the other on authenticity. His goal, he says, is to “let the ingredients speak for themselves” as much as possible. If it means less butter and cream, we’re decidedly on board!
If you never set foot in Busara, this is a surprisingly large space. There will be room for roughly 80 patrons in the main dining room, with 200 overall throughout the space, and a large patio area (with a tranquil pond in the middle of things) will provide even more opportunities for diners to drop in. Upstairs (and yes, there’s even an upstairs) will feature a loungey-clubby kind of atmosphere complete with faux fireplace and leather appointed chairs. It’s also the home to the private events space, where groups will be able to rent out an entire room for small-scale retreats and other activities.
Out on the patio, the ownership is committed to making it an evening you won’t regret. Look forward to live music (from local folk bands and others), barbecues, buckets of beer, and other attention-getting activities as soon as they launch.
Or stop in early one weekend morning and try their brunch, serving on both Saturdays and Sundays. Remember that cooking mantra – classic American with southern influences – and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the kinds of dishes you can expect to find here at brunch. Visualize a farm-fresh poached egg with crispy bacon atop a salad. Think about ham biscuits made from authentic Virginia ham.
And to drink with your meal (whether you stop in for dinner, a lighter bite, or just a cocktail or two), Guthrie and Hengst have collaborated to come up with a wine list that reflects their shared love for Thomas Jefferson’s approach. The list will draw heavily from France’s less often highlighted grapes, but it will also feature a selection of quality Virginia wines, as well.
With high hopes for Blue Ridge’s success, we’re eagerly awaiting the opening to see how three visions – Hengst’s, Seaver’s and Guthrie’s – come together to form a top-notch restaurant. In any event, this will certainly represent a dining experience that is not currently represented in the nearby neighborhood. We fully expect it will be embraced whole-heartedly by students, neighbors, and foodies throughout the city alike.