Coming Attractions


By the time you read this post, Roti Mediterranean Grill will be open for breakfast.  If  you hurry, you might still beat the rush to be one of the first to try a sandwich wrapped in laffa or tucked into a house-baked pita pocket.  Even if you’re not enough of an early bird to check out their breakfast offerings, you may want to check out Roti in NoMa sooner rather than later.

Why?  Roti is offering up spit-roasted meats and freshly made toppings that will make up for all those mediocre gyros and kebabs you’ve settled for in the past.  They’re even baking their own pita bread on site.  And they’re delivering all these big sit-down style flavors at carryout prices.

There was a time when the area north of Union Station on First Street, NE, was an expanse of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings.  These days, with multiple federal offices and other large employers moving into the area, there are new dining options opening every week.  Even so, Roti Mediterranean Grill is poised to stand out among its neighbors.

So what’s Roti all about?  Imagine Chipotle with the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean.  Got it?  Now check out that picture to the right.  Pretty close, right?  On the surface, Roti’s quick-service, choose-your-own-adventure style is similar to that of the ubiquitous burrito place.  But their flavors are miles apart.

Check out some of what Roti will be offering when they open today after the jump. (more…)

The amazing retro-airline ticket menu at DC-3

When I say “hot dog,” what do you picture?  The frank and the bun are pretty much universal, but what else is on there – did you “drag it through the garden?”  Are there poppy seeds on the bun (or could it even be a pretzel roll)?  Is the dog long and thin, like the ones they offer at Nathan’s on Coney Island, bright red like a Kayem, or is it more like a sausage?  Did you reflexively go to a half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl?

We don’t tend to think about these regional differences when we’re grilling on the Fourth of July, but there’s a wide world of wieners out there as you make your way from coast to coast.  Starting tomorrow today, you can eat your way from Maine to California without ever leaving Barracks Row, as DC-3 opens for business at 11 AM.

This new fast-casual concept from the guys who brought you Matchbox and Ted’s Bulletin is banking on hot dogs as the next big thing.  But don’t think of DC-3 as a sit-down street cart or even a direct competitor to Ben’s.  With their complete commitment to a “vintage aviation” concept that starts with a Douglas Commercial-3 (get it?) propeller on the wall when you enter and continues all the way down to the ticket-jacket menus, DC-3 is a full-on restaurant that just happens to focus on hot dogs from across the country.

We’ve been talking with the team for months now – after a friend heard us raving about Chicago’s Hot Doug’s he tipped us off to this work-in-progress.  When Ted’s launched with a DC-3 teaser on the newsprint menu, we smiled and eagerly awaited the arrival.  Now the wait is over.

A “taxi down the runway” look at what you’ll be able to order after the jump. (more…)

I have a confession to make: when it comes to Cuban cuisine, my knowledge is pretty much limited to ropa vieja and the oh-so-delicious sandwich with its pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard.  Cuba is a blank spot on my culinary map, and the dearth of Cuban restaurants in the district hasn’t done anything to help that.  But all that can change tonight, courtesy of Cuba Libre.

It’s official.  Tonight is opening night, and after a few days of soft service it looks like they’re ready to go.  The latest in a line of recent DC imports (the original is in Philadelphia and they’ve also got locations in Atlantic City and Orlando), Cuba Libre will be bringing an updated version of Cuban and Latin classics to Chinatown.

If you’re wondering what took so long (besides the fact that Cuba Libre is opening in Washington, DC) you need only look around when you step inside and you’ll see.  The restaurant goes out of its way to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to pre-revolution Havana…or at least the idealized version of pre-revolution Havana.  It’s like you’ve sneaked onto the set of Godfather II.

No expense has been spared to create that atmosphere.  Above the dining area (the space is two floors high), facades have been created by Kevin Hale with a set designer’s eye for detail.  Stucco building-fronts feature backlit windows and real curtains.  A mural presents a Cuban street scene in one corner of the space.  The long, pale wooden bar was recovered from Havana’s Hotel Nacional.  It’s all tastefully accomplished – this isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean: the Restaurant.

More interior photos and a look at what Cuba Libre offers to eat and drink after the jump.  (more…)

On the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, there’s a storefront that has intrigued me for more than a year.  The floor-to-ceiling glass windows have been covered by black plastic from time to time, but they’ve since come down and revealed something like the ruins of Pompey.  A tableau of a restaurant, frozen in time.  Place settings went untouched.  Quality glassware acquired a thick layer of dust.  And no one seemed to know just what was happening with Locanda, the refined Italian eatery that closed so suddenly at the end of last May.

All that is about to change for the better, as the cousin team of Khoa and Denise Nguyen prepare to open a new Vietnamese restaurant they’re calling Ba Bay.  If those names sound familiar, it’s probably not because you saw them on short-lived cooking competition show Chopping Block last year (few people did, which is why the show was canceled so quickly).  But they decided that they enjoyed the experience enough that they would continue the partnership.

I spoke with Denise a few weeks ago and have been trading emails with her since.  This weekend, she and Khoa went back to their roots to learn the secrets to some classic family recipes with their mothers – and to put their own spin on a few dishes, as well.

After the jump, some more details about what to expect when Ba Bay opens (and when that might be). (more…)

<<EDIT 8/13/10 11:23 AM: Bummer!  Apparently the truck is out of commission for the day.  Red Hook has tweeted:

So, we’re not as weatherproof as our favorite hard-shelled friends and Friday the13th demons struck our truck. So sorry. Hope to roll Mon.

Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery and a smooth opening run on Monday!>>

By the time you read this, Red Hook Lobster Pound may have already tweeted the site of their first stop (Brooklyn-based owner Susan Povich has already spilled the beans on their New York feed).  If that’s the case, you can bet that a line is already forming to greet them upon arrival, regardless of weather.  Before Red Hook had served even their first sample, they had more than 1900 followers hanging on their every update about when their mobile lobster shack would be hitting the street.

Well the wait is finally over, and we can say from experience it was worth it.  Last night the team behind Red Hook Lobster DC threw a launch party for some of their most eager fans and media types.  Guests enjoyed tastes of the truck’s signature lobster rolls as well as Cape Cod chips, shrimp rolls, whoopie pies and Maine Root sodas.  We gathered in the grassy park-like space where M and 2nd Streets meet in Southeast, near the Nationals’ stadium. (HINT: Apparently the Red Hook folks thought it was a good location…just saying.)

At the kick-off party we had a chance to meet Susan as well as Doug Povich (Susan’s cousin) and Leland Morris, the guys behind Red Hook Lobster Pound’s Washington operation.  The mood was festive despite the fact that we all huddled under a pair of tents while a storm blew through.  The mobile restaurateurs were effusive with their praise of their DC followers as they shared their excitement to be hours away from opening.

So what was that delectable-looking lobster roll like?  And what do you need to do to be ready when they come to your neighborhood?  Find out after the jump. (more…)

If the number of visitors to Capital Spice who have been checking out our first look at We the Pizza is any indication, there will be lines for days as soon as they’re open.

There’s just one thing…that won’t be today.

We just heard from the Mendelsohns that they’ve had to push back their opening one more time.  Instead of opening today at lunchtime, as previously reported just about everywhere, they’re planning to open on Friday, July 23rd.

And if you thought the line was going to be long today, don’t forget to factor in the casual nature of most Congressional offices on Fridays in the summer.  Chances are there will be just a few more folks willing to brave the lines for a taste of Spike, Mike and Brian’s pizzas, wings and sandwiches.

We’ll keep you posted if we hear of any further developments.

<<EDIT #2 4:39 PM 7/8/10 –As reported elsewhere (including Tim Carman’s Young & Hungry post), the opening has been pushed back a week and is now slated for Monday, July 19th.  Stay hungry!>>

<<EDIT 11:29 AM 7/7/10 – Official word from We the Pizza is that they’re planning for a Monday opening. They’ve been working ’round the clock to finish everything up and, in Mike Colletti’s words, “Everything’s great…but I’m tired!”>>

Brace yourselves.

Better yet, Capitol Hill, break out your fat pants.

In just a few days, Spike Mendelsohn (along with his family and friends) will be opening We, the Pizza in the space that used to be Zack’s Taverna.  Consider it the polar opposite to the new SweetGreen – the menu consists of pizzas, wings, sandwiches and gelati all washed down with ice-cold beers and hand-flavored Italian fountain sodas.

The opening party is tonight, and they’ll be turning out pies to the public as early as Friday.

Can’t wait that long?  Check out the menu on their already-live website.

Better yet, check out the following photos to get a feel for the place.  We were lucky enough to get in for a first look yesterday, and it’s clear that Spike, Mike Colletti and Brian Lacayo are ready to have some fun with their new concept.

More photos after the jump. (more…)

As you may have noticed from some of our posts over the past few months, we’ve been expecting an addition to the Capital Spice family.  I’m proud to announce that the wait came to an end last Wednesday.  We’ve now got our very own Baby Spice!

So what did we do to mark the occasion?

Well, we took a week off from writing, for one thing.  Apologies to those of you who checked in regularly last week – we were hoping to pre-write some posts but the time got away from us.

Once we got home, though, we celebrated like any foodie couple would.  We reacquainted ourselves with some old friends that were off-limits during the pregnancy.  I paid a visit to Cheesetique to pick up a few favorites: Roquefort, St. Andre, raw milk cheddar.  We enjoyed them with some aged prosciutto and a sparkling rosé from J Vineyards (which we visited during our trip to Sonoma last year).

For us, it’s been interesting to see the health care community’s approach to food at various stages throughout the pregnancy.  Blanket prohibitions against certain categories of food perplexed us, as they usually did not come with clear explanations as to why.  Recommendations of some things seemed counter-intuitive to our “eat fresh, eat local” perspective.  And then there’s hospital food…

Elizabeth has plenty of thoughts on the subject, and I know she’ll be writing about them in the near future.

And what does this mean for Capital Spice?

At some point, it will mean that you’ll be able to get three opinions, instead of just two, when we check out a new restaurant.  But for now, it’s business as usual.  We don’t dine out quite as often as we used to, but that just makes it that much more important for us to seek out the best quality and value at restaurants both old and new – and to share them with you.  You can also continue to expect plenty of recipes from our own kitchen as the local farmers’ market season heats up.  And there are plenty of restaurant openings on the near horizon; we’ll be sure to provide you with information as we receive it!

We’ll also have plenty of exciting news and insights into Top Chef DC as the new season debuts next Wednesday.  As you may recall, we held a contest soliciting challenge ideas for a Washington-based season at the end of last year.  Who knew the folks at Bravo would be paying such close attention?

Check in with us next week and throughout the season for cast interviews, behind-the-scenes details (we may have been invited to a taping or two…) and a regular feature for national fans of the show providing the background of what makes each challenge so uniquely DC.

Thanks for reading!

With a flourish and a staff of literally dozens, SweetGreen opened their fifth storefront this morning on Capitol Hill.  Staffers and interns can rejoice in a new (and, more importantly) healthy lunch option.  While it may not be a ‘food desert,’ the healthier lunch options in the vicinity of the Congressional office buildings have been few and far between.

I took a walk past the Pennsylvania Avenue location at lunchtime, wondering just what I’d find in the old Trover Books space.  Would the green in SweetGreen show through?  Or would they emphasize the sweet to bring in the crowds?

As it turns out, there’s plenty of both with an entire floor’s worth of space left to spare.  And after an abbreviated opening (they closed early at 4 PM) yesterday, they’re now ready to handle the crowds from 11 AM to 10 pM daily.

After the jump, check out their fresh, local focus (and maybe some frozen yogurt while you’re at it). (more…)

<<EDIT 2:53 PM, 5/28/10: I’ve been informed that Agora’s chef is now Ghassan Jarrouj, who comes to Agora from Sitti in Raleigh, NC.  Jarrouj has 35 years’ experience heading up kitchens with a wide range of Mediterranean influences including Neyla in Georgetown and Taverna Kefi in Wheaton.  My apologies for the confusion.>>

There’s a reason I got as excited as I did when I discovered Urfa Tomato Kabob in Penn Quarter last year – Turkish cuisine is still woefully underrepresented in the DC dining scene.  But not for long.  This week, a taste of Turkey arrived in Dupont Circle in the form of Agora.

If you’ve ever made the trip out to Vienna to taste the authentic Turkish flavors at Nizam’s, you’ll be thrilled to know that Chef Rasit Gulsen is heading up the kitchen in the new 17th Street restaurant.  And if you’ve found yourself wondering how Turks can live almost exclusively on kabob and pide, Agora has the answer you’ve been looking for: seafood.  The riches of the Mediterranean make up a sizable portion of Agora’s menu in a variety of presentations that is likely to surprise most DC diners.

I stopped by Agora just as they were putting the finishing touches on the decor and the kitchen, getting ready for their big opening this week.  While I was there I had a chance to take a look around, take some pictures, and even get a look at their menu.

After the jump, check out some of what Agora is bringing to the marketplace. (more…)

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