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…)

<<EDIT 12:24 PM, 5/13/10 – Sorry for the confusion – I listed the address as NE, not NW, but I’ve corrected it.

UPDATE 12:20 PM, 5/13/10 – Check out Buddha Bar’s dinner menu, just in!>>

If you’ve ridden the Circulator from Union Station to Georgetown or driven along Massachusetts Avenue near Chinatown at any point in the past year or so, you’ve been tantalized with a large advertisement for Buddha Bar in the ground-floor windows of 455.  The gigantic space has been a work in progress for almost twice that long, but the wait is finally over.  Buddha Bar opened for dinner service last night and is now ready for business.

Maybe you’re familiar with their popular series of music compilations.  Perhaps you’ve paid a visit to Little Buddha in Las Vegas or the original Buddha Bar in Paris.  Or maybe the Washington outpost of this global lounge and restaurant concept (branded as “eatertainment”) is your first experience with the concept.  Whatever your level of familiarity with Buddha Bar, prepare to be impressed.

After the jump, take an early look at the space with photos while you’re making your plans for this weekend. (more…)

Urfa LogoSo I’ve got a little confession to make: I get my hair cut at a salon.  Ever since a certain beautiful and wise woman pointed out that I was getting what I paid for at that national discount hair-cuttering chain, I’ve been going to Bang Salon in the Verizon Center.  And I actually feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

But this post is NOT about that, I promise.

As I was walking back to the car after my most recent cut, I turned down 6th Street and stopped short.  Right in front of me was a sign that I just couldn’t ignore.  “Döner Kabob,” it beckoned.  Obediently, I followed.

Urfa Interior 42 Bus

Image from "The 42" http://the42bus.blogspot.com

I walked into a small space, really little more than a carryout with a few stools along a counter that ran the perimeter of the room.  At the rear was a counter where a man stood smiling and waiting.  You may recall my enthusiasm upon learning that there was a pickle vendor at Eastern Market…this was a similar situation.  I eagerly relayed my love of döner and my excitement to learn that this restaurant existed.  He continued to smile and then instructed his co-worker to cut me off a slice of the döner meat so I could taste it for myself.

That first bite was all I needed – I ordered a full sandwich on the spot and settled in to wait for it.

What is döner, and why will we be coming back here so soon?  After the jump… (more…)