New ’08 Eats May Force New Year’s Resolutions Aside

Posted December 12, 2007 at 4:37pm

Loosen those belts and forget any New Year’s resolutions to drop a few pounds and eat better. Next year is shaping up to be a big one for the city’s dining scene.

Celebrity chefs are flocking to town to stake their claim, and some already have attracted a crowd. It’s become tough to score reservations at Eric Ripert’s Westend Bistro (1190 22nd St. NW), which just opened last month, and at Wolfgang Puck’s The Source (555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW), which opened its doors in mid-October.

And neighborhood joints are raising the bar on casual food.

On Capitol Hill, Barracks Row continues to evolve. The Eighth Street Southeast stretch was recently named one of the nation’s 10 great neighborhoods by the American Planning Association.

A new addition to the street is Cafe 8 (424 Eighth St. SE), which fills the void left by the closure of Ellington’s on Eighth. The Mediterranean eatery offers Turkish specialties such as baba ghanouj, cigar borek and a variety of pide, a type of flatbread pizza. Entrees run about $15 and include lamb chops with herb butter and adana, spicy chopped lamb skewers served over rice. Cafe 8 is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, at least for now.

Also on Barracks Row, the owners of Penn Quarter’s popular pizza joint Matchbox plan to open a second District restaurant in mid-2008.

“There seem to be more people there than there are places to go,” co-owner Drew Kim said. The crew plans to transform a former vending warehouse at 521 Eighth St. SE into a restaurant with the same look, vibe and menu of wood-fired pizzas as the original.

Heading west, the Peacock Grande Cafe is expected to open next week in the former Legal Sea Foods space at 2020 K St. NW. The restaurant is a spinoff of Georgetown’s Peacock Cafe. Look for a modern American menu.

Not far behind, an early 2008 opening is expected for Asia Nine (915 E St. NW.).

The menu will include sushi and Asian cuisine focusing on Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and China, with entrees in the $14 to $18 range. Spread over two stories will be a sushi bar, martini bar, lounge and private event space.

Also in Penn Quarter, two exciting new ventures from Errol Lawrence and Nancy Koide, owners of Oya (777 Ninth St. NW) are slated to open in the new year. First up is Sei (444 Seventh St. NW), an intimate 50-seat sushi restaurant next to the Lansburgh Theatre. The newcomer is expected to start serving in January.

Chef Noriaki Yasutake, formerly of Perry’s in Adams Morgan, will offer traditional and creative sushi, such as a fish and chips roll with flounder, malt vinegar, french fries and wasabi tartar and a Caesar salad roll with lettuce, anchovies and dressing. Entrees will include dishes like yuzu-cured chicken with ricotta gnocchi and tofu steak with wasabi mascarpone and tamarind soy.

Sommelier Andrew Stover has amassed more than 50 premium sakes to serve at Sei by the bottle, in addition to a selection of sake and wines by the glass.

In late spring, look for Lawrence and Koide’s Ray (901 I St. NW) to open just up the street from Oya. The ambitious project will boast an enormous 100-foot-long fish tank in the window filled with stingrays. A forward-thinking menu, crafted by chef Jonathan Seningen (also of Oya), will offer local and regional seafood specialties and a section of raw dishes. Stover is planning a wine list that highlights East Coast vintages.

The space will have 150 seats with a lounge area, two private dining rooms and an outdoor patio for 40.

On a more casual note, the first of several Chop’t salad shops has opened at 730 Seventh St. NW. The Manhattan import offers quick custom-made salads with premium ingredients. A Rossyln location is in the works, as well as two new sites in the District — one at1300 Connecticut Ave. NW and the other at 1899 L St. NW.

Also in the fast and casual market, Vapiano, the German-based chain of Italian food, has been blanketing the area with branches in Arlington, Dulles and downtown at 1800 M St. NW. Closer to the Hill, a Chinatown location is slated to open in March at 623-625 H St. NW. Vapiano’s menu offers made-to-order pizzas, house-made pastas and salads.

In hotel dining news, the late November announcement that W Hotel is taking over the classic Hotel Washington — known for its Sky Terrace with birds-eye views of the White House roof — has caused a stir. The property will undergo a major facelift in 2008 for a more contemporary look, and W promises “a spectacular rooftop bar and terrace and a world-class signature restaurant” for the space’s scheduled 2009 debut.

The newly remodeled St. Regis also is expected to make a big announcement soon about its new signature restaurant, rumored to be led by a famous French chef.