Virtuoso Life May 2019 The Washington, D.C. Restaurants Earning Our Vote of Approval

The Washington, D.C. Restaurants Earning Our Vote of Approval

Washington, D.C.’s Jefferson Memorial.
Washington, D.C.’s Jefferson Memorial.
At these six restaurants, chefs are getting personal, with delicious results.

Sometimes restaurants drop a gift with the check: a couple of truffles, thimbles of herbal amaros, tropical tiles of pâte de fruit shimmering with sugar. At American Son in Washington, D.C., you get a fish.
 
The restaurant, which opened in October 2018, is chef Tim Ma’s tribute to his upbringing by Chinese parents in rural Arkansas. Inside the menu’s front cover, a handwritten note  from Ma to his parents reads, “You taught us a language you did not know, fed us food you could not cook, and immersed us in a culture you did not understand. And with that we became American, though we looked worlds apart.” When Ma’s parents would introduce him to other Chinese people, they would call him their “American son,” the note continues, “to explain why I couldn’t speak Chinese, why I didn’t know our culture, or why I didn’t like our food, but I am proud of who you allowed me to become.”
 

Late-night diners at Timber Pizza Co.
Late-night diners at Timber Pizza Co.
Like Ma, chefs all around D.C. are telling their personal stories through food. For Javier Fernandez at Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly in Rockville, Maryland, that’s slow-roasted Filipino-style pork belly and spring-roll-like lumpia as thin and crisp as pirouette cookies. For Sebastian Oveysi at Amoo’s Restaurant in McLean, Virginia, it’s four different Iranian styles of rice, plus tahdig, the golden, buttery, bottom-of-the-rice-pot specialty. Daniela Moreira at Timber Pizza Co., a pizzeria with a cultish following in D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood, makes flaky empanadas based on a dough recipe and technique her grandmother taught her in Córdoba, Argentina.
 
And for Ma, it’s a pastiche of Asian and American culinary traditions that converge in dishes such as spaghetti squash ssam – a nest of roasted squash threads served with ssamjang and peanut sauces, fried garlic and shallots, “everything” bagel and togarashi seasonings, limes, and butter lettuce cups for DIY wrapping – which I devoured at American Son’s bustling bar. The dish references Korea, Malaysia, Japan, and Jewish deli tradition, all in one frilly green bundle.
 
King crab curry with plantain chips at Kith/Kin.
King crab curry with plantain chips at Kith/Kin.
Down at The Wharf, a slick real estate development on a channel of the Potomac, chef Kwame Onwuachi charts the African diaspora at Kith/ Kin. In a dining room as broad shouldered and corporate as a Brooks Brothers suit, the florid cooking comes across in Technicolor. Hunks of king crab bathed in buttery yellow curry sauce were spiked with fermented habaneros and finger lime. Tender oxtails rode in on a cushion of perfectly cooked jasmine rice. Green seasoning, a Trinidadian marinade whose aromatics include cilantro, scallion, ginger, and Scotch bonnet peppers, lit up a braised goat shoulder whose morsels gathered in a ceramic bowl with bubbly roti. “This is the food of my people,” says Onwuachi. “I always joke with my guests that this is just my Thanksgiving on a menu.”
 
On the opposite side of the Mall, in a discreet town house just off the U Street Corridor, father and daughter Hiroshi and Cizuka Seki have been running Izakaya Seki since 2012. I passed Hiroshi, 72 and still crushing counter service at the first-floor bar, while heading to the cozy upstairs dining room for ethereal fried oysters, rice balls with salted-plum centers, and crackly skinned Hamachi collar. I washed the snacks down with highly floral Oze no Yukidoke junmai daiginjo from the interesting sake list Cizuka curates with helpful, succinct descriptions such as, “If you like Chartreuse, you’ll like this.” I felt seen, and ordered a carafe.
 
Izakaya Seki’s impressive sake collection.
Izakaya Seki’s impressive sake collection.
Back at American Son, I balanced the sake consumption with a B-Complex, an effervescent zero-proof cocktail made with lemon juice, sparkling water, and toasted-rice orgeat syrup. The citrus Rice Krispie treat balancing on the rim, I saved for dessert, which I ate as the bartender passed the bill and the aforementioned fish across the counter.
 
The Taiwanese toy comes packaged in a plastic envelope. Per its instructions, you place the red cellophane fish in your palm, and it tells your fortune based on the way it reacts to your skin: A moving head means jealousy, a moving tail means indifference, and so forth. After a moment, my fish stretched its head skyward. Its tail began waving. I consulted the legend, thinking of all the food stories I’d consumed in D.C. “Moving Head and Tail… In Love,” it said. But I could have told you that already. 

Where to Eat in Washington, D.C.

  • American Son: Creative American cooking from one of D.C.’s sharpest young chefs.
  • Amoo’s Restaurant: Soulful, herbaceous Iranian cooking just across the border in McLean, Virginia.
  • Izakaya Seki: Excellent sushi, fried snacks, and noodles, with a killer sake library.
  • Kith/Kin: Electrifying cooking inspired by the chef’s family heritage in New Orleans, Nigeria, Trinidad, and Jamaica.
  • Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: Filipino roast pork and more in a Rockville, Maryland, strip mall.
  • Timber Pizza Co.: Nighttime pizza – and morning bagels on weekends – with a devoted following in Petworth.

Roll Call: Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.

Park Hyatt Washington D.C.

Coffee-brined boar, ’nduja-spiced oyster stew, and foie mousse with caramel apple praline are just a few dishes on the menu at the Michelin-starred Blue Duck Tavern, which anchors the lobby of the Park Hyatt Washington D.C., home to 220 rooms with Craftsman-style furniture, natural-stone baths, and pops of denim and gold. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.

The Hay-Adams

Welcoming guests in style since 1928, the 145-room Hay-Adams is one of the capital’s grande-dame power-player hotels. Dinner at The Lafayette features continental classics such as Dover sole and beef Wellington, while scarlet lounge Off the Record keeps it casual with sliders and cheese plates. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

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