Muze: Asian flair in Southwest
Mandarin Oriental, the posh hotel in Southwest, has replaced its restaurant Sou’Wester, with Muze, overlooking the Washington Marina. Executive Chef Didier Pouzier and chef de cuisine Mark McDonnell draw upon the hotel’s Asian heritage, preparing innovative dishes with local, seasonal ingredients. Menu highlights: confit lamb shoulder, Ahi tuna crudo, blue crab tempura. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Muze will complement the hotel’s dressier flagship restaurant, CityZen by Eric Ziebold.
AnchorThe Atlas District keeps humming along. Soon to arrive is Maketto, an Asian-style market with stalls hawking exotic food and fashion. Created by Erik Bruner-Yang and Will Sharp, Maketto is due to arrive later this year. Located at 1351 H St. NE, the "next generation Eastern Market" is a joint venture of H Street’s Toki Underground (which has a pop-up eatery in Union Market with dynamite Asian soups), and designer Durkl, Bruner-Yang. The first level will house retail space and a bar. Upstairs will contain more retail and a Vigilante Coffee Bar, which will serve java from beans roasted and brewed on-site.
Italian comfort in the woodshed
On a bitterly cold Saturday evening, we dined at Osteria Morini, which arrived in late October in the beautifully reclaimed Lumber Shed in the Capitol Riverfront area. Spring will bring outdoor dining. The 130-seat newcomer is a spinoff of Michael White’s 13-member Altamarea Group; his original restaurant opened in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in 2010. Lacking reservations at the “new” Morini, we had a wait, so we settled ourselves at the wide, marble-topped bar.
As we enjoyed rosemary-spiked focaccia, our friendly bartender/server, Tom, talked us into splitting an appetizer pasta in lieu of salads or other starters. Good idea. All of executive chef Matt Adler’s pastas are cranked out in his open display kitchen. Our choice was stracci, wide ribbon noodles tossed with wild mushrooms scented with rosemary oil. The portion was a “primi piatti,” satisfying but not too filling, leaving room for entrees. From the brief but comprehensive list, Peter chose branzino, Mediterranean sea bass, which tasted of char-grilling in chef Adler’s wood-burning oven. (There’s also a selection of “simply grilled meats” like veal and lamb chops, spit-roasted porchetta and a 14-ounce dry-aged ribeye. Anointed with a kiss of fennel, Peter’s fish was flanked with spring-like green beans and a charred lemon half.
I was torn between roasted Cornish game hen and Sangiovese braised short ribs. Tom recommended the latter, and I’m glad he did. Cooked for 18 hours, the beef literally melted in my mouth. That’s a cliché but it’s the truth in this case. A smattering of lemon zest cut the meat’s richness. Served on an attractive oval dish, the ribs came with fluffy whipped potatoes and an array of baby root vegetables. Italian comfort food, welcome on such a cold night.
Morini’s wine list leans toward regional Italian vintages, plus other European and American options. We were also intrigued by the exotic cocktails Tom was concocting while we watched. Osteria Morini is huge, fairly noisy, but not ear-splitting. It’s not cheap; dinner for two—with just a glass of house wine apiece-- came to $100 plus tip.
Located at 301 Water St. SE, Osteria Morini is open Sunday-Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11. To get there from the Hill, go west on M St. SE to 4th St, SE, turn left and go as far as you can to Water St. Parking is limited; the Navy Yard Metro (Green Line) is nearby. Call 202-484-0660 or visit www.osteriamorini.com/Washington-dc.
Neighbor in the shed
Also in the Lumber Shed, Agua 301, an offshoot of Barracks Row’s popular Zest Bistro, debuted Dec. 21. In his “modern Mexican” kitchen, Chef Antonio Burrell (formerly with Logan Circle’s marvelous El Centro) showcases ceviche pescado blanco, carnitas (pork) tacos, several kinds of guacamole (including crabmeat), beef barbacoa and entrees like pan-seared mahi mahi, adobo roasted chicken and crepas vegetales. At the classy opening fete, we sampled dishes and spoke with proprietors Amanda and Stephen Briggs. We also chatted with Stephen’s stepfather, former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich), who lives nearby. We also ogled Agua’s stunning décor.
Designed by Michelle Bove of GrizForm Design Architects, the 44-seat, 3,400-square-foot newcomer evokes ancient Mexico with two major themes: the Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan and the artistry of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. A custom wall panel represents a map of the ancient city; rosy-hues dominate the color scheme. A wooden trellis evokes an Aztec pyramid; lighting fixtures blend old and new. Cactus plants snuggle in niches along one wall. Come spring, outdoor seating will overlook the Anacostia River. Agua 301 is located at 301 Water St. SE.
Lunch is served Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner is Sunday-Thursday 3:30 to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 3:30 to11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy Hour goes from 3:30 to 7 p.m. seven days.(Early dinner starting time accommodates nearby Federal office workers.) Call 202-484-0301.
Zest Bistro welcomes a new chef, Alex Ripley, formerly with Lavagna. At Lavagna, sous chef Vicky Alt has been promoted to top toque.
Due to open at 1309 Fifth St. NE, the west end of Union Market, is Bidwell, a snazzy restaurant dispensing contemporary American cuisine. Headed by a pair of Irishmen, Michael O’Sullivan and John Mooney, the 2,000 square-foot enterprise will have a roof garden. Stay tuned.
Coming up January 13-19 is Washington’s highly anticipated Restaurant Week. Capitol Hill is well represented. So far, we have Ambar, Lavagna and Zest Bistro (all on Barracks Row), plus Art & Soul (Liaison Capitol Hill) and Johnny’s Half Shell (400 North Capitol). Restaurant Week pre-fix lunches are $20.14; dinners $30.14. For more information and a complete list, visit www.ramw.org/restaurant week.
You might think it would be slim pickings at Eastern Market this time of year. Not so. The outdoor farmers line is bustling with all kinds of winter bounty. Among them is Agora Farms, Dan Donahue’s bailiwick at the Seventh and C St. SE corner, which has plenty of winter goods, much of it organic. Besides cold weather produce like beets, cauliflower, parsnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash, and bok choi, Dan also sells apple cider (bottled or heated by the cup), Amish cheese, yogurt, apple butter, maple syrup, jams and jellies, dried fruits and nuts, beef jerky, and Uncle Brutha’s hot sauce. (We still miss Uncle Brutha’s nifty shop, which used to be nearby on Seventh.) Dan also carries a line of bargain-priced Garlic Vampire herbs and spices. Packaged in 6-ounce plastic containers, the extensive selection includes lemon pepper, coriander, garlic chips, creole seasonings, vanilla beans, and even dried mushrooms. Prices range roughly from $3.99 to $6.99. The Agora Farms stand is usually around on Saturdays and Sundays, but for more information visit www.agorafarms.com.