There’s a dark cloud looming over the hospitality industry right now, as the nation’s capital and the rest of the country hold our collective breath and try to determine this winter’s trajectory. Not only have D.C. restaurants and bars taken a devastating hit during Covid, the fear that cases may spike while we’re all stuck inside has business owners scrambling to find creative ways to stay afloat and winterize their locations. And yet, in the midst of the waiting game, some restaurateurs are launching new concepts, opening side businesses and finding socially distant-friendly ways to engage their customers. We selected 26 chefs in the D.C. area who have been on our radar not only for the amazing work they’ve done to support their staff and the local community, but also for remaining resilient and keeping our city on the culinary map during an economic crisis. While there are many entrepreneurs in the District to celebrate, some of whom are featured in other articles in this issue, here are some of the chefs making an impact as they forge ahead to restructure D.C.’s dining scene.
MARCELLE G AFRAM, MAYDAN + COMPASS ROSE
Culinary Concept: Growing up in a Lebanese and Syrian family and Syriac home in Maryland [and with] my parents owning mom-and-pop shops in the D.C. area, my culinary style draws upon these roots to pay homage to the flavors of the Mesopotamia along with celebrating local foodways and supporting local farmers and seasonality. As a young adult, my experiences in my culinary exploration included traveling and working on farms and fishing boats, which also influence what I do.
Standout Dish: Charred graffiti eggplant glazed in an Aleppian-style pomegranate and tomato sauce with sumac onions
The Restructure: We are part of an ecosystem that helps sustain so many factors associated with the industry. With this in mind for 2021, I hope to continue to create experiences and menus for our guests that are wholesome and also allow us to continue our partnership with local farms and purveyors, while being able to take measures to support our local communities all while sustaining the current employment of our team members. That being said, creating new revenue streams has been a major pivot – whether it’s trying to capture what we can via new concepts and ideas launching out of our current operations, such as Tigris and La Bodega at Compass Rose, or building on new operating hours as we are with lunchtime shawarmas at Maydan. As a leader in the restaurants during these times, it’s really reinforced the importance of having safe spaces for our team, both physical and mental, and this is just as much a priority as it always has been to have that awareness and enforcement.
JASSI BINDRA, PUNJAB GRILL
Culinary Concept: As a chef, I prefer to enjoy the road rather than the destination. My speciality is to present classical Indian dishes with modern expressions. All of this is a gastronomic journey of childhood. The taste of my grandmother’s recipes allows me to bring fond memories to the present. My menus at Punjab Grill are designed to find a mélange of urban cravings for Indian food, authenticity [and] creativity using locally sourced produce served with love [and] expressing warmth of hospitality through flavors on the plate.
Standout Dish: 1) Patiala duck glazed with jaggery and black pepper; and 2) My take on Peking duck, Punjabi-style: whole-roasted duck carved tableside, served with rumali pancake, pickled onion, pickled cucumber, pickled carrot, masala hoisin [and] house spice.
The Restructure: When we were forced to close our dining room in March, we immediately pivoted to takeout and delivery. It was so important to us to preserve the idea that food is more than just a necessity. We created a date night menu that featured a decadent three-course menu, complete with craft cocktails or wine for a more opulent takeout experience. When we learned of the difficulty some people were having obtaining grocery items, we added another service: offering grocery products for sale. It’s been very important to us to expand our community work through this crisis. We personally handed out meals provided by our internal “langar fund” nearly every day of the pandemic. We are approaching 100 days of giving. Maintaining safety for all our guests and staff has remained our top priority throughout this entire process, and we have made every possible effort to create an environment that is both enjoyable and safe. Every day, we learn more about the needs of our guests and will continue to adapt and make important changes as necessary.
PETER CHANG, MAMA CHANG
Culinary Concept: Mama Chang was created to celebrate the culinary contribution of the Chang women, including my grandmother, mother [and] wife, Chef Lisa Chang. It focuses on homestyle Chinese cooking and recipes, many of which have remained in the Chang family for generations.
Standout Dish: Farmer’s stir-fry (tofu skin, long green pepper and eggs)
The Restructure: It was quite shocking for us to experience the impact of Covid as early as January during the Lunar New Year holiday. Looking in retrospect, it gave us more time to act and come up with carryout programs that focus on family-sized meals. Our business has become 90 percent carryout and delivery to 10 percent dine-in since March. Going forward into 2021, we hope to retain as many staff as we possibly can – hopefully with the help of another government stimulus bill. We’d like to bring the restaurant experience to the guests’ homes in terms of packaging, taste and food quality. Our business will likely remain a mix of dine-in and carryout until Covid is over.
HENJI CHEUNG, QUEEN’S ENGLISH
Culinary Concept: The culinary concept at Queen’s English is to shine a different light on Asian cuisine – Cantonese specifically. Asian food is more than dumplings and fried rice. Cantonese cuisine can be refined and elevated.
Standout Dish: We have so many neighbors that come see us frequently, so we are constantly changing the menu. One dish we can’t change, though, [that’s] been on the menu since day one is daikon fritters filled with baby shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and scallions topped with mayo, oyster sauce and pork sung.
The Restructure: We have the most amazing, motivated staff who has gotten us through this year. We started in May by offering a set menu for pickup. We were able quickly thereafter to pivot to offer delivery via our own staff members. In June, we had a pop-up serving Hong Kong breakfast snacks. When the city entered into Phase 2, we opened limited dining on our patio. We now have a streatery that seats – socially distanced – almost as many guests as our dining room did pre-Covid. We are now offering dinner six nights a week on our heated patio [with] delivery. We have also turned our dining room into a natural wine and candle shop. In November, we are planning another pop-up featuring rotating Hong Kong breakfast pastries, congee and classic macaroni soup. “One day at a time” is a motto we live by right now. Our staff has become one of the strongest teams and everyone is committed to the idea that if we survive this, nothing can stop us. We are all hands on deck and cross-trained on all facets of current business. We wouldn’t be here still without our outstanding guests and neighbors in Columbia Heights, who have been so supportive and kept our spirits high throughout these crazy months. We will continue to listen to what the neighborhood needs and pivot accordingly.
DINA DANIEL, FAVA POT
Culinary Concept: We serve grandma-style Egyptian cuisine. My vision was – and still is – that anyone who walks into Fava Pot should feel welcomed at his [or her] second home. The hospitality, the decorations and the food are so fresh and homey.
Standout Dish: Our cuisine is so rich. Our menu stands out and I have many returning guests who try a new dish every time. I believe the koshary bowl, which is a vegan street food, is very well-received by the community. It is a best-selling item, and not only vegan people love it – all of our guests order it and love it. [It’s] a hearty dish starring lentils, Egyptian rice, pasta and a rich, spicy tomato sauce, topped with chickpeas and sweet caramelized onions.
The Restructure: When the pandemic hit, I was taken by the shock for a few days. Then I sat down and realized I need to work out a way to survive. I put down three goals I need to figure out how to achieve: 1) Not to lose any of my team who I have trained very well – 95 percent of them been with me since I started; 2) Generate income that will keep our doors open and our name out there; and 3) Keep my landlord on the same page as us. We’ve switched to online ordering, free delivery for 30 miles, and [are working the] minimum hours so we can keep food on our tables and pay rent and other expenses at home.
DAVID DESHAIES, UNCONVENTIONAL DINER
Culinary Concept: My background is in classic French cooking, but what I crave most as an eater is comfort food. When I travel, I love to eat local and try to experience a culture through its food. When I cook, I like to bring that sense of place back to my kitchen and then apply culinary technique to elevate those food memories.
Standout Dish: I think our standout dish is our chicken parm florentine. We blend chicken with spices, stuff it with a gruyère and spinach blend before frying it, and then melt the requisite fresh mozzarella on top. We serve it with buttered parmesan noodles and house-made marinara.
The Restructure: At the onset of Covid, we pivoted early to provide our Stay at Home Supper Club, featuring meals for two [or more] to be enjoyed at home at an affordable price. Before reopening our dining room, we built plexiglass dividers between tables and developed entry/exit strategies with proper social distancing for safe dining and pickup, among other practices. Eventually, we developed a large-scale outdoor patio while continuing to build our delivery and [takeout] businesses. That said, we still look forward to the day we can break bread without masks and the worry of contagion. Until then, we remain focused on guest and staff safety, and will continue to evolve our business and practices to ensure safe dining and a safe workplace.
JAVIER FERNANDEZ, KUYA JA’S LECHON BELLY
Culinary Concept: I am a classically French-trained chef who worked at many local French restaurants. I try to incorporate French cooking techniques into my Filipino comfort food while trying to use as many local ingredients as possible.
Standout Dish: Lechon Belly, of course. Think Filipino porchetta: pork belly stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, green onions and a house spice blend roasted for over six hours until the meat is juicy and tender with mahogany crackling skin.
The Restructure: I feel extremely lucky to have already had a primarily takeout restaurant pre-pandemic. I think the pandemic has not only taught us how we can operate more efficiently post-pandemic but also how having an amazing team can conquer anything. We closed the restaurant for almost three months for the safety of our staff and their families. Reopening felt like the grand opening of our restaurant. We were stressed, we were tired, we were overwhelmed with all the changes, and we were operating with 50 percent of our staff. I owe everything to my amazing wife/business partner. Not only does she work a full-time job, she does a wonderful job raising our two young daughters and somehow still finds time to manage the restaurant. Countless hours of raising funds through GoFundMe for our staff out of work, applying for numerous loans and grants to help us survive, providing our staff with groceries, [and] placing orders to make sure we had PPE [personal protective equipment], cleaning supplies, and the right equipment for reopening. She inspires our team to continue trucking on, even when times are tough. If I had any advice for restaurants/chefs, it would be to not take shortcuts and to be innovative. If the quality of your food stays consistent, I truly believe the community will continue to support as they will not be able to resist your delicious dishes. Our industry is resilient and the winter months may be a struggle, but I hope that we will all bounce back in 2021.
DENNIS FRIEDMAN, SHOUK
Culinary Concept: Coming from a fine-dining background, I have made myself an expert in the plant-based world and am committed to making plant-based food both accessible and delicious. Eating more plants is the right thing to do for the health of our bodies, the community and the planet.
Standout Dish: The Shouk Burger is the best-selling item on our menu and has won multiple awards. The plant-based patty is made from 12 whole vegetables, beans and grains, lending a healthier, unprocessed option to the growing market of meat-free burgers. At the restaurant, it’s served with roasted tomato, pickled turnip, arugula, charred onion and tahina. We also just launched a frozen version of the burger available for carryout and delivery, which gives diners the opportunity to build the burger their way at home. We saw an increased demand for plant-based options at home. Customers weren’t necessarily looking for a non-meat burger engineered to be disguised as beef, but rather a plant-packed burger made entirely of recognizable and clean ingredients. Our Shouk Burger checked all the boxes.
The Restructure: With both of our restaurants being located downtown, we had to find alternative ways to get our food to guests outside of D.C. In addition to third-party delivery apps, we created Hood Drops to bring food to those outside the standard delivery range. Through the restaurant’s app, diners find the day we will be delivering to their neighborhood, place their order and then pick it up from a convenient location nearby. The response has been incredible and on average, we deliver to 20 different neighborhoods in D.C., Maryland and Virginia each week. We also started selling our pantry items for the home cook including dips, sauces, non-dairy cheeses, pickled veggies and spice blends, as well as our choco-cardamom cookie dough and the newly launched frozen Shouk Burger.
KATSUYA FUKUSHIMA, DAIKAYA GROUP
Culinary Concept: First of all, my approach is not unique, but I take pride in being extremely thoughtful when it comes to the ingredients I’m working with, being respectful of culinary culture, and bringing a very open mind to my methodology and technique.
Standout Dish: 1) Scallop grilled in the shell with Ichiban dashi, fresh apple juice, butter and usukuchi; and 2) dashi and habanero-brined fried chicken using multiple types of starches and flours in the dredge.
The Restructure: With all of our restaurants at Daikaya Group, safety takes precedence. Staff is scheduled in a way [where] they work with the same coworkers to minimize the overlap of staff coming and going during [a] shift change. Stations have been spaced out to enforce safe social distancing. All of this has had a huge impact on the design of our menus. Keeping as many cooks and chefs working is important to us as a local small business and restaurant group based in the District. We will continue to do our best to remain positive, move forward, [and] support our amazing staff and community during these challenging times, lifting each other up along the way.
CHRISTIAN IRABIÉN, MUCHAS GRACIAS
Culinary Concept: My approach has been refined to create simple dishes, using what is in season and around to recreate dishes from my growing up in and near Mexico. [I] always [pay] special attention to flavor [and] textures – and a big, big player is always color contrasts – in how we garnish at the restaurant to make the food vibrant and incredibly festive, which to me, is exactly what Mexico is.
Standout Dish: At Muchas Gracias, we are getting a lot of attention for our carnitas (Spanish for little meats, referring to their tenderness), a traditional Mexican dish of pork generally cooked in its own fat – similar to a confit. We cook them Chihuahua-style by braising our pork low and slow in a bath of chicken stock, citrus juices and an incredible amount of garlic.
The Restructure: My world as a chef at Muchas Gracias has pivoted continuously, and it continues to do so as the world seems to adjust daily to living through a pandemic. [There are] so many different opportunities to support not just our neighborhood but our staff and their families as well by [providing] our neighbors with necessary staples [and] delicious, nutritious hot food [and] taking a portion of our revenue and using it to actively donate to different organizations. Most importantly, [we see] all the ways we can continuously support our in-house team by providing financial stability, purpose through their work, and continuing education through honing their skills and gaining more professional development and growth during their time with us. We have pivoted from being a small community grocer with a Latin focus to a prepared meal, deli-like operation to a fast-casual takeout Mexican spot to now, a full-service dine-in neighborhood restaurant. The transformation at times feels organic and at other times like arming and disarming a very complex operation. As winter arrives, we are trying to take everything into consideration to make smart decisions by winterizing our outside seating and taking it day by day on figuring out what the business model looks like.
ARMANI JOHNSON, ABC PONY
Culinary Concept: I have been told that I am a very inquisitive person. I think that’s where most of my ideas start – not by trying to reinvent the wheel, but how can I give you something that looks familiar but taste a little more refined.
Standout Dish: The most standout dish to me is the blackened rockfish. It is very simple as far as the plating and surprises everyone that eats it because it’s just some fish sitting on a bed of rice. We blacken the fish with a super traditional blackening seasoning and some togarashi spice. [We cook the rice] with a chicken liver XO sauce and soffritto.
The Restructure: I think the restaurants that have survived are the epitome of pivoting. It seems as if overnight, we went from talented people who cook because we love it to people cooking for survival. Changing from a regular, full-service menu to a takeout operation was extremely difficult for all of us because it was only five of us working six days a week for a few months. We had to learn to accept uncertainty and continue to push. We now have the ABC Pony menu, making meals for the Power of 10 Initiative, and three dinner specials every week to please our guests and also make it over the hump in revenue. In 2021, we want to continue to keep things going, and will continue to take things one day at a time.
HAIDAR KAROUM, CHLOE
Culinary Concept: Chef-driven, internationally inspired fare led by the seasons, [drawing] upon a diverse culinary heritage
Standout Dish: Cobia crudo: sashimi-grade slices of slightly cured cobia dressed with nuoc cham (an essential Vietnamese dipping sauce), avocado, chilies, puffed black rice, crispy shallots and baby coriander
The Restructure: The most drastic pivot was in April when we reopened for carryout/delivery. It’s just a different animal, and flipping a switch to 100 percent to-go food was like opening a new restaurant in some ways. It took a day or two before we got it down and figured out the new systems. The most important aspect of coping with the pandemic is putting the restaurant into “survival mode,” trimming the fat in any which way possible without sacrificing quality. With profit margins razor-thin to begin with, every aspect of cost savings has to be considered and implemented. Menu items have to be reduced, labor costs have to be strictly monitored, and maximum product utilization must be adhered [to].
SENG LUANGRATH, THIP KHAO + PADAEK
Culinary Concept: My approach to cooking is based on memories growing up in Laos and what I like to cook for my family. It is very homestyle and true to its integrity, with the opportunity to express my Lao heritage.
Standout Dish: It would have to be the Naem Khao, which is a crispy rice salad mixed with a variety of herbs, sour pork and peanuts. It’s seasoned with fish sauce and lime juice, a refreshing textural dish served with lettuce leaves on the side as wraps [and] best eaten with your hands.
The Restructure: We were unsure how we [would] move through the pandemic, as we felt it is our responsibility to keep our staff and guests safe. We closed for a month in hopes [of achieving] any loans and funds out there. Time went by with very little progress, [so] we decided that waiting was not an option anymore and we initially pivoted to only contactless carryout. Slowly, our services extended to limited, reservation-only patio seating, but that is only for our D.C. location due to its larger size. Our team is much smaller, and we are working hard to provide what our guests want. With that, we felt that focusing on the well-being of our staff was the highest priority as we continue to deal with health and financial challenges. As for our approach to next year, we have no idea where our restaurants will stand, as the future remains uncertain. We [are taking] this time to simply focus on the present and continue to use our creativity tank to keep our lights on and more importantly, [to] support our staff.
ROSE NOEL, MAIALINO MARE
Culinary Concept: I want the team to love what we do as much as I do. The goal is to build a talented and passionate team. I lead with that in mind.
Standout Dish: Fettuccine con gamberetti: Argentinian red shrimp, butter [and] parsley with fresh fettuccine noodles
The Restructure: I’m very excited to have Maialino Mare reopen soon and welcome back all our wonderful guests. Our restaurant brought together two of my great loves: pasta and seafood. I was so grateful to be able to share my loves with our guests and look forward to doing so again. Covid-19 has undoubted[ly] changed the way we run our businesses. It also has changed the way we work with our teams and how we take care of ourselves. Safety is a priority like never before, for our guests as well as our employees.
TERESA PADILLA, TAQUERIA XOCHI
Culinary Concept: [Our] mission is to bring authentic Mexican food to Washington with an emphasis on dishes [we’ve] been searching for in D.C. such as cemitas (Puebla-style sandwiches), mangonadas (a sweet-and-sour slushee full of mango, lime, tamarind and chamoy, a chile-based sauce) and tlayudas (a Mexican flatbread/pizza with a tortilla base). [Our] menu influences come from family recipes and experiences in Puebla, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Jalisco while growing up in Mexico.
Standout Dish: [My] standout dish is [my] quesabirria taco, a braised beef taco with a layer of cheese melted into the tortilla and served with a bowl of delicious consomé for dipping.
The Restructure: Taqueria Xochi is a new concept that resulted from the circumstances created by the pandemic. Xochi’s director of operations Geraldine Mendoza [and I] are two of the many restaurant workers who were displaced from their jobs as a result of the pandemic. A 16-year veteran at José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup restaurants, [I] always dreamed of opening [my] own Mexican concept in D.C. and bringing many traditional Mexican dishes to the city and decided to use the circumstances created by the pandemic as an opportunity to chase [my] dream.
JEERAPORN POKSUPTHONG, BAAN SIAM
Culinary Concept: My food doesn’t just represent me. It represents my family, my culture and my heritage. Food is so important to Thai life that when people eat our food, we are sharing a huge part of our identity with them. That’s part of what drives me to be the best I can.
Standout Dish: Kanom Jeen Nahm Phrik: Thai rice noodles, coconut milk, peanuts, ground chicken and shrimp, red onions, garlic, tempura vegetables, and chili powder
The Restructure: 2020 has been an absolute disaster for everyone, with every week bringing new challenges. But people in the restaurant industry are highly adaptable, and we’re tough. We managed to keep all our staff by shifting everyone’s jobs around. Cooks became delivery drivers, bartenders became hosts, etc. No one knows what 2021 is going to be like, so all we can do is focus on just getting through the winter. That means a focus on delivery and carryout.
PETER PRIME, CANE
Culinary Concept: I’m a flavor crusader who likes to experiment and play with different cuisines. I’m always searching for new tastes and experiences, and ways to incorporate the tastes and flavors I love and grew up with into them.
Standout Dish: Paratha tiffin box: a deconstructed roti (herbivore or omnivore) with potato and channa, chickpea and meat curries (goat, duck, beef, chicken) or eggplant and tomato chokas for the herbivore
The Restructure: Going strictly delivery really inspired a further appreciation for the guest experience. We really miss having people in. As we look to the future with hopes of expansion, we are searching for safe and ingenuitive ways to bring a unique and delicious dining experience back to our guests. We are also extremely conscious of inclusionary partnerships and support when it comes to our fellow restaurateurs and hospitality professionals. It›s clear now that we need to always support each other – not just in time of crisis. From Cane, you can expect some holiday specials, new menu items and some cool partnerships. Post-pandemic, we’re hoping to expand our dining experience and options.
SAHIL RAHMAN + RAHUL VINOD, RASA
Culinary Concept: At RASA, we share high-quality Indian flavors in a fast-casual environment that is designed to introduce folks to [the] wonders of Indian culture and cuisine in a fun, fast and affordable setting.
Standout Dish: One of our standout dishes is the Home Cooking. It features South Indian rice noodles, turmeric ginger shrimp, a spicy tamarind chili sauce and tossed green beans, and then we finish it off with a mango salsa, a tangy tamarind ginger chutney, mango coconut yogurt and a toasted coconut powder.
The Restructure: Covid has turned the world upside down, and we continue to adapt on a daily basis to serve the needs of our community. Over the last few months, we pivoted to focus on feeding those in need through a unique partnership with World Central Kitchen. We also adapted our physical space to optimize for more delivery and takeout to help keep our guests and team members safe. Moving forward, we will continue to do our best to share the joys of our culture and cuisine while staying flexible and making sure we keep everyone safe. Covid has presented a grand challenge for the industry, and while this has been a difficult few months, we remain optimistic and are looking to make the most of a challenging time.
JONNI SCOTT, ITABERCO, INC.
Culinary Concept: I love to take classic desserts and flavor combinations I enjoy and turn them into something whimsical and fun.
Standout Dish: When I was at Cranes, my crowd favorite dessert was an ube coconut ice cream popsicle: ube-toasted coconut ice cream coated in chocolate cookie crumbs, dark chocolate and toasted coconut. Since being out of work due to the pandemic, I have focused on perfecting French macarons and making them more fun. I have made Pusheen cat, Kawaii dumplings and pandas into macarons.
The Restructure: 2020 started out on an exciting and hopeful note for me as the opening of Cranes approached. The Spanish/Japanese fine-dining restaurant was only open for five weeks before the pandemic started. Over the first five months of the pandemic, I was furloughed, brought back to work and then laid off due to lack of business. After having this experience, I was very hesitant to apply for another executive pastry chef role in a fine-dining restaurant. Thankfully, I have been able to find a different, more multifaceted pastry chef role. In December, I will be joining the team at Itaberco, Inc. [in Baltimore] as the corporate pastry chef. While I will still be spending time in the kitchen, my new role will involve media, marketing, demos for clients, consulting, and research and development. I am excited to be able to continue to do what I love in a different capacity.
AARON SILVERMAN, ROSE’S AT HOME
Culinary Concept: We try to make our food these four things: fun, familiar, craveable and good value.
Standout Dish: Our pork and lychee salad is considered a standout dish to most, but personally, I think our coconut ice cream and caviar stands out even more in that it has two ingredients. I think it is one of the most exciting, delicious and unique dishes we have ever put on the menu.
The Restructure: We are taking 2020 as an opportunity to do two major things. First, to make our three restaurants more inclusive and better places to work for every single individual on our team – from translating every policy we have into Spanish to hiring a director of people and growth, and everything in-between. Second, to do things no one has done before – from $20 starting wages for dishwashers and cooks to 45-hour max work weeks for managers, and more.
KATHERINE THOMPSON, THOMPSON ITALIAN
Culinary Concept: My husband and I decided to name our restaurant Thompson Italian to poke fun at the fact that Thompson is not an Italian name at all – and our food is not traditional Italian food, either. Instead, our approach to food is to take American dishes and make them in a way that is inspired by Italy. As for desserts, I try to make dishes that are simple and delicious. Less is more. My main goal is to create delicious and memorable desserts with bold flavors.
Standout Dish: The most popular dessert on our menu is the olive oil cake. It is a very simple, moist and slightly sweet cake. Since the cake is so simple, it made sense to serve it as a simple slice. The cake is garnished with a tangy crème fraîche mousse, caramel-poached raisins and a sprinkle of maldon salt. The combination of flavors is slightly savory and slightly sweet. Every once in a while, I debate changing the dessert altogether. But it is perhaps too popular for me to change.
The Restructure: Never in our wildest dreams did we see a pandemic destroying the restaurant industry. We quickly pivoted to takeout only. While the majority of our sales are from our à la carte dinner menu, we are getting [as] creative as possible with other ideas. We’ve done everything from holiday-themed dinner boxes to larger format dishes that can be cooked at home. We are trying to keep our guests engaged in new ideas while experimenting with different food concepts. I am focusing on expanding my dessert offerings to include larger cakes and boxes of cookies. The goal is to focus on takeout through the winter months. We are hoping to open for dining service in March with an expanded outdoor seating area. Our fingers are crossed that things will return to more normal(ish) by mid-2021, but if there is one thing we have learned from 2020, pretty much nothing is guaranteed. We have to roll with the punches and do the best that we can to survive.
MATTEO VENINI, STELLINA PIZZERIA
Culinary Concept: At Stellina, I use my background in fine dining to create more casual food that still reflects a focus on the best ingredients, classic techniques and imaginative flavor profiles. Our style of neo-Neapolitan pizza uses a carefully made, signature dough for light, crispy pizzas. All of our pastas and sauces are homemade. We aim to deliver an eating experience that’s both creative and approachable.
Standout Dish: The cacio e pepe pizza is a Stellina signature that reinvents the classic Roman pasta dish. The pizza features three kinds of cheese – cacio di Roma, mozzarella and pecorino – and toasted black pepper, which is hand-ground with a mortar and pestle to hold the spice’s robust flavor.
The Restructure: While we’ve always offered delivery and carryout, with the pandemic we sought to continue bringing Stellina to guests in D.C. and beyond in other ways: by expanding our use of third-party delivery services and through other creative offerings. We launched Stellina Bottega, an online marketplace offering Italian pantry goods; wine; butcher boxes of local meats, DIY pizza and pasta kits; and ready-to-cook meals like frozen pizzas, lasagna and more. The Bottega is available both for pickup and delivery. Looking ahead, we’re getting ready to open our second location of Stellina and our first in Northern Virginia later this year in Shirlington. We’re also moving ahead on another D.C. location on K Street [in] Northwest, which will open in 2021.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.