When Tuğçe Salihoğlu-Curtis joined Sospeso in April 2020, the restaurant industry had just been turned upside down due to Covid-19. But that didn’t stop her from diving headfirst into her goals for the beautiful industrial space in the H Street Corridor.
Salihoğlu-Curtis received a degree in gastronomy and culinary art in Istanbul, and worked at famous restaurant Neolokal, one of the world’s 50 best. Following that, she came to the U.S. and worked in San Francisco at the now closed RN74, where she met her husband and Hazel Executive Chef Robert Curtis. After spending some time traveling through Turkey, they came back to the East Coast. She worked at Shilling Canning Company and was part of the opening kitchen staff at Albi before joining the team at Sospeso.
Her inspiration and interest in Mediterranean cooking brought her to Sospeso, with a menu “inspired by the recipes of our grandparents and the sun-drenched countries along the Mediterranean Sea.” Run by husband-and-wife duo Michael and Hatice Rosato, who are respectively of Italian and Turkish heritage, Salihoğlu-Curtis is the perfect addition.
Although she has been a professional chef for 12 years, her love for food comes from childhood. The chef developed an affinity for cooking with fresh ingredients early on, enjoying fresh and seasonal produce in the family’s cooking within their kitchen.
“Although I grew up in Turkey, my father is from Albania and my mother is from Bulgaria, so I have influences from all over,” Salihoğlu-Curtis says. “But one thing in common across all these cultures [is] everything happens around the table: happy conversations, difficult conversations, good times and memories.”
She holds her father responsible for inculcating her love of food.
“He would take me and my brother to try many different restaurants and foods right from the time we were kids. Sometimes, we would even take a boat across to Greece just for dinner.”
With her education and experience, she soon became an established chef in her own right. At Sospeso, she wants to share the nuances of fresh cooking from the region and showcase the farm-to-table and sea-to-table nature of the food.
“I love creating mezze dishes with fresh ingredients that I make or grow myself and experimenting with seasonal flavors. I like to make the full variety of dips, spreads [and] salads, all of which are an integral part of the meal.”
Salihoğlu-Curtis was most excited about cooking at Sospeso to highlight the cultural and communal aspects of the cuisine: family-style meals where intricate dishes are passed around and enjoyed by groups. Of course, these are different times and now, and it’s a whole different way of service. While they await a return to a new version of normal, the chef and her team have adapted without losing sight of the intent of the restaurant: to share the rich heritage of the cuisine in a modern way.
Although they have the full à la carte menu available, they recently debuted their family meal concept to go: simple, delicious, healthy meals to feed yourself and your family without spending time in the kitchen. Set up to feed three adults or two adults and two kids, there are two packages with a choice of protein such as whole branzino, merguez kofte, falafel, and grilled or fried chicken; three sides to choose from (dolmas, hummus, baba ghanoush, harissa carrots and more); and house-made pita, accompaniments of sauces and pickles, and dessert. Knowing that people are watching their pennies right now, the $50 meal is both a fantastic deal and a real feast.
Make it extra special with beverage director and partner Michael Rosato’s vermouth; he handcrafts each batch himself using a variety of botanicals and aromatics. It’s truly refreshing and pairs perfectly with the food as a sipper.
“Vermouth isn’t just a cocktail ingredient – it’s a cocktail in itself,” his wife, Hatice Rosato, says.
They have varieties in white, rose and red. Additionally, the wine list has a variety of bottles from Turkey, the Balkans and the Mediterranean, including many natural wines.
The restaurant does not have a patio, but the inside dining room is spacious. High ceilings and large glass windows make it airy, the tables are spaced out, and they are taking all precautions necessary. There is a community marketplace on the main level featuring items from local makers as well as sauces, spices and spreads made at the restaurant. Whether you enjoy the food in the comfort of your home or at the restaurant, the dishes are vibrant and tastier than ever at Sospeso – thanks to Salihoğlu-Curtis.
Sospeso is located at 1344 H St. in Northeast D.C. and is open for dine-in or takeout. Family meals should be ordered a day in advance. Learn more about the spot by visiting www.sospesodc.com and following on Instagram @sospesodc.
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