H Street’s brand new Mediterranean restaurant Sospeso, opened on February 17, is all about variety. Husband-and-wife team and co-owners Mike and Hatice Rosato are striving to switch up the menu on a regular basis to feature the fare of as many of the 23 countries along the Mediterranean Sea as possible. We spoke to Hatice about her hip new spot.
On Tap: What role have you played in developing the menu? How has your Turkish heritage impacted the cuisine?
Hatice Rosato: Mediterranean food is about simple cooking and healthy ingredients. It includes all the foods that people already eat, but just in different proportions. The Turkish cuisine I grew up with is really plant-based in nature, with a heavy emphasis on grains, legumes and vegetables, as well as fruits, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Eggs, dairy, poultry and fish are consumed regularly, but the portions are smaller than typically consumed in a Western diet. Meat is added for flavor and mostly used in stews, sauces and soups. So as a meat lover, when Mike was all about sandwiches like porchetta and entrees like whole fish, I tried to push more vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu.
OT: Why is coffee a key focus at Sospeso?
HR: I think more than just a simple drink, coffee holds an important symbolic place in the making of Mediterranean social relations. The Turkish saying goes, “One cup of coffee can be remembered for 40 years.” Also the word “breakfast” in Turkish is translated as “pre-coffee or before coffee,” so it is like you have breakfast only to prepare yourself for your coffee. Coffee is what turns groups of people into communities.
OT: What sets Sospeso apart from other Mediterranean restaurants in the DC area?
HR: I think most of the other Mediterranean restaurants in the DC area are focused on one area or country. We want people to realize that there are 23 countries along the Mediterranean Sea, so there are still a lot of unique flavors and spices being discovered. That also gives us the chance to constantly present or feature new things so our menu will change often, or we can have new special dishes out regularly. For example, our ras al hanout soup was created based on a spice mix from Morocco. Also, we wanted to create a space where vegans, vegetarians and omnivores can enjoy a meal together. So there is an effort to bring out and create more vegan and vegetarian dishes.
OT: Any customer favorites on the menu thus far?
HR: The porchetta sandwich during the daytime service has been a big hit. Musakka and whole fish for dinner was a favorite at our soft-opening dinner.
OT: What would you say are your standout dishes?
HR: There are so many dishes that we and everyone who has tried them love, but I think the porchetta sandwich, whole fish, musakka, chickpea salad and mercimekli kofte are the standouts.
Sospeso: 1344 H St. NE, DC; 202-827-3123; www.sospesodc.com