Everybody loves an underdog. We cheer the Cinderella team every March. We want to cheer every come-from-behind win. It is human nature to want a “lost cause” to see its day in the sun. So it is with some of the great restaurants that fail, we want them to come back and thrive.
Washington has seen many great restaurants go and become forgotten. I remember the incredible meals sitting at the bar at Provence (now Marcel’s) or spending the wee hours of the morning dancing to Euro Tech at Cities in Adams Morgan. We always want to recreate those great restaurants, and the memories they made.
DC has seen many restaurants go and return, resurrected in another form, like a great revival. I, for one, am a fan of those great concepts that come back with a roar. They are the underdogs of the lounges, and they deserve our respect and patronage.
I would like to propose a new category for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s Rammy Awards – The Best Restaurant Revival. It has happened more times then you think, and I would count among the list restaurants that are the bold set to move and became greater then they were in their original location. So, here are my nominees for the D*mny Award for The Best Restaurant Revival:
Once an Adams Morgan front owned by Roberto Alvarez, Café Atlántico found a revival in Penn Quarter and has become an international dining destination. It now houses the famous Minibar by José Andrés as well as the redone Café Atlántico. I love this place like I love velvet. Once a Pepco substation, the interior is a stack of tier floors with Copacabana tiling. The drinks are outstanding, and the food is incredible. It is a little-known fact that you don’t have to take a $150 seat at Minibar to enjoy Minibar creations; either take the Sunday dim sum brunch, which has Minibar creations, or ask the manager when you make a reservation about the possibility of sitting upstairs on Minibar days and getting leftovers from the bar. No revival of a concept in the world rivals Café Atlántico.
Another José revival, this restaurant was poorly chosen to open in Crystal City … very bad idea. I wouldn’t open a bus stop in Crystal City let alone a first-class Mexican tapas and ceviche bar. Now, it sits at the corner of D and 7th streets in Penn Quarter and dominates as one of the best Mexican-style tapas bars ever. The drinks are excellent, the tequila list is longer then my ex-wife’s list of boyfriends, and the ceviche is the bomb! When they closed the Crystal City location, I thought the world had lost one of the best Mexican concepts, but, scaled down from its original airplane-hangar size in Virginia, it shines on 7th Street. Try the grasshopper tacos or the fresh-infused cocktail of the moment. Gracias Jose! Buen provecho!
Although it hasn’t demonstrated its staying power, Cities holds a place in my heart that no restaurant can replace. It was once a power-broker spot for Washington’s sexy crowd when Adams Morgan was a gang destination. It closed some years ago when Sahir, its former owner, moved back to Turkey to open a hotel. With the genius of Mike Kosimdie, the place is back on 19th Street. Michael is the owner of Teatro, another revival, and he has returned Cities to a new and digital form. The food is great, and there are enough flakes of the original Cities to make this place awesome. Michael is also a genius at promoting, and there are some great nights for singles and networking. The drink menu is evolving but has great potential, and the food is dainty but delicious.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … three locations and three revivals, I get it, but it may not work. Having said that, Roberto Donna is probably one of the top five chefs to ever open shop and make DC home base. Besides Roberto’s charm, he is a genius in the kitchen. With the exception of the bar menu, which stinks – especially the wings – the table-service food is very good. I love the fresh pastas and fish. The original location was on P Street, with old partner Savino Recine. There was a second location at 21st Street, which rocked the world with the Labratorio, and now an F and 14th Street location, Galileo III. If Roberto can stay off the Post’s front page, Galileo III will once again become the best-in-show of revivals.
Johnny’s Half Shell
Johnny’s Half Shell was, like Galileo, a P Street staple. Back in the day, it was an above-street-level place with great food and limited seating. Today, Johnny’s is on North Capitol Street, boasting a venue 10-times the size of the original, and is the best place to eat on Capitol Hill – bar none. I loved this place on P Street and love it more on Capitol Hill. The chef is Ann Cashion, formerly of Cashion’s Eat Place, and she makes some serious chow. Johnny, who is there daily, has somehow kept the old feel in place. There is a lesser- known, younger sister restaurant, the Taqueria National, in the back of Johnny’s that you have to try for lunch, and a little taco stand operated by Ann and Johnny that is better then any taco food truck this side of the Peso River.