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Posted at 5:24 PM ET, 06/ 6/2006

Nearly Ready to Farm

By Erin

After months and months of speculation and waiting, Agraria, the restaurant owned in part by the North Dakota Farmers Union, has opened its doors at Georgetown's Washington Harbour. Situated among Nick's Riverside Grill, Cabanas and Sequoia, this will be the gem in its strip. From the gorgeous decor to the classy bar and fresh ingredients, the restaurant is a step above its hokey happy hour-friendly neighbors.

Due to the abrupt departure of Executive Chef Paul Morello just last week, Agraria opened on Friday with only a limited bistro menu. Starters include a thinly sliced beef carpaccio with truffle oil under fresh greens and shaved cheese, a charcuterie plate, lump crab and avocado mash, and mussels in a white wine jalapeno broth. Entrees include three pastas, two sandwiches and a hangar steak. My pasta, though well cooked, was a sadly bland rendition of the promised spicy arrabiata, but the steak was juicy and its accompanying fries were crispy and well-seasoned. The dessert menu showcases delicious seasonal fruit (think strawberries and rhubarb).

Though you should wait for the chef's arrival to sample the food, go now to survey the surroundings and check out the drink menu. Derek Brown, formerly of Firefly, is the manager and sommelier and he has concocted a classic and thoughtful cocktail list. Pried from an old man in New Orleans, his Sazerac recipe has a secret ingredient kept in an unmarked black bottle under the bar. The bar is lined with different bitters, such as the sunflower bitters that flavor the bourbon-based house drink. My simply mixed margarita was excellent, but there is a crimson margarita spruced up with prickly pear juice and a pineapple salt rim that I'm itching to try next time. Unlike neighboring establishments, there is nary a frozen drink on the menu. Once the food menu is set, Brown looks forward to unveiling a long wine list featuring selections from organic vineyards.

Designed by Adamstein & Demetriou, the busy team behind Poste, Zaytinya, Zola, Bistro Bis and Teatro Goldoni (among others), Agraria feels like a spiffed-up prairie cabin. Though quite large, the designers did a good job of preserving the feel of smaller rooms; the curved shape and the compartmentalized spaces help to insulate the large restaurant, but the high ceilings and large windows give it a breezy feel. The restaurant's distinct sections include a main dining room looking into the open kitchen, several private rooms in back (including an intimate wine room) and more casual dining in the curved bar area. Designed to appeal during all seasons, the restaurants has huge panel windows along the bar area that open onto a patio, as well as four fireplaces for a cozy feel. Once the new chef settles in, I bet that the small chef's table will be a worthy destination for impressing clients and in-laws.

The restaurant is not currently open for lunch, but will expand its hours in a few weeks. Though promising, Agraria won't be a dining destination until it hires a new chef and allows him or her to settle in. As one server explained to me, it is difficult to find a chef who will put the focus not on fancy preparations, but on the splendor of simple, flavorful ingredients, which are emphasized at every step of the dining experience -- a small display case near the table will house produce that the chef will retrieve and describe before preparing for the table. It is refreshing to see staffers who are so proud of their restaurant, and I hope that the new menu will match their enthusiasm.


By Erin  | June 6, 2006; 5:24 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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