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Posted at 12:47 PM ET, 07/16/2008

Coming Attractions: Fine Food, Great Wine and Cupcakes

By Julia Beizer

In recent weeks, the local restaurant scene may have suffered a few big closures -- Colorado Kitchen, Restaurant K, Butterfield 9 -- but area diners can expect a rebound during the second half of summer. I talked with several chefs and restaurateurs to give you a preview of five new eateries opening in the next month.

On July 21, the gentlemen behind Sonoma and Mendocino Grille officially unveil Redwood, their new 300-seat project in Bethesda. The contemporary American restaurant is the first outside of the District for owners Jared Rager and Eli Hengst, but the pair couldn't resist the large space and pedestrian-friendly environment on the new Bethesda Lane.

Like in the duo's other projects, seasonal mid-Atlantic cuisine dominates the menu and the wine list tilts toward the West Coast. During the restaurant's pre-opening preview period, Hengst reports that a wild-green-and-beet salad topped with a yogurt-like cheese has been a big hit with diners, as has the beef burger, which hails from a Maryland farm. Family-style meals of roasted chickens and smoked beef ribs that can feed two-to-three people will be available along with a la carte sides like macaroni and cheese and cabbage slaw. Expect dinner entrees in the $16 to $26 range and a menu that changes often to show off seasonal ingredients. The beer list features local favorites like Fordham Copperhead and Old Dominion's Oak Barrel Stout.

"Aside from venturing beyond the D.C. line, the main difference is the scope of the restaurant," says Hengst. Nearly 200 can dine inside the new space and another 100 can sit outside on the patio. That's more than double the capacity at Sonoma. "For us, it's a challenge," Hengst said. "But it's a creative challenge."

"I grew up in Frederick. I went to high school here. I met my wife here," says Volt's Bryan Voltaggio. On July 25, the 32-year-old chef celebrates his homecoming to Frederick with the opening of his own fine dining establishment.

Housed in an 1890s mansion, the restaurant will offer modern American cuisine in an intimate environment. The main dining room seats 38. A chef's dining room in the kitchen will accommodate another 16 diners and feature the chef's five- and seven-course tasting menus ($69 and $89, respectively; $104 and $134 with wine pairing). There will also be a lounge area with a menu of dishes to share.

Voltaggio, formerly of Charlie Palmer Steak, lists an impressive array of nearby farmers whom he has approached about supplying the restaurant with ingredients. The food won't be all local -- he'll ship in sustainable Kona Kampachi from Hawaii -- but many ingredients will be from farms within 100 miles. "In the winter, it's going to be a little bit tougher," he admits, so the kitchen plans on preserving some of the summer bounty for use in the barren months.

Entrees on the a la carte menu range between $21 and $32 and will include Muscovy duck with endives and asparagus, roasted chicken with risotto and a lemony wild striped bass dish. A chilled pea soup and an heirloom tomato salad with tomatoes prepared three ways are among the appetizers on the opening menu.

Will city-dwellers and surbanites make the trip up 270? Voltaggio is banking on it. "I think that this restaurant would be a great destination for weekend trips. There are lots of little shops [in Frederick]. It's great for antiquing -- and we've got great local markets."

Fritz reported on Surfside's arrival a few months back, but it looks like the casual seafood joint is poised to open on August 1. "We're calling it a beach grill, but you know, what does that mean?" jokes chef David Scribner. He and his business partners want diners to feel like they've stumbled across a beachy "shack with really fresh fish, cold beer and simple sides."

Much like Jetties, Scribner's other restaurant, patrons will order from the counter. Options from the grill will include skirt steak, chicken thighs, shrimp kebab and fresh fish served with sides like grilled vegetables, red beans and rice or jasmine rice salad. Take food to go or sit on the restaurant's roof deck. Scribner says the menu fits the fast-casual trend to a T. "It's in between in between Jetties and what I had been doing with Dahlia," says Scribner, referring to his now-shuttered restaurant in Spring Valley. "It's chef-driven, high quality food that's not your run-of-the-mill fast food." Dinner entrees will range between $9 and $15, he says.

If anyone knows neighborhood restaurants, it's Jamie Leeds. The chef's Hank's Oyster Bar locations have become beloved institutions in both Dupont and Old Town Alexandria. During the first week of August, she'll open CommonWealth, a British-gastropub-inspired restaurant in Columbia Heights, the neighborhood she's called home for the last six years.

"We wanted to change the reputation of British food because there's a whole wave going on in London with gastropubs," says Leeds, who traveled around London with business partner Sandy Lewis. The basic idea is simple: create a cozy, neighborhood pub, with food that rises above average bar fare. "We're going to be offering a lot of homemade sausages, fish and chips, pot pies and shepherd pie," says Leeds. House-cured charcuterie is also on the menu. To source her kitchen, Leeds will be buying whole animals mainly from three Maryland farms. Entrees are priced between $14 and $19. Family-style roasted meats will be available on Sundays.

Outside the dining room, pub-goers can take advantage of the many board games available, including checkers, chess and backgammon.

Hello Cupcake
"Sometime in August" is all I got for this new cupcake place slated to open right across from the Dupont Circle Metro. As the daughter of a chef-owner, Penny Karas says she literally grew up in the kitchen. She was anxious to get into baking, and cupcakes caught her imagination. "I love the idea of cupcakes because I think it appeals to our individual nature," she says. When buying cupcakes for a party, each guest can have his own preferred flavor.

The new shop will be much larger than its most obvious competitor, offering two dozen seats for guests to sit down and enjoy espresso drinks and small cakes. Karas thinks of the shop as "the marriage of design and food -- both figural and literal in my case," because her architect husband designed the shop. Instead of a homey country kitchen; imagine a modern, high-end boutique.

Karas has been developing flavor combos like "Peanut Butter Blossom" and "Toasted Coconut" for the new shop and will add more as she hires pastry chefs -- who "understand the science and art of pastry" -- to increase her offerings.


By Julia Beizer  | July 16, 2008; 12:47 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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Had a sneak-taste of a Hello Cupcake Toasted Coconut. It was fantastic! The icing is thick and creamy, not sugary like the cupcakes from Buzz. The cake is moist and dense. I believe the owner will be offering smaller sized cupcakes which will be good as the one I tried almost needed a fork and knife! Looking forward to the big debut!

Posted by: NewB45 | July 16, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

at least Hello Cupcake's PR Firm is on the ball!

Posted by: Looks like... | July 16, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

The description of CommonWealth as "a British-gastropub-inspired restaurant" with a described cuisine that would be very beer-friendly leaves me wondering what the beer selection will be like, and whether there will be any cask-conditioned real ales available. They won't travel well all the way across the Atlantic but places like Alexandria's Rustico have shown that a caring beer director can offer a fine selection of cask ales.

Posted by: Real Ale Drinker | July 16, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I meant to say "local cask ales".

Posted by: Real Ale Drinnker Again | July 16, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I recently got a peak at the beer menu and was very excited indeed. The selection is impressive and Commonwealth will also be offering the 20 oz. pint that is standard in Britain. I spent a year in London and it looks like I'll finally be able to get a proper pint of bitter here in DC.

Posted by: C Heights Observer | July 17, 2008 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Regarding 20-ounce pints: It should be noted that Elephant and Castle and Fado serve English beers (Fullers, Bass, etc.) in imperial pint glasses as well. E&C even uses the Nonic glasses with a bulge beneath the rim.

Posted by: Fritz | July 21, 2008 3:55 PM | Report abuse

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