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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 03/16/2010

Againn expands to Rockville; Casa Nonna hires a chef

By Tom Sietsema

There are lots of intriguing developments on the food front, but you'll have to be patient to taste them all. Most of the changes won't take place until this summer. Here's a sneak peek.

The appetizer
Againn, the youthful gastropub downtown, is expanding. "I have a second location!" announces Mark Weiss, the chief executive of the Whisk Group. Like his restaurant company, the offshoot, Againn Tavern, is in Rockville.

Following a million-dollar interior makeover, the former Houston's space is scheduled to reopen June 1 with much the same look (think wood floors and faux fox heads) as its sibling in Washington.

Againn Tavern will be larger, however, with 215 seats, and slightly more casual, with dishes such as a roast chicken sandwich joining the roster of fish and chips and shepherd's pie. Montgomery County's arcane alcohol restrictions account for an unfortunate difference between restaurant and tavern: fewer scotches and beers at the latter. Unlike in Washington, the new establishment will feature a meat locker for aging products in-house.

No chef has been selected, says Weiss, who hopes to appoint someone local soon. "We'll be leaning on Wes [Morton, of Againn] for menu direction."

The entree
When Casa Nonna opens in Dupont Circle this summer, Amy Brandwein will head the kitchen. "She was head and shoulders above everyone else we interviewed" for the top chef job, says Keith Treyball, president and partner of the New York-based BLT Restaurants, the creator of the 190-seat Italian dining room.

Brandwein will come to the project from Fyve in the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. She also worked with Roberto Donna at the late Bebo Trattoria in Arlington and Galileo in Washington, and was hired after cooking a multi-course meal for Treyball and celebrity chef Laurent Tourondel at BLT Prime in New York last month. Treyball says Tourondel told him, "You've found yourself a great chef."

Following a trip to Italy, Brandwein plans to start testing recipes for Casa Nonna at BLT Steak in Washington beginning in April. "I know what it looks like in my head," she says of her future menu, which will emphasize "simple" things done in "top-notch" fashion. One dish that's sure to make the cut is the one her new boss considered her best: short rib ragu over pasta that the chef made herself.

"I got my birthday present," says Brandwein, who turned 40 in February.

And finally, dessert
Masa 14 is poised to double the size of its seating by moving on up. Come June or July (and pending a separate liquor license), the Latin-Asian restaurant in Logan Circle will open its rooftop to diners, says co-owner Kaz Okochi.

Half the space will be enclosed; 50 or so additional seats will be arranged on a patio. The rooftop will have its own kitchen and bar.

The menu won't be a repeat of what chef Antonio Burrell serves on the ground floor. Instead, says Okochi, they're considering serving finger food displayed at a counter: hot dogs, maybe, and tacos and Japanese hand rolls.

The idea of al fresco drinking and dining isn't new to this location. Okochi says he's seen photographs -- from the late 19th century -- of a German beer garden where Masa 14 now serves tequila and small plates.

-- Tom Sietsema

By Tom Sietsema  | March 16, 2010; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  | Tags:  Tom Sietsema  
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Againn should not be limited too much when it comes to Scotch in Montgomery County. The Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton has more varieties on offer than Againn's restaurant in the District. Their managers will just have to do a little more work to find a large selection of whiskies.

Posted by: Kev29 | March 17, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

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