All words by Elsie Yang
You could take a trip around the world without ever leaving your table at Chloe. The restaurant, located in DC’s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, eludes categorization — it wouldn’t be fair to call Chloe a Lebanese restaurant (though that would reflect Chef Haidar Karoum’s roots), nor would it accurate to classify the restaurant as an Asian establishment (though the spice roast chicken is undeniably Vietnamese influenced). Instead, the restaurant is a tour of the cuisines across the globe, and in the time of a pandemic, it may be the best way to travel without leaving your home city.
Chloe’s ability to escape any particular culinary box is a feature, not a bug, when it comes to Karoum’s concept. “I wanted to do my own thing,” Karoum says of opening Chloe, his first independent venture. And more importantly, he says, “I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into one genre.”
In the backdrop provided by the COVID-19 pandemic, when monotony has become the plat du jour, Karoum’s multifaceted cooking seems to be particularly well received by Washingtonians looking to escape the monotony of months of quarantine. But it’s not just diners who can come to Chloe for an escape — it’s Chef Karoum and his staff as well.
“When everything first closed down, the challenge really lay in the shock and the uncertainty of everything,” Karoum told me about the six-week period during which Chloe completely shut its doors. “During that time, I was glued to the TV watching the news, and there was a strange Mad Max feel to just about everything.” Eventually, Karoum said, he returned to his passion — his food — as an escape from not only the drudgery of the everyday, but the ambiguity, too.
“People in the restaurant business are good at adapting and thinking on their feet,” Karoum told me. “They have to be.” And they also have to be passionate about their craft, he added. And that manifested itself in the way in which Chloe bounced back. “A lot of our staff came back to work as soon as humanly possible,” Karoum said. “We have a fantastic staff that genuinely care for the restaurant who wanted to come back for a variety of reasons — and it wasn’t just to make money.” Instead, working together builds a sense of camaraderie, Karoum notes, one that is otherwise missing during a pandemic when social distancing requires physical separation between most humans.
“We’ve always felt like a family at Chloe,” Karoum notes. In fact, many of his staff have worked together (or have been married) for years. But in the time of the coronavirus, there’s been a new sense of togetherness at the restaurant. “This family feeling has really been reinforced,” Karoum told me, “It’s a labour of love compounded by COVID.”
In fact, Karoum says, the virus has driven home the notion that hospitality is more than a job — it’s a craft. “People in the restaurant business really want to engage with others. It’s like inviting people into your home.” And while rules and regulations have been a damper on the extent to which this is possible, Karoum notes that cooking and serving is his way of having a dialogue with others — something that has been missing from his life (and that of others) for the last several months.
“Everyone missed each other,” Karoum says. “Everyone was a little afraid of being stuck at home and not being able to come back.”
But so far, things are going well for Chloe. “Every day it’s getting better,” Karoum says. “The neighborhood has good energy, and people seem to want to interact around one another, even if not directly with each other.” And with food like the kind that you’ll find at Chloe, it’s not hard to understand why.
Make absolutely certain to order the Grilled Path Valley Scallions (once made with ramps, but now with scallions to ensure year-round availability), the Caramelized Cauliflower that is made all the more enjoyable by the addition of pine nuts, the Potato Gnocchi featuring an unbelievably rich basil butter and delightful sweet note from corn, and by all means, the Spice Roasted Chicken that is brined in a pho broth and truly transports you across the Atlantic.
1331 14th Street SE DC
Brunch Patio Dining
Saturday + Sunday: 11am – 4pm
Dinner Patio Dining
Monday – Thursday: 5pm – 10pm
Friday: 5pm – 11pm
Saturday: 4pm – 11pm
Sunday: 4pm – 9pm
Carryout and Delivery
Monday – Thursday: 4pm – 10pm
Friday + Saturday: 4pm – 11pm
Sunday: 4pm – 9pm