Words By Joseph Franco, Photos By Franz Mahr
Most hotels have restaurants. Many of them aren’t good restaurants. But in D.C., that doesn’t hold true. In this city, hotel restaurants feel more like an institution, staples in the District’s burgeoning and ever-expanding dining scene. From Blue Duck Tavern, to CityZen, to Bourbon Steak, to the newly-opened Radiator, they’re destinations you hit for an impeccable meal regardless of where you’re sleeping. They’re helmed by some of the most renowned culinary artists in the country, by former White House chefs, and by all the people Donald Trump can’t tap for his newest business ventures.
If you Google “DC hotel restaurants,” the first result (an ad, but nonetheless) is Kimpton Hotels. And the placement is fair enough. Kimpton’s Mason & Rook Hotel is home to Radiator, and their Hotel Monaco was home to another standout, Poste Moderne Brasserie. But after 14 years of service in the Penn Quarter hotel, they shuttered Poste’s doors in May to make way for a new concept. Enter Dirty Habit.
The restaurant is going for a Gotham-esque vibe: “dark”, “gritty”, “apocalyptic”, and even “uncomfortable” were all words their PR team cooked up to describe it. Seems like they want the restaurant to be your dirty little secret. We haven’t seen it yet, but to whet our appetites, they invited us to a little preview party, held at Union Market’s Lab 1270 warehouse.
We dined on Executive Chef Kyoo Eom’s social plates and sipped on head bartender Sarah Ruiz’s complementary craft cocktails.
The restaurant promises a collection of global shared plates, with some strong Asian influences at play. For a couple of the dishes, Eom chose traditional Asian snack items as a base and took remarkably unremarkable starches and turned them into decadent little bites.
The standout was the tuna tartare, held together on a “krupuk” cracker. As a Filipino American, I know these well. We call them “kropek”, but they’re essentially prawn crackers: crisp and airy like a pork rind, but fishy on the flavor profile. The silky sashimi grade tuna was complemented by trout roe, sea beans, and a spicy sauce. By the end of the night they were offering me the whole tray because my approval was pretty apparent.
The other Asian starch was a crunchy rice cake that featured fish sauce, scallions, and shredded dried pork. I found it more intriguing than appetizing. Imagine a thinly shredded pork jerky, not hearty enough to provide a meaty flavor, but combined with the fish sauce, you’re not exactly sure what you’re eating. Add the visual cues, and I’d say this was most reminiscent of dried squid snacks that are popular in Asia.
There was actual squid as well, and it didn’t disappoint. A paper basket full of deep fried calamari wasn’t doing much from an aesthetic perspective. Looked like an appetizer you could find at any frozen food dump bar. But the thin strips of calamari were succulent, no rubbery texture in sight, and the batter was far lighter than it looked. Spicy remoulade is also synonymous with “yes please” in my vocabulary.
For the even more bite-sized options, the grilled octopus with barrel-aged feta-stuffed olives and spicy chorizo was the perfect amalgamation of flavors, with the saltiness and satisfying crisp of thin-sliced chorizo capping off each tasting.
On the beverage front, Ruiz said she wanted to capture the essence of Eom’s dishes by providing complementary flavors, without doing too much. Four craft cocktails were featured, and ingredients like matcha, miso washed gin, lychee, Chinese bitters, and Nigori sake allowed the east Asian influence to permeate further. Into my liver.
Our photographer Franz noted how matcha is pretty in right now. He’s right. Whole lotta matcha out there. The Matcha Picchu should also be out there. Because it’s fantastic, on the eyes and on the tongue. Pisco combines with Falernum and my-fave-fruit guava to provide a distinctly tropical taste, with egg whites for substance. Add the matcha for the distinct green color, and you get something that we both agreed tasted like an alcoholic smoothie that we need more of in our lives.
The Rice ’N Roses was the other light refreshment offered, and its blend of sake, unfiltered vodka, lychee, rose, and almond offered a sweet and almost milky profile. For those needing a little more bite, there was a negroni that made use of the miso washed gin, and a rye concoction called Smoke Signals with strong herbal notes courtesy of some lapsang souchong tea.
Both chef and bartender were extremely eager to discuss their creations, and picking their brains for a moment, it was pretty apparent that they’ve got a lot of fervor for the new project. Ruiz moved across the country from San Francisco to be here.
The restaurant was also strong on playing up the ambiance and the “dirty” aesthetic they’re trying to cultivate. Even though we didn’t dine in the restaurant, they kept the lighting moody and mellow. Guests were gifted small wooden, umm, paraphernalia boxes? The branded little pill cases were an awesome token, and they served desserts on tiny square mirrors. We see what you did there, Dirty Habit. It’s cheeky and we like it.
Dirty Habit will open at the end of September in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, 700 F Street, NW.