Photos By Jeff Martin, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
On Monday afternoon chef Jennifer Carroll and chef and restaurateur Mike Isabella fluttered between meeting with vendors, conversations about menus, tasting potential dishes, training new staff, discussing portion size, drinking coffee, making coffee, posing for photo shoots and asking if there’s enough coffee. Their newest venture, Requin, opens this weekend in Fairfax. It will be ready but far from done.
The first collaboration from Top Chef season 6 competitors Carroll and Isabella will be a French Mediterranean restaurant. Carroll has been working within the Mike Isabella Concepts team, helping in other kitchens in addition to working on Requin. The partnership allows Carroll to have more time experimenting with the menu and a chance to learn from Isabella on how to open a restaurant. She told us, “I’d rather be cooking on a line than doing paperwork.”
It’s difficult to find a better person to earn an education in opening successful restaurants (If you only know Isabella from television, he’s also the person behind G By Mike Isabella, Graffiato, Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna, Pepita, Yona and at least two more in the next two years) than Isabella. And working with a partner allowed more than one person to handle things like paperwork.
One of the dishes we sampled was the veggie planche. It featured peppered celery root, beet jerky, blistered shishito, eggplant-tomato ratatouille. The beet jerky is what’s interesting. Similar to beef jerky, each batch of beet jerky is slightly different. Also similar to beef jerky, it makes you salivate after the first piece. The staff’s initial reaction was lukewarm. After letting the taste settle, it’s become a favorite. Now the staff samples it throughout the day. It’s experiments like this that are exciting.
This will be Isabella’s first French venture. Carroll and him are going full force with their dishes. You’re not going to find something like the Escargot En Croute, sort of an open faced escargot pot pie (the sample we tried is great comfort food for chili days), or the grilled whole Dover Sole on any of their other menus.
The shoppers and staff at the Mosaic District that don’t have time for a full meal may want to consider stopping in for a drink and desert before heading home. Order the Profiteroles with brown butter ice cream. It tastes as good as it looks and is surprisingly easy to share.
Requin will open in 2017. The Requin pop up will open Friday. More will change besides the move from Fairfax to the District. Carroll told us, “What other chef gets to experiment for a couple months? It’s not going to be 100% the same.” Requin is now accepting reservations. Try it in 2015. See how it changes by 2017.