SUMMER RULES is a series where we ask people to share with us how they’re staying safe and sane during this very different summer season; from mask suggestions to soundtrack selections, we’ll take a peek into how others are making these challenging times work.
In this edition we speak with Chef Danny Lledó, owner and chef of Xiquet DL and Slate Wine Bar, about what he’s been up to (besides being very busy from opening up Xiquet DL in March, and trying to navigate all of the challenges that come with that); while he wishes he could easily visit home in Spain, he’s making the most of summer in DC by taking big walks with his dog, grilling out and more:
How do you usually feel about summer, as a season overall, and how do you feel about THIS summer, by comparison?
I love summer; it’s my favorite season. I love everything about it – the hot sun, cookouts with friends, the beach, outdoor concerts. Obviously, that last one isn’t going to happen this year. But I’m still enjoying the beach and socially distanced grilling with friends and family.
What is your summer shaping up to look like?
First of all, I’m working a lot. We launched our new restaurant, Xiquet DL, in March, just a couple of weeks before everything shut down for the pandemic. We had just completed an extensive renovation to build a new kitchen with all wood-fire (so no gas cooking at all.) So right after we opened, almost immediately we had to pivot to carry-out and delivery, which was definitely a challenge, especially since what I’m known for is my paellas — I’m the most awarded paella chef in the United States — and that can’t really be served to-go with sacrificing the quality of the dish. But now that our dining room is open again, I’m really focused on making Xiquet DL the best experience possible for our guests and growing our business during an incredibly challenging time for our industry.
Is there anything in particular you’re actually looking forward to this summer?
I’m looking forward to sneaking away to the beach a couple of times before the end of summer – being from Valencia, Spain originally, which is on the Mediterranean – I just feel at home on the water.
What are some of your tips for staying safe and sane right now?
Anything you can do that feels a little bit “normal” helps for me. So cookouts with friends is a big one – as long as you’re outdoors (whether it’s on the roof of your building, or in one of the great local parks we’re fortunate to have in D.C.) it doesn’t feel like anything is that different from a “normal” summer, even with COVID. Like a lot of people, I’m also glad to be eating out again.
Go-to summer wellness practice advice? Any spots in particular that have been helping you on that front?
My favorite thing to do is take really long walks my dog, Juno. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons, after we’re done with lunch service at the restaurant, we’ll walk down Wisconsin Avenue from my apartment in Glover Park to the Georgetown waterfront… and maybe stop for some ice cream at T. Sweet’s on the way back. (Life’s about balance!)
Where did you get your mask from? And what, aside from that, has been your more or less go-to summer uniform?
I’ve got a bunch of cool one-of-a-kind masks in fun prints that we ordered off Etsy at the beginning of the pandemic. My favorite, though, is an orange mask that my General Manager got me as a gift when we reopened the restaurant – orange is my favorite color. I wear it when I’m cooking, even though with the wood fire flames in the kitchen, it can get really hot. Still, I think it’s important to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of our staff and our guests.
What (if anything) are you reading right now, and why do you recommend it? (Alternatively, just share a favorite book.)
My favorite book is Don Quixote in the original Spanish. I’ve probably read it a hundred times, and every time I do, I find something new to appreciate about it.
Do you have a go-to summer hang-out recipe that still works for a socially distanced gathering? And/or just a favorite general summer recipe that’s still a go-to, even now?
I love to slow-roast lamb over a wood fire. We serve it at Xiquet, and the meat is so soft, and so flavorful – it really picks up the smokiness of the flame.
What about a great summer cocktail or mocktail recipe?
We have a great summer mocktail at the restaurant right now, called the Merchant Experience: lemon shrub, orange chai tea, and soda. It’s inspired by the flavors of Valencia, and the name is a nod to the tradesmen that have traditionally powered the region’s economy.
What’s on your summer playlist this year, or are there three songs that are permanent summer favorites for you?
Right now I’ve got “bad guy” by Billie Eilish on repeat. I don’t know why. I just love it. Not sorry.
Where do you wish you COULD GO this summer, if there were no restrictions or safety risks?
I wish I could go home to Valencia. I haven’t been able to go back since I was last there in September, and I miss it. My dad is there – he’s a chef, too, though he’s retired now. I had a trip booked to go for the famous Las Falles festival in March – but then, due to the pandemic, I had to cancel. They ended up canceling the festival, too, for the first time that I can remember. It’s normally a highlight of the year – they do these big floats, and a massive fireworks display. It’s basically one big open-air party.
And is there anywhere you’ve been safely going that you could recommend for people who live nearby? Any day trips or local spots worth mentioning, for example?
Check out Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland. It’s only about an hour and half drive from D.C. If you get there early, you can nab a grill overlooking the lake, where there’s a little beach. I like to bring a big stack of wood and spend the day grilling and swimming.
You can book reservations for Xiquet DL (find safety info here), or if you feel safer with takeaway options, you can order to-go options. (You can also take Zoom masterclasses covering the ins and outs of paella! The next one is set for July 29th.)
At Slate Wine Bar, meanwhile, you can book a reservations here (safety info), or if you’re not too keen to do IRL just yet, they’re still offering carryout options for pick-up or delivery. (OR if you’d prefer to do a Zoom class from home, the next one is a Portuguese wine tasting happening on July 18th.)