The Atlas Room leads H Street's Fine Dining Revival

A Conversation with The Atlas Room's Owner and Executive Chef Matthew Cordes

With the weather cooling down and local chefs turning to winter ingredients, this is our third of three discussions with H Street restaurant owners and chefs who are leading the neighborhood's restaurant boom.

Third up: The Atlas Room's owner and Chef Matthew Cordes

The Atlas Room opened for business just over two years ago, yet it's one of the oldest restaurants along the booming H Street cooridor. As far as fine dining goes, it was one of the first neighborhood options and remains one of the top culinary choices for those seeking fresh meat, seafood, and regional produce.

After graduating from George Mason University, owner and chef Matthew Cordes began his journey into the restaurant industry, cooking throughout the D.C. region as well as spending several years honing his craft in Atlanta. After retunring to Washington, Cordes was confident with the French and Italian background that he had developed and he aimed to finally open his own restaurant.

With a limited budget, Cordes investigated several neighborhoods in Washington and concluded that H Street's undeveloped restaurant market and affordable real estate were to his advantage. Two years later, The Atlas Room (1015 H St. NE) has established itself as the neighborhood's go-to restaurant for fine dining and, while the neighborhood draws scores of new restaurants, Cordes remains focused on staying on top.  

Read our conversation with Matthew Cordes below:

Q- The Atlas Room just celebrated its two year anniversary, but compared to the other restaurants around here, The Atlas Room is among the oldest. When you arrived in 2010, H Street was a bit of a culinary desert. What attracted you to this neighborhood?

Matthew Cordes: Being that I'm the sole owner and trying to get capital together, this area was approachable and I found this space which had previously been a restaurant so it didn't need a whole lot of turnaround, which meant I could do it for a reasonable cost. I also looked around Capitol Hill and there is not a lot of upscale fine dining other than in the Barracks Row area which is on the other side of Capitol Hill, so I saw a real opportunity. I really like what we have seen in this area, but I think we need some more retail and a few more restaurants that put out consistently high-quality food.

Q- We are in the fall season, getting into winter. What should we expect from your menu?

MC: We definitely have dishes that lend themselves to all the seasons. We are incorporating squash into several of our dishes, and we're using more winter greens and cabbage, but there are some dishes we can't mess with. I envisioned changing the menu around a lot more, but then realized as a business concern, it's not very smart. You need to let the clientele talk to you and as you establish crowd favorites you need to leave those ones alone.

We try to use products that are as local as possible, but it's a business. We work with several food co-ops and Amish farms in the Shenandoah region and we get a lot of our meats from Halverson's out of Maryland. We definitely try to stick to the tri-state area - Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania - as much as we can. But I also like to use the best stuff available so a lot of our lamb is flown in from Colorado.

Q: What is hot on the menu?

Appetizer: Short-rib ravioli with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a herbed demi-glace

Veggie entree: Amish Pie: Feta cheese, tomato, zucchini and basil emulsion

Entree: Beef Two Ways: Braised short ribs, flatiron steak with a parsnip potato puree, chard and carmelized onion, roasted beets and red wine sauce

Cocktail: Planters Punch: Aplleton light and dark rums, Cointreau, pineapple, lime, and orange juices

Q: What is a restaurant people should check out in the D.C. area?

MC: Palena in Cleveland Park- excellent food, top notch chef. That place has never let me down.

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