WASHINGTON — After a year and a half of construction, permitting and menu testing, one of D.C.’s most highly anticipated restaurants will open its doors Tuesday.
Unlike other buzzed about dining establishments, The Shaw Bijou won’t have a line around the block and guests won’t be packed into an overly crowded dining room. The restaurant doesn’t even have a menu — just a phone call a few days before dinner to confirm allergies and food preferences.
“You put the food in our hands. That’s really why you go to a restaurant,” said Kwame Onwuachi, executive chef at The Shaw Bijou.
“Also, it’s kind of awkward to give someone a menu and then have to take it away because we’re going to be putting plates down.”
It’s not just a few plates that Onwuachi and his team will be putting down in front of diners — it’s roughly 13 courses. The Shaw Bijou is an eight-table tasting-menu restaurant, located in a 200-year-old restored row house in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood.
Vegetarians and vegans, have no fear: Onwuachi has tasting menus for specific diets.
“We cater to all,” he said.
Onwuachi, who recently competed on Season 13 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” has been working on the concept for roughly 18 months. The goal, he says, was to build a restaurant that feels like home.
“When you go to your friend’s house, they don’t say, ‘Sit down here for three hours, the bathroom’s that way.’ It’s like, ‘Come to bar. What do you want to drink? Come into the kitchen, let me feed you, let’s go outside, let’s go into the living room.’ We wanted to keep that feel,” he said.
When diners arrive to The Shaw Bijou, they are escorted upstairs to a small bar. On Icelandic sheepskin chairs, guests work with the restaurant’s mixologists to make their desired cocktail (again, no menu) and have their first course.
When cocktails are complete, it’s on to the next course, which takes place in the heart of the building: the kitchen. Then, it’s off to the dining room.
“We want you to feel like you’re coming into our home and we’re just taking care of you. You don’t go to your friend’s house and order food; you go to your friend’s house and they make you a meal,” said General Manager Gregory Vakiner.
The hospitality-heavy dining experience does not come cheap. The price per person is $185 and that does not include drinks or gratuity.
The Washington Post reports the minimum wine pairing will cost $50, bringing the total bill up to at least $300 per person. This makes the meal more expensive than Aaron Silverman’s Pineapple and Pearls ($250, but includes drinks, taxes and gratuity), which was recently awarded two stars in D.C.’s Michelin Guide.
“We’ve definitely got something to prove, but I think that once people taste the food and get the experience that there will be no question about what they’re going to get here,” Vakiner said.
The food and the service are not the only two things given careful attention at The Shaw Bijou. When it comes to the restaurant’s design, no detail was overlooked and no expense was spared, down to the plates, which are made by the local ceramics company Cloud Terre.
Furniture maker Caleb Woodard was brought on to construct everything from the carved wooden doors to the table bases.
“The little brass accents in the shop to the silverware cabinet, the lights hanging in the foyer,” Woodard added. “We’re just trying to do stuff that nobody’s seen before; be creative, don’t take the cheap way out and just go buy something.”
Even the kitchen looks more like one you’d find in a home than a restaurant, with less stainless steel and more stone, wood and other natural elements. Onwuachi’s 200-plus spice collection is displayed on a wooden shelf in clear glass jars.
Vakiner says opening The Shaw Bijou has been a dream of his and Onwuachi’s for a long time. The business partners, both 26, met at the Culinary Institute of America where they were “foes before friends.” Eventually they went on to live together and work together at the three-star Michelin Eleven Madison Park.
“Doing dining at this level is something that we feel super, super, super passionate about. We feel like we’ve cut our chops and gotten ourselves to this point,” Vakiner said.
The Shaw Bijou, 1544 9th St. NW, opens for dinner Nov. 1. Reservation tickets can be purchased on the restaurant’s website for $185 a person.
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