By Jeff Dufour - 03/17/05 12:00 AM EST
White is the new black, if the design of two swank new downtown lounges are any indication.
As D.C.’s nightlife continues to grow up (and catch up with that of traditionally “cooler” cities), restaurateurs are rethinking how they design their spaces and serve diners. Witness Jose Andres, at the forefront of the tapas vanguard with Jaleo and Zaytinya, or the “Restau-Lounge” concept at David Greggory in the West End.
Two new restaurants are taking things even further, with designs and presentations that Washingtonians might not be used to. But both believe the city is definitely prepared for a change.
Cloud Dining Lounge, on the southern end of Dupont Circle, was some three years in the making.
“I wanted to be the first to do something unusual” in D.C., says co-owner Savino Recine, a native of Rome. “Washington is ready” for a European-style lounge, he said.
But his first effort, Caf� Savino, he now says, “was a mistake.” He says it was “more of a compromise than I wanted. … The lounge was working OK, but the restaurant was too separate in the back.”
His solution? Shut down the restaurant and spend six weeks completely revamping it. Inspired by trips to Rome, Miami and New York and assisted by the designer of Ten Penh, Jaleo and Ceiba, he has come up with a concept he calls “more ambitious than other tapas places.” He admits that “this place is not for everybody.”
Take the beds, for instance. Six white, faux-leather beds, with cushions and pillows aplenty, dominate the far end of the dining room. Each comes with a wicker basket for patrons’ shoes and a tray table for plates and drinks.
The color white (or is white an absence of color?) dominates the rest of the room as well. Lacy white curtains, cloud fixtures on the ceilings, white barstools and a state-of-the art lighting system complete the “cloud” theme.
Recine compiles all the music himself, but he hopes the small stage in the center of the multiangled, wraparound bar will host performers from Arab musicians to Brazilian dancers.
He also designed the menu and trained the kitchen staff. The cold tapas are largely dominated by Mediterranean dishes, while hot tapas trend toward Asian cuisine. Most items range from $4-$7. They include tuna ceviche, mussels with ginger and lemongrass, and twice-fried plantains with garlic-cilantro dipping sauce.
White leather is also the order of the day at Oya Restaurant & Lounge, which opens in Penn Quarter next week. The oh-so-swank (and hopefully Scotchguarded) fabric appears on the host stand, banquettes, barstools and sofas.
But you might be too distracted to notice as you check out the 2.5 tons of 12-foot chains suspended from the ceiling, the three water walls or the white Greek marble walls in which fire rods are embedded.
The design is the brainchild of principal Errol Lawrence, who lived in Washington for seven years before moving to Los Angeles, where he opened eight restaurants.
“I wanted to go a little bit out on the edge,” he said. He likens restaurants and nightlife to fashion, where New York and L.A. lead so that other cities can follow. “Zaytinya is what we were doing in Los Angeles five years ago,” he said, referring to Andres’s popular tapas place only a block away on 9th Street.
Oya, which hosted the launch party for the glossy magazine D.C. Style last week, is split into two areas — a 150-seat dining room and a 60-seat lounge, which will serve food until 1 a.m.
Both menus fall under the direction of Chef Kingsley John, a 30-year-old native of St. Lucia in the Caribbean. He’s a veteran of such renowned kitchens as Aquavit in New York and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.
His menu brings together elements of Asian, African and Moroccan cooking. Dishes will include braised short ribs with vanilla pear pur�e and grilled green curry lobster with red rice.