Dining Notes – October 2017

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Ophelia's Fish House chef Gregorio Martinez displays a beautiful salmon, ready for preparation. Photo: Celeste McCall

Chef Gregorio Martinez Helms Ophelia’s
Gregorio Martinez has come full circle: In 2008, he honchoed the Barracks Row seafood kitchen at Chesapeake Room. He departed four years later. Last year, he returned to the same restaurant, which is now Ophelia’s Fish House, the Hill Restaurant Group’s flagship establishment. In the Interim he headed to Georgetown where he cooked at the venerable Billy Martin’s Tavern, then Chef Geoff’s in Spring Valley. “Geoff Tracy is a great chef,” said Martinez. “He ran a good kitchen; everyone who cooked there [eventually] became a chef.

A native of El Salvador, Martinez arrived in the United States at 18 (speaking only Spanish) and settled in Rockville. As in many culinary success stories, he started out washing dishes, and gradually worked his way up the career ladder, learning English on the way. Now, in addition to Ophelia’s Fish House, Martinez also oversees the kitchens of six sister establishments:Hawk ‘n Dove, Tío Javier,  Senart’s Oyster & Grille Room, Lola’s Barracks Bar & Grill, Finn McCool’s and Willie’s Brew & Que (Navy Yard).

Chef Gregorio Martinez’s seafood omelette is a favorite brunch dish at Ophelia’s. Photo: Celeste McCall

Martinez, 43, works six days a week, often putting in 14-hour days on weekends, a mere eight  hours other days. “I like to cook,” he said, “Especially seafood.” A top seller at Ophelia’s is pan-roasted, crispy-skinned sea bass. Shrimp and grits are also popular. At weekend brunch: his seafood omelet is replete with crab, shrimp and cheddar, sauced with tomato Hollandaise.

Martinez, who now dwells in Columbia Heights, rarely cooks at home, but when he does, he likes to grill or broil shrimp, or prepare pupusas from his native country. Occasionally, he’ll dine out at a Latino restaurant near his home. He also admits to preparing a favorite dish at Ophelia’s and taking it home to enjoy with his 13-year-old son. While not the owner, Martinez considers Ophelia’s his restaurant. “My second house,” he proclaims proudly.

From the walk-in freezer in his narrow galley kitchen, he plucked a side of Atlantic salmon, purchased from Capital Seaboard Seafood & Produce. He planned to filet and season the fish with Old Bay, before grilling or broiling it to order. He’ll serve his masterpiece with jasmine rice, grilled zucchini and salsa.

Martinez estimates that Ophelia’s, with his staff of seven, serves about 75 dinners nightly, more on weekends. Open daily, Ophelia’s Fish House is located at 501 Eighth St. SE. For more information call 202-543-1445 or visit www.opheliasfishhousethehill.

Grand Waterfront Opening
The Wharf, the mile-long, $2 billion mega-complex sprawled along the Southwest waterfront, is poised to unveil “Phase One” on October 12. Produced by Hoffman-Madison Waterfront, opening festivities will include fireworks, concerts, inauguration of regional water-taxis, and the arrival of big-name restaurants. Among them: Hank’s Oyster Bar, La Vie, Rappahannock Oyster Company, Velo Café at District Hardware, Dolcezza Gelato. Phase Two groundbreaking is slated for next year, and the whole shebang should be completed by 2021.

District Winery Opens at the Yards
As you’ve probably heard, Washington welcomes its first winery: District Winery. Located in Yards Park near Nationals Park, the three-level, 17,000-square-foot facility was co-founded by Brian Leventhal and John Stires. Besides providing space for private events, District Winery has a stunning restaurant–Ana—named after the Anacostia River which it overlooks. Presiding over the “new American” kitchen is executive chef Michael Gordon, who wielded his whisk at top New York restaurants. Chef de Cuisine is Benjamin Lambert (formerly with 701, Restaurant, Nora). Highlighting their eclectic menu: grilled octopus, crab beignets, Amish chicken, smoked duck, charred broccoli steak.

District Winery offers weekend tours, but you’ll have to wait until spring to sip local vintages. No, they won’t be growing grapes in Nats Park’s outfield; most of the fruit-of-the-vine comes from California’s Sonoma Valley, Washington State’s Columbia Gorge, and New York’s Finger Lakes District. Led by winemaker Conor McCormack, District Winery will eventually produce 72,000 bottles annually.

District Winery’s soaring interior is designed by HapstakDemetriou+ (Peter Hapstak III and Olvia Demetriou), and built by Potomac Construction Services. The design is inspired by traditional wineries with the juxtaposition of warm and cool finishes, walnut paneling and brass accents.

Also created by HapstakDemetriou+, Ana’s décor showcases a variety of rich textures including stone, walnut, cement and steel. Globe pendants dangle from timber beams; light shades are constructed from recycled cardboard. The 56-seat dining room is appointed with “mid-century” inspired furnishings and custom-designed banquettes upholstered with blue fabric. Encircling the restaurant is a spacious patio with fire pits. Ana is open nightly, and will eventually serve brunch and weekday lunch. District Winery and Restaurant Ana is at 385 Water St. SE; call 202-484-9210 or visit www.districtwinery.com.

Coming Soon
On the drawing board near the Potomac Avenue Metro Station, Neighborhood Restaurant Group is unveiling a multi-restaurant hub. Don’t rush over right away; this won’t happen until about 2019. Located at 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, the mixed-use complex will include 160 apartments on the upper levels.

“It’s a neighborhood I’ve been looking at for a while,” said NRG owner Michael Babin, who is joining forces with CAS Riegler Companies and May Development on the project. Presently, the Potomac Metro area’s dining options are pretty much limited to a couple of bars, Mangialardo’s subs and La Lomita.

NRG’s empire already encompasses 20 local restaurants, bars and shops, including Barracks Row’s  EatBar and Hazel  (Shaw). So far, few details are available concerning the ground floor, except that Beer Director Greg Engert will unveil a beer bar with outdoor seating. There will also be a high-end coffee shop. Stay tuned.

This little fellow is not in Washington; he’s in downtown Reyjkavik. But you can find Viking fare at Calooska: Simply Scandinavian, at Union Market. Photo: Celeste McCall

Viking Fare At Union Market
We’ve not encountered many Scandinavian restaurants around here. So we were intrigued to stumble upon Calooska: “Simply Scandinavian,” in Union Market. Operated by Nora Ramel, the modest eatery opened in mid-August. Having visited Iceland this summer—with its marvelous seafood–we were seeking Nordic fare. For lunch at Calooska, our light but satisfying repast encompassed vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls, Danish-style meatloaf with pickled beets and cucumbers, and an offbeat special: “savory smoked salmon cake,” which looked like a birthday cake.  The confection consisted of white bread layered with smoked salmon, cream cheese, thinly-sliced cucumbers and radishes. The “cake” was crowned with curly-cued smoked salmon which resembled pink rosettes. Priced at $5.50 per slice, it tasted as good as it looked. Lunch for two—no drinks–came to $22. Union Market is open daily except for Mondays.

She Peppers Hot Sauce
Still missing Uncle Brutha’s hot sauce shop? Weep no more. Sundays at Eastern Market, you’ll find Stephanie Freeman’s and Vickie Lucas’ outdoor stand: She Peppers. Ensconced in the “farmers row,” the women hawk herb and spice blends, gourmet flavored sea salts, hot sauces (varying degrees of heat), barbecue rubs and dried peppers including bhut jolokia (“ghost”), rumored to be the most incendiary pepper on the planet. She Peppers also offers a colorful array of fresh produce, mainly peppers. For more information call 202-743-7916 or visit www.shepeppers.com. 

Fundraisesr: Food, Fun and Books
Coming up October 6: “Destination Atlas 2017: Party for a Purpose.” Held at the Atlas Center for the Performing arts, 1333 H St. NE, the annual fundraiser will feature live music and dancing, plus food and drink from H street restaurants. For tickets and more information visitwww.atlasarts.org/fall17.

We always look forward to the annual Literary Feast, slated this year for Oct. 21. A fundraiser for the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, the festive evening combines love of literature with interesting food. This year, 39 Capitol Hill hosts will pair a book with an appropriate repast. Tickets are $100 each. To choose a book/dinner and to register, visitwww.aLiteraryFeast.org.