Having just returned from two amazing weeks in Cuba, Peter and I decided to compare the cuisine at that nearby island nation to local Caribbean/Hispanic fare. So, we headed to Shaw’s El Techo (Spanish for “roof”), perched upstairs from burrito-truck-turned-bricks-and-mortar Rito Loco. The cooking here is not exactly Cuban, although managing partner Danial Diaz is first-generation Cubano, and some of his family recipes crop up on the menu.
After climbing snow-flecked iron steps, we found the funky rooftop “greenhouse” a cozy respite from winter’s bite. The 15-foot cathedral tent is decked with real and artificial greenery and heated with two fire pits. The modest Rito Loco opened two years ago, while El Techo arrived last September. The two eateries share a kitchen where Salvadoran-born chef Alex Ramos works his Latino magic.
For a weekend midday repast, guests may choose from brunch and lunch menus. Zesty, generous Bloody Marys, poured into Bell jars and garnished with a lime slice and pineapple leaf, come with vodka, tequila or mezcal. Warmer options? Try hot buttered rum, coco loco (tequila and hot chocolate), a tequila toddy or Cuban-style coffee spiked with mezcal.
Complementing these tummy-warming bebidos are juevos rancheros (two eggs accompanied by refried black beans and home fries and topped with ranchero sauce). The oddly named AM Rito is a tasty burrito filled with eggs, cheesy pasta shells, pico de gallo and choice of meat (I went for spicy ground beef). The accompanying green sauce, made with green chilis and cilantro, tasted like the green East Indian condiment.
From El Techo’s regular menu, Peter ordered a flour tortilla stuffed with Caribbean dry-rubbed tilapia. There’s also paella, mussels con chorizo and tostones. (In Cuba, we encountered the latter – mashed plantains filled with shredded beef.)
Open daily for lunch and dinner, El Techo/Rito Loco is located at 606 Florida Ave. NW, where Shaw and Bloomingdale practically merge. Call 202-836-4270 or visit www.ritoloco.com.
A nearby, equally popular brunch spot is simply called 801. It’s situated at – duh – 801 Florida Ave. NW, between U and Ninth streets. The two-level neighborhood hangout also has a rooftop, which was jam-packed on a recent Sunday afternoon. Emerging from the restaurant’s three bars were the usual Bloody Marys and mimosas, plus Moscow Mules and other libations. The eclectic menu encompasses avocado toast, assorted crepes and omelets, breakfast tacos and the “8th Street sandwich,” stuffed with scrambled eggs, Fontina cheese, arugula and pesto, all snuggled on Texas toast. Among side dishes, potato hash gets high marks. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10 a.m. For more information call 202-332-0207 or visit www.801dc.com.
Coming soon to Ivy City, restaurateur Matt Baker is launching his first solo project, Gravitas. Baker, who attended the prestigious Johnson & Wales [culinary] University in Miami, further honed his skills in top Miami Beach restaurants. He also cooked in Singapore, before arriving in Washington. After a brief stint at Minibar by Jose Andres, he moved to the historic Occidental and Brasserie Beck; he also opened City Perch in Bethesda.
Baker’s commitment to supporting local farms and vendors will be reflected in Gravitas. Located at 1401 Okie St. NE, Gravitas will showcase two menus: a “chef’s tasting” and a vegetarian option. For updates visit www.gravitasdc.com.
Cider Will Rule
Nearby, look for Supreme Core Cider at 2400 T St. NE. The future cidery will be created by the team that brought us Anxo Cidery & Pintxos Bar (Truxton Circle), Porron (Barracks Row) and Anxo Cidery & Tasting Room in Brightwood. Supreme Core Cider will feature a 5,000-square-foot production facility and tap room.
Logan Lowdown … Latino Style
New near Logan Circle is Arepa Zone, the bricks-and-mortar spinoff of the modest Arepa Zone stall in Union Market. Located at 1121 14th St. NW, the new Arepa Zone – as well as the Union Market original – is operated by Gabriela Febres and partner Ali Arellano. Native to Colombia and Venezuela and usually served at breakfast, arepas are tasty little corn pockets stuffed with all kinds of meats, cheeses and vegetables. Logan Circle’s Arepa Zone is open for lunch and dinner. Breakfast service and a liquor license are in the works.
Extra Weekend Noshing
The original Busboys and Poets at 2021 14th St. NW (just off U street, closer to V) is now open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday nights. Round-the-clock victuals include crispy Brussels sprouts and a vegan barbecue beef sandwich. Huh? Sounds like an oxymoron but we’ll probably try it. For more information call 202-387-7638.
More Logan Lowdown
More news from Shaw. Executive chef Jonathan Dearden, who is wielding his whisk at the Mason & Rook hotel restaurant Radiator, is heading to New York City this month. The Virginia native is representing our nation’s capital in a national cooking competition sponsored by the ABC cooking program “The Chew.” (Local celeb chef/cookbook author Carla Hall co-hosts the lively daytime show.) Chef Dearden earned the coveted slot after winning a local cook-off with his regionally inspired dish chock full of Chesapeake Bay crabmeat, half-smokes (really?) and potato-apple hash.
Dearden’s other inventive dishes run the gamut of octopus a la plancha; Asian-style rockfish with black rice; lamb belly tacos with curried chickpeas; beef cheeks ravioli. Dearden brings Caribbean, Creole, French and pan-Asian flair to his menu, which complements Radiator’s constantly updated list of seasonal and classic cocktails. He arrived at Radiator from Ardeo+Bardeo, where he honchoed the kitchen.
The moniker Radiator? The space once housed an auto repair shop, a far cry from the building’s present occupant, Mason & Rook hotel, part of the upscale boutique Kimpton Group.
Open daily, Radiator is located at 1430 Rhode Island Ave. NW; call 202-742-3150 or visit www.radiatordc.com.
Adios ‘til Spring
As we do every winter, we snowbirds are heading south to the sunny (we hope) climes of Siesta Key, Fla. So, Insatiable bids you bye ‘til April.