You may have heard by now that New England restaurateur and chef Michael Schlow expects to open a DC outpost of his Boston restaurant Tico at the new Louis at 14th development in June (1926 14th St. NW; 202-319-1400). The chef was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef and Best Chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation, as well as appearing on the first season of Top Chef Masters on Bravo. But Washingtonians still have a lot to learn about Michael Schlow and Tico.
He was in town this weekend for the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival and stayed for a guest chef stint at Graffiato’s Industry Takeover night tonight from 10 PM-1 AM, when you can sample drinks and late-night snacks for a $10 cash-only cover charge (707 Sixth St. NW; 202-289-3600). Despite his busy schedule, Schlow kindly took the time to answer a few questions for us. Here’s what we learned:
1. It looks as if he’ll stick around: Unlike some other celebrity chefs (ahem, Eric Ripert and Susur Lee), Schlow seems personally invested in the DC restaurant scene. “My father was from DC, and I have deep roots here. I have a lot of great friends in and around DC and almost moved here in the mid ’90s. DC has always been one of my favorite places - it has an incredibly tight-knit restaurant community, and I've enjoyed watching it grow into one of the most exciting food cities in the world. I've been looking for years for the right opportunity here and could not be more excited to open on 14th and U.”
2. Tico isn’t trying to replicate your last Mexican vacation: When asked how his tacos differ from other taquerias lining 14th and U streets, he says, “First and foremost, Tico is an American restaurant that has been influenced by my travels to Spain, Mexico and South America. While we have a section of the menu devoted to tacos, they are very different from the ones you might find in Mexico. The menu is about how my travels to these places inspired me to create this food, but the goal is not authenticity; it's about fun, full flavor and interesting combinations.”
3. A few of his favorite things: Favorite hot sauce? “Homemade with homegrown red chiles, tomato, onion, garlic, carrots, vinegar. Storebought? I like simple Tabasco sauce.” Favorite tequila? “I have many ... Milagro Silver Reserva, Don Julio, Casa Dragones, La Famiglia 1942, the list goes on and on.” Favorite thing on the Tico menu? “Unfair question. Too many dishes to choose from, but I always have to have crispy Manchego with pomegranate-honey sauce; two texture beef tacos with morita chile sauce; shredded cabbage salad with shaved raw veggies, salsa verde vinaigrette and marcona almonds; [and] shrimp ceviche with pickled red onion, aji amarillo and crushed peanuts.”
4. DC-only dishes: Schlow has been working with his Boston Tico chef - George Rodrigues, who will move down here to head the kitchen - to create dishes specific to Tico DC. And they sound pretty terrific, so far: crispy soft-shell crab with avocado and aji picante; baby string bean and fava bean salad with queso fresco, chile de arbol and lime; kingfish ceviche with grapefruit, fennel and mint; and fresh peas with bacon, lemon zest, smoked paprika and a soft egg.
5. He eats around: Unlike many chefs who are tied to the kitchen or too busy to sample the city’s hotspots, Schlow has definitely made it a priority. “I have so many places I love that I can't name them all, but most recently I have gone to Del Campo, Kapnos, The Source, Le Diplomate, Ghibellina, Red Hen, Fiola - and loved them all; each really wonderful and perfect expressions of what they are striving for. I also love Rasika and all of Jeff Tunks' restaurants. There's too much good food!!”
Bonus round: We can’t resist telling you a bit about the beverage program planned for Tico DC. There will be more than 125 tequilas, and enthusiasts can join the restaurant’s tequila club. The team has worked with DC Brau to age beer in tequila barrels, and the wine list will pull solely from Spain, South America and North America - with the exception of a bottle of Champagne or two hanging around in case there’s a celebration.