First Look: Mirabelle Opens Downtown

Chef Frank Ruta finds a permanent home after Palena
March 8, 2017
by Rina Rapuano

The gist: Chef Frank Ruta, formerly of the much-beloved and now-closed Palena, expects to soft open Mirabelle — a new French restaurant near the White House — on Monday, March 20, starting with lunch and slowly adding brunch, dinner and weekday breakfast. Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, who also owns L’Hommage Bistro Francais, Ottoman Taverna, Al Dente and Alba Osteria, is the man behind Ruta’s triumphant return, and award-winning pastry chef Aggie Chin, who worked with Ruta at both Palena and during his brief stint at The Grill Room, again teams up with the former White House chef. Ruta’s Gallic-American menu is a throwback to a time when French cuisine reigned supreme in this city, but you can bet this talented chef will make it feel new again.

The food and drink: Ruta fans should note that the vibe here will lean more toward back-room Palena than front cafe Palena. You’ll find the James Beard Award–winning chef at his most refined, offering dishes like house-smoked trout with fennel panna cotta, coconut and lightly pickled blood orange and buckwheat blini with roasted mushrooms and wild rice cream. Even the lunchtime sandwiches are elevated with special touches, including the ham and butter on housemade baguette and the onion soup cheeseburger laden with caramelized onions and melted Gruyère. A dessert trolley will circulate the dining room at lunch featuring classic French pastries, and dinner will bring plated desserts like a traditional soufflé and the Gâteau Mirabelle flavored with
 almond, plum preserves and chocolate ganache. The dream team of Ruta and Chin will be joined by an equally dreamy service and wine director Jennifer Knowles, who has worked as wine director at The Jefferson Hotel D.C. and The Inn at Little Washington. Along with sommelier Jaren Keller, who has worked at Alinea and French Laundry, the wine experts have pulled together a French-heavy list of 300 or so labels. Cocktails, overseen by head bartender Zach Fadden, also skew French while highlighting spirits from that country both behind the bar and on a cart that will appear tableside stocked with eau de vie, Armagnac and Calvados.

The space: Get ready for the return of opulence. Here, you’ll find Carrara marble floors, tufted leather walls, walnut trim and a custom brass and wood chandelier — and that’s just the vestibule. The rest of the 4,300-square-foot restaurant, designed by Norris Design Studio, is outfitted with booths that seat 147, a marble-topped bar surrounded by distressed mirrors and brass rosettes, and other decadent materials that channel the mid-20th century. A private dining room will seat parties of up to 45, and a patio will seat 66 when the weather warms.

The details: 900 16th St. NW; 202-506-3833. Initially open weekdays from 11:30 AM–2:30 PM, and hours will expand as dinner and Sunday brunch roll out. Weekday breakfast will also join the lineup at some point down the line.

Photos by Lacey Johnson

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