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Spike Mendelsohn freely admits he wasn’t entirely ready to move on his fledgling restaurant, Béarnaise (315 Pennsylvania Ave. SE), last year when he snatched up the prime real estate just behind his other well-trafficked properties.
But the restaurateur couldn’t pass up the chance to bring his career, and some of his most cherished dining memories, full circle with a steak frites place of his own.
Friends and family will get the chance to sample the fruits of Mendelsohn’s latest labors on Saturday and again June 24 during the soft opening. A Mendelsohn spokeswoman said the plan is to begin welcoming the general public, for both lunch and dinner, on June 28.Memory Lane
The Montreal-born Mendelsohn, who rocketed to stardom here in the states after appearing on season four of “Top Chef” (he returned to the ratings juggernaut for season eight, “Top Chef All-Stars,” and also co-stars in the reality TV brand’s latest spin-off, “Life After Top Chef”), said he and his sister/business partner, Micheline, grew up eating entrecote and crunchy spuds in their native Canada.
A classically trained chef, Mendelsohn fed his passion for French cooking by honing his craft at award-winning restaurants — Bouchon (Yountville, Calif.), Le Cirque (New York City), Les Crayeres (Reims, France) — the world over.
He changed gears along the way, planting his flagship Good Stuff Eatery here (303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) in 2008; an Arlington, Va., location debuted in summer 2012, with Georgetown and Philadelphia outposts scheduled to follow. Meanwhile, his sophomore project, We, the Pizza (305 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) took root in 2010.
But it was back during his hectic days in the Le Cirque kitchen that Mendelsohn first crossed paths with Brad Race, Béarnaise’s executive chef. The duo bonded while tending to the titular sauce that’s reunited them all these years later.
According to Mendelsohn, the owners of the former Thai Roma space approached him in 2012 about taking over their soon-to-expire lease, an offer he simply couldn’t refuse.
“It’s not something we were 100 percent ready to do ... but we loved the space and love the neighborhood,” he said of the gut reaction.
Of course, Mendelsohn had been looking to broaden his burgeoning hospitality empire beyond the current grab-and-go profile. And he knew Race was up to the challenge.
“The timing was just right to do something together ... something more serious,” he said of the shift from fast-casual to more refined dining.