The Hot Plate: New Eateries Satisfy H Street’s Hunger for a Dining Scene

Posted April 2, 2008 at 6:44pm

The H Street corridor is quickly cementing a reputation as a great place to grab a drink and see a band. But on the dining front, H might as well have stood for “hungry.”

[IMGCAP(1)]That’s changing, though, with the addition of two new sit-down restaurants where what’s on the plate is every bit as important as what’s on the rocks. And more food-focused venues are on the horizon.

The intersection of 12th and H streets Northeast now boasts the just-opened XII, a casual-dining spot that’s aimed at the every-night crowd.

Bernard Gibson, a restaurateur whose most recent project was Cranberries in District Heights, Md., says diners are looking for options beyond the takeout joints and bar food for which the H Street strip is known. “People in the neighborhood are looking for a place to sit down and have a regular dinner,” he says.

The menu includes straightforward options, like platters of ribs and chicken tenders, as well as burgers, salads and sandwiches, almost none of which top the $20 mark.

XII joins the more upscale Napa 1015, named after the restaurant’s address on H Street. Co-owner Jorge Velazquez, a longtime caterer and West Coast native, calls the cuisine at the neighborhood spot “California with a French twist.” He and business partner Ron Allison originally bought the H Street property with the intention of using it as a home base for their catering company, Napa Valley Caterers.

But after they started making plans to move in, neighbors began clamoring for them to open a sit-down spot on the relatively food-barren corridor. “They were asking for it, so here we are,” Velazquez says.

Neighbors are not only responsible for the restaurant opening, but they are also helping shape the menu. Executive Chef David Nugent, a veteran of the Oval Room and Ardeo, has tweaked the menu in response to feedback from local patrons, adding a selection of lighter fare, including a jalapeno-cheddar burger and a grilled veggie and feta sandwich, to the lineup of entrees. Menu staples include a pistachio-crusted trout with asparagus, avocado and lemon-spiked olive oil.

And to appeal to theater-goers checking out a performance at the nearby Atlas Performing Arts Center, Napa 1015 is offering a pre- theater, three-course dinner for $30.

Soon, Napa 1015 and XII will have even more company — the next months will see an influx of new eateries. Despite its name, the yet-to-open Liquid is planning to make food a feature. The menu will offer small plates for sharing, with influences spanning the globe from Asia, France and the Mediterranean, Chef Shawn Lightfoot says. The opening date for the lounge is at least two months away, though, because the owners first have to resolve some zoning issues surrounding the space at 914 H St. NE.

And if anyone needed more proof that H Street is a food destination, no less an authority than the Food Network agrees. The network taped an episode of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” a show in which the celebrity chef challenges other chefs to a cook-off of their signature dish, with Teddy Folkman, who dishes up Belgian-tinged fare at Dr. Granville Moore’s.

In the show, which hasn’t run yet, Folkman competed with Flay — using the kitchens of the nearby Argonaut — to see who makes better mussels and frites. While the show’s producers have been mum about who won the culinary fistfight, we’re guessing Folkman’s rendition stood up pretty well to the competition.