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To get a sense of what the new Mirabelle brings to the table, order the Cape Cod duo of clams for lunch. The side-by-side selection of fried clam bellies and steamers served with a trio of dipping sauces and cornbread indicates the new team behind the restaurant reopening on Aug. 7 doesn’t fit squarely into the box of French-American fare the downtown restaurant is known for.
New Executive Chef Keith Bombaugh and returning front-of-house titan Jennifer Knowles hail from New England. They both have fond memories of gobbling up fried seafood and are looking for a source to supply them with pages from The Boston Globe to line the clam duo. The chef says he sought out to “somehow make fried clams soigné.”
Bombaugh strives to tell stories through food. “With food, you can really take somebody outside of the dining room by sharing an experience or memory with them,” he says. It’s why you’ll find an Argentinian-style “gaucho puchero short rib” served on the same dinner menu as Maryland she crab soup and Aegean lamb loin with mock moussaka.
“When you’re in Paris at contemporary modern French restaurants, what you’re really seeing is the influence of all of the areas that French cuisine has moved to and all of the cultures that have come to France,” Knowles adds. “It’s almost like the curry culture in London, but this is more North African because that populace has been such a big part of French culture for so long.”
Several of the dishes play on childhood creativity and wonderment. The “Father’s Garden” from the a la carte dinner menu, for example, is Bombaugh’s throwback to playing in his dad’s vegetable patch. “As a kid, that’s not a garden,” he says. “It’s some wonderful tropical adventure you’re going on. It’s a gateway to something else. It’s crazy how a kid’s mind works.”
Bombaugh comes to D.C. from Boston, where he most recently served as the chef de cuisine at Meritage. Most notably, he was a sous chef at Chicago’s Alinea—a three Michelin star standard-bearer for experimental cuisine headed by Grant Achatz. It’s where the budding chef says he learned it’s cool to break the rules if you have a good reason.
The new dinner menu givers diners three options: order off of an a la carte menu; opt for a prix fixe menu (four courses for $85, five courses for $95); or sign-on for a 12-course tasting menu ($195). The a la carte dinner menu is below. Lunch is modeled off a Parisian bistro. The menu features everything from seafood towers and Alsatian tarte flambée options to a more humble roast beef dip sandwich. “The exclusionary ideology no longer exists at Mirabelle,” Knowles says.
A bar bites menu is also new to Mirabelle. Try little neck stuffies and salt cod brandade as well as miniature foie gras tacos. Instead of tortillas, Bombaugh spends three days making wee taco shells out of pounded out bananas. He pipes foie gras into the shells and tops them with preserved gooseberries and cherries. They’re nestled on a bonus snack of spiced pistachios.
Bombaugh replaces Frank Ruta, who opened the restaurant in March 2017 with pastry chef Aggie Chin. While news of the drastic staff swap emerged earlier this month, Knowles says she took initiative and wrested control about five months ago.
“I was the one who went to Hakan [Ilhan],” Knowles says, referring to Mirabelle’s owner. While she was still working at Requin at The Wharf, Ilhan approached her about a new project he’s working on in the former Morton’s space in Georgetown. But she only had one thing on her mind. “I really only want to talk about Mirabelle,” she told Ilhan. “I’d like to relaunch Mirabelle with a new culinary team.”
Knowles also brought back lead bartender Zachary Faden. Zoe Ezrailson is taking over Chin’s duties as the new pastry chef.
Come August 7, the hours of operation will be lunch Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner Mondays through Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 5:30 p.m to 10 p.m.
Mirabelle, 900 16th St. NW; (202) 506-3833; mirabelledc.com
Father’s Garden 18Peas, Chèvre. Tomato Consommé
Memories of Ice Pond 19Charred Trout, Shishito-Umeboshi, Blistered Cucumber
Smoked Farm Salad 16Baby Lettuces, Charred Tomato
Pacific Abalone 24Grilled Abalone, Marinated Myoga, Green Curry Tapioca
Honey Milk Foie 20Compressed Apple, Honey Almond Milk, Cherry Gelée, Preserved Fruit
Farmer’s Porridge 20Wild Mushrooms, Charred Allium, Braised Grains
Winter Australian Truffle 41Tagliatelle, Parmesan Cream, Hazelnut
Summer Scallops 23Melon, Almonds, Cucumber, Radish
Ris de Veau Tartlet 22Artichoke Barigoule, Garlic Purée, Bliss Fifty Year Aged Sherry Vinegar
Maryland “she” Crab 24Celtuce, Bay Butter, Pine Nut, Corncake
Forest Landscape 29Braised Trumpet Royales, Pommes Fondant, Tarragon Moss
Halibut N.E. Style 32Littleneck Clams, Confit Leek, Soubise
Poached Lobster 39“Voulevant” Lobster Roll, Baby Corn, Shoot Salad, Corn-Silk Buttermilk Sauce
Duet de Canard 35Crispy Lettuce Torta, Charred Tomato, Shallot, Rhubarb, Braised Lettuce, Jus
Squab 40Celeriac, Fava Bean, Pea, Truffle Jus
Whole Pig Assiette 38Many Cuts, White Garlic, Thyme Jus
Aegean Lamb Loin 35Mastic, Mahlab, “Moussaka” Brunoise
Gaucho Puchero Short Rib 33Caramelized Banana, Mille Feuille, Puchero Broth