Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Chicken used to be the catch-all dish on a restaurant’s menu for customers too skittish to try something more interesting. Foodies would look down their noses and wonder why their dining companions would opt to eat the most ubiquitous protein in America in a restaurant when they cook it so much at home. But in recent months, chicken has had a resurgence as a showpiece selection at area restaurants—especially as a family-style entree in fine dining restaurants.
“Every French concept should have a standout roast chicken,” says Chef Mike Rafidi. His chicken dish at Requin at The Wharf is intended for a table to share comes with a confit bread salad, wilted chicories, pommes purée, and mustard jus ($32).
“We brine our birds in a buttermilk brine for 24 hours, then roast it to-order with a house-made herb butter.” He says it’s been one of the most popular dishes on the menu since the restaurant opened last month because it’s a go-to comfort food.
Perhaps Kinship, another French-leaning concept, can be credited for the modern revival. Post critic Tom Sietsema practically drooled over Chef Eric Ziebold‘s roast chicken in 2016 in his review, in which he wrote that the one-hour wait for the whole roasted chicken served with lemon-garlic panade, pommes rissolées, and a frisée salad ($56) is well worth it. For added drama, the chicken is presented whole at the table before it makes a quick trip back to the kitchen to be butchered.
It’s not just French-accented restaurants that are bringing back the bird in a big way. The whole chicken spiced with turmeric and coriander ($35) is one of the best things on the menu at Maydan, which draws inspiration from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s juicy and a good match for any of the restaurant’s many condiments such as toum. Brothers and Sisters, which serves Western food influenced by Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine, also offers an herb-roasted half-chicken on its menu.
Chef Haidar Karoum’s Chloe, which debuted in Navy Yard on Jan. 5, is already cranking through orders of spice-roasted chicken with Vietnamese-style greens and a toasted chili-lime dipping sauce that doesn’t hold back on the fish sauce ($25). On a recent Thursday night the half-birds were flying out of the kitchen every five minutes. The dish is inspired by the chef’s love of Vietnamese cuisine. He says he air-dries the chicken overnight much like a Peking duck. That’s the secret to snappy, crispy skin.
“I love chicken,” Karoum says. “I’m a Popeye’s junkie.” But his love for roast chicken is also a little more refined. “One of my favorite things to eat of all time was Chef Frank Ruta‘s roast chicken at Palena. It was also the dish that Mark Kuller and I bonded over when we first met.” Before opening his own restaurant, Karoum was the executive chef at Kuller’s restaurants Proof, Doi Moi, and Estadio.
Karoum worries chicken can become an afterthought in restaurants. “They have to be on the menu, but not much care or attention are paid to them,” he says. “But I also believe that a roasted chicken is a good barometer to judge a restaurant’s kitchen by.”