Update (3/16): Mirabelle will open for lunch on Monday, March 20.
Let’s get the most important thing out of the way. When Mirabelle from Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan opens a block from the White House, it will have a burger from Chef Frank Ruta. And not just any burger—an onion soup cheeseburger with gruyere cheese so melty it flows like lava down the side of a patty also topped with caramelized onions. Ruta, formerly of Palena and the Grill Room, has found a new home together with his ride-or-die pastry chef of seven years, Aggie Chin.
When the French American restaurant opens within the next couple of weeks, you’ll eat that burger on a white tablecloth inside a handsome dining room outfitted in warm wood. “I want it to feel like an old school French restaurant,” says Ilhan. He is also behind L’Hommage Bistro Francais, Ottoman Taverna, Alba Osteria, and more. “It should look like the mid-20th Century, the glamour years, where everybody is having fun in an elegant manner.”
Retro touches, leather seating, and gold metal work separate the 147-seat dining room from the 22-seat bar. There’s also a 44-seat private dining room that will be popular with politicos. But the best seats in the house are clearly the semi-circle booths that run down the center of the dining room. The space is elegant, and that’s what Chin says they were going for.
“We picked out a lot of beautiful China and stemware,” she says. “We want people to feel special, even if they’re just coming in for two courses or one plate—to feel like they can take a break from life and just enjoy.”
To prepare for the opening, Chin and Ruta traveled to France and New York to get a sense of how French restaurants are being reinterpreted in America in 2017. In Paris they visited one and two-star Michelin restaurants, and found exceptional service. “It hits you right in the face when you walk in,” Ruta says. “You can feel the power, the knowledge, talent, and professionalism but not arrogance … you want to be able to come in and feel like you’re being taken care of by someone who knows what they’re doing.” In New York they dined at Le Bernardin, Le Coucou,and The Modern, and favored The Modern’s style.
Mirabelle will launch with lunch with dinner, and begin breakfast service a few months after opening. Ruta is enjoying the freedom of creativity that comes with separating himself from his last gig at what’s now the Rosewood Georgetown hotel. “All the periphery stuff that goes on in hotels is wiped away,” he says. Diners should expect a menu of French classics, but with twists.
In addition to the onion soup cheeseburger, the lunch menu also includes watercress soup with buckwheat fried fish and tapioca with curry flavors; cauliflower roasted in langoustine butter with almond and tarragon; beef tartare Mirabelle served with house-baked potato brioche; and veal tongue in a flavorful broth with pot au feu traditional garnish.
Ruta is particularly proud of his take on tuna Nicoise because he cures the tuna using pastrami spices and then lets it spend some time in duck fat and olive oil before slicing it thin and serving it with the traditional accompaniments.
Lunch at Mirabelle will end with a visit from a pastry cart displaying Chin’s dessert creations, including tarte tatin and a yuzu sesame mille crêpe with sesame seeds, tahini pastry cream, and yuzu marmalade. “It’s kind of like a PB & J,” Chin says. “It’s a little American, Asian, and French.”
The dinner menu is not yet complete, but Ruta says he plans to offer tasting menus for lunch (three courses) and dinner (four-five courses).
About 60 percent of Mirabelle’s 300-label wine list, which is being curated by Jennifer Knowles (formerly of the Inn at Little Washington) and Jaren Keller (formerly of The French Laundry and Alinea), will be dominated by French wines, but that’s not to say diners will be priced out. The by-the-glass list has about 30 selections starting at $9. There will also be a selection of French-inspired cocktails and a cart toting various kinds of Eau de Vie, Armagnac, and Calvados.
When Mirabelle opens it will start with weekday lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner and Sunday brunch service are set to begin about two weeks later, with breakfast coming further down the road. Reservations will be accepted via OpenTable. More photos below.
Mirabelle, 900 16th St. NW; (202) 506-3833; mirabelledc.com