Chef Cedric Maupillier doesn’t want anyone to think of his new restaurant, Convivial, as Mintwood Place #2. The French-American restaurant, opening in Shaw on Nov. 6, will have a completely different menu—except for his popular bacon cheeseburger.
“The only worry I have when I do this restaurant is I don’t want anybody to say, ‘Oh, it’s the same as that place,'” Maupillier says. “This is my fear.”
Maupillier has spent the past two years putting his mark on every detail. After all, the restaurant is the first in which he is the majority owner, although Mintwood Place co-owner Saied Azali remains a partner. And the menu’s French-American theme also seems particularly apt now, given that the French-born chef is set to become an American citizen in a month.
Even the bread is highly personal: Every table will start with complimentary fougasse, a type of bread from Provence made with olive oil. “This is the first bread I made when I started working when I was 14 in a bakery,” Maupillier says. He only was allowed to make it after he cleaned up after the baker and the pastry chef.
Rather than traditional appetizers and entrees, Maupillier will serve a range of dishes that are sized somewhere in between. Guests can choose to course it out individually if they want or just get a bunch of dishes to share among the table.
Maupillier is still finalizing the menu, but one more snackable dish he plans to serve is escargots in a blanket—a riff off Mintwood Place’s escargot hush puppies. Seafood dishes he envisions include a “bouillabaisse-meets-chowder” with blue catfish and boudin blanc made with scallops rather than pork.
Meatier plates will likely include ravioli filled with blood sausage with a mushroom sauce, sautéed mushrooms, and chestnut puree as well as lamb tongue moussaka—a dish that Maupillier initially had on the menu at Mintwood Place but ultimately didn’t have room to prepare there. The chef is also playing with a fried chicken “coq au vin” that would have some kind of red wine glaze. He plans to offer a different fried chicken dish with each season.
While Maupillier initially intended to have a vegetable-heavy menu, the limited variety of produce this time of year means there’s more meat for now. That said, vegetarians will find a number of dishes, including a roasted squash vadouvan curry with pistachio and olive cake, sautéed mustard greens, and shaved coconut.
If you want to end your meal in the French way, there will a variety of cheeses. Going the American route? Expect apple pie.
The cocktail list at Convivial is really a cocktail book. General manager and beverage director Justin Guthrie has assembled a 50-drink menu in the form of a recipe book that will be available at the bar. (The dining room menu will only list eight to 10 cocktails, so as not to overwhelm diners, but people can order whatever they want.) The cocktails are nothing “crazy fancy,” Guthrie says. The offerings include classics like Manhattans and whiskey sours.
Guthrie is also set on bringing back the Grasshopper, the oft-maligned, sweet, mint-flavored after-dinner drink. “If you’ve never had a really good grasshopper, you’re really missing out on something,” he says.
The bar is also pretty serious about its ice. They’ll carve fresh clear chunks every day and serve different types—rectangular prisms, crushed, shaking ice—for different drinks. And because ice will take up a lot of freezer space, Guthrie plans to chill glasses using liquid nitrogen.
The wine menu is divided by French and American, and bottles will max out at $110. The bar has only eight beer taps. One will always be devoted Kronenbourg, the “Budweiser of France,” and another will be reserved exclusively for Coors Banquet. The rest will rotate seasonally.
Although Maupillier wanted to have a restaurant that would be open from breakfast through dinner, he’s not 100 percent committed to it yet. To start, the restaurant will open for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday. If things go well, he’ll consider expanding to weekday daytime hours next spring. Saturday and Sunday brunch will also come next year, as will the patio.
Peter Hapstak, whose firm HapstakDemetriou helped create the looks of Rose’s Luxury and Fiola Mare, designed the interior spaces with accent walls in red and plum. Maupillier says he wanted something a bit more modern and clean than the reclaimed “urban rustic” feel of Mintwood Place.
The dining room is outfitted with sound-absorbing materials in the ceiling and walls to keep it from getting too loud. There also won’t be any hard wooden seats or stools; everything has a cushion.
“My mom’s going to come here one day,” Maupillier says, “and I want her to be comfortable.”
Take a virtual tour of the restaurant below.
Convivial, 801 O St. NW; convivialdc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman