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At Flight Wine Bar, aiming to open in Chinatown on Saturday, chef Bradley Curtis is bringing together culinary influences from two unlikely places: New England and the Mediterranean.
The combination isn’t totally random. The New England native has spent much of his career cooking food from the Mediterranean and north Africa. Curtis grew up in Maine and spent summers at his grandparents’ cabin in the White Mountains, fishing, hunting, and cooking. In his early culinary career, he worked at a small family-owned Moroccan restaurant, while getting his computer science degree at New York’s Clarkson College. He later went on to work at Turkish/Greek/Lebanese-inspired Zaytinya and DGS Delicatessen, where he learned a modern take on Jewish and Sephardic cuisine and dove into pickling. (Curtis’ resume also includes stints at Graffiato and Bandolero under Mike Isabella.)
At Flight Wine Bar, Curtis’ menu is comprised mainly of New England dishes with a Mediterranean/north African flare or vice versa. He braises a short rib in Moxie soda—”the drink of Maine” made with bitter gentian root extract—with white pearl onions and carrots. For a north Africa twist, the dish also incorporates dried fruit like prunes plus spices like anise and cinnamon. Meanwhile, dolmades are a traditional Greek dish, but Curtis stuffs the grape leaves with New England ingredients like rum raisins, squash, and pumpkin seeds.
Curtis admits of the way he’s marrying the different cuisines is “a little bit out there.” “I’ve wondered how people will perceive that…But as we’ve been sitting here and tasting these dishes, the cohesiveness of the menu has even surprised me,” he says.
The menu also features a play on fish and chips with fried New England clams and fresh Spanish anchovies. Curtis pickles potatoes to give them the taste of a salt and vinegar potato chip and then fries then, so you don’t have to douse the dish in the traditional malt vinegar. The dish is served with an arbol chile tartar sauce.
But the most unusual thing you’ll find on the menu is a tomato soup cake (seen above), which Curtis’ grandma used to make. The old school New England dessert is similar to to a carrot cake, with cream cheese icing and lots of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Curtis makes it by substituting tomato soup in for the cake’s liquid ingredients. “It’s super moist, and you get a little bit of flavor of the tomato,” he explains.
Husband-wife owners Kabir Amir and Swati Bose have an extensive international wine list, with about 30 varieties by the glass and even smaller “mini” pours. A dozen beers and ciders as well as a number of aperitifs, digestifs, and spirits are also available.
Check out the full food and drink menus and photos below.
Flight Wine bar, 777 6th St. NW; flightdc.com
Photos by Scott Suchman courtesy Flight Wine Bar