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It’s been closed for three years, but the Iron Gate—one of Washington’s oldest restaurants—reopens tonight for dinner.
It took new owner Neighborhood Restaurant Group, whichalso owns Bluejacket, Birch & Barley, GBD, and others, a few monthslonger than expected to restore the shuttered space. But dining veterans should immediately recognize the wrought iron gates out front, the cobblestone cut-through, and the wisteria-covered patio in the back.
The menu, on the other hand, is entirely new.
The focus is on Italian and Greek fare, says chef Anthony Chittum. He spent a good amount of time traveling through Sardinia and Greece in the last year, and he’s been giving serious thought to the menu since he left Vermillion earlier this year.
The menu will also incorporate plenty of local ingredients. “It’s also the first time I’ve used grape leaves right from outside,” Chittum says. When the restaurant cleaned up the patio, they discovered an overgrown grape vine on the wall. The grapes are now used for the house-made mustard sauce and the grape leaves are being pickled and served on the tasting menu.
The menu is different depending on whether you’re dining inside and outside. In the immediate opening, Iron Gate will be working mostly inside with a fixed-course menu. In the spring, the restaurant plans to start outdoor a la carte dining as well, Chittum says. At the bar, expect Italian, Greek, and local wines, plus ouzo and grappa cocktails from NRG’s most recent addition to the team: beverage director Jeff Faile (previously of Casa Luca and Fiola).
As for the beers, Iron Gate is working with Bluejacket to produce a saison-style beer that should be ready in the next week or two. The beer incorporates mastic, a licorice-flavored tree sap popular in Greece.
The 50-seat indoor dining room,which has begun taking reservations by phone (202-524-5202), serves a four and six course tasting menu. The space feels like a rustic Italian villa with an open kitchen and bar on one side and a burning fireplace on the opposite wall.
Both menus start with an antipasto tray, followed by several family-style dishes. The six-course menu also includes a cheese tray. Not to be missed are the housemade pastas, Chittum says. An early favorite of his is the casoncelli ravioli with roasted squash and ricotta, served in a brown-butter sauce. The menu is broken down into sections: garden (vegetarian), pasture (meats), and water (seafood).
The tasting menus also come served with a dessert option prepared by pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac. And, just like Vermillion, there’s a signature cookie tray on the menu but with a slightly Mediterranean twist. Cookies include a Sicilian pistachio Buckeye and marshmallows made from Campari and Fernet Branca.
There’s also more to come from Iron Gate. Ultimately, the goal is to serve breakfast and lunch, plus a happy hour and brunch menu. The restaurant is collaborating with Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis to build a pretty serious coffee program in the hopes that breakfast will catch on.
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Iron Gate, 1734 N St. NW; (202) 524-5202; irongaterestaurantdc.com
Photo by Kyle Martell