Todd English is back. The celebrity chef, who once operated Olives in the District, is partnering with local restaurateur Aziz Safi of Panache toopen a mod-Mex spot at 14th and F streets NW called MXDC tonight.
Why a Mexican restaurant?
“I’ve always been a huge Mexican food fan,” says English, who tells Y&H he’s been planning a spot like this for the past 10 years. “It’s one of the great cuisines of the world… the depths of it and the variety of it and the regionally of it and all the things it has to offer. It’s peasant but it’s elegant.”
Overseeing the kitchen is Tijuana native JC Pavlovich, who previously worked forBobby Flay and English. The menu includes eight varieties of tacos, including grilled octopus with cilantro pesto, pickled red onion, and avocado; duck confit with red chile peanut pesto and avocado; and wild mushroom with huitlachoche and truffled corn salsa. There are also sopas, quesadillas, bocaditos, five types of ceviches, and four different guacamoles, including one with blue cheese and bacon (like a cobb salad) and another with crab and grapefruit.
Another main attraction: the family-style plates like seven-chile lamb shank and a whole roasted fish. English says the large sharing plates are inspired by a trip to Playa del Carmen, where he stumbled across a hut cafe on the beach that served whole butterflied fish with lots of fresh tortillas and eight different salsas. “We were there in flip flops, bathing suits, and we were barefoot in the sand, and a bottle of tequila goes on the table,” he says. “We’re drinking shots of tequila, drinking beer, and eating this fish with all these salsas. It was just one of those beautiful moments, like, ‘This is heaven.'” That’s the feeling he was trying to create, minus the sand—”although I wanted to bring the sand in here,” he says.
Local mixologist JP Caceres, who most recently worked on the cocktails at Del Campo, assembled the drink list. The menu features mezcals and about 100 tequilas, and yes, there will be bottled cocktails. The two bottled concoctions include the “Coctel de Paloma” with Cabeza Blanco, lime, grapefruit, hibiscus and basil syrup, and a pinch of salt. There’s also the “Tequila Mule” with lime juice, ginger juice, lemongrass-infused tequila, and house made ginger beer. Cocktail prices will range from $12 to $14.
There are also several non-alcoholic libations: half-liter bottles of Coca Cola, orange Fanta, and Sprite imported from Mexico. Caceres will also make hibiscus, horchata, and tamarind juices.
The space has also been rearranged since its days as Roberto Donna‘s Galileo III. The bar has been relocated to the other side of the room and the staircase leading up to a mezzanine dining area rearranged. As is trendy these days, the space is heavy on brick, wood, and Edison light bulbs. “It’s elegantly rustic,” English says.
MXDC, 600 14th St. NW; (202) 393-1900; mxdcrestaurant.com
Photo by Jessica Sidman