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To say that the fate of new Georgetown eatery Unum hinged entirely on the outcome of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer‘s 2010 election campaign is probably overstating things. But, sort of, anyway.
At the time, chef Phillip Blane and wife Laura Schiller were shopping for restaurant spaces. Blane, a former sous chef at Todd Gray‘s Equinox, had taken some time off to raise the couple’s then-newborn son. Schiller, meanwhile, was working as the California Democrat’s chief of staff. The climate toward Democratic incumbents wasn’t exactly favorable back then and the fact that their first deal fell through was probably a good thing. “We thought it’s probably not a good time to open a restaurant,” Blane says. “If Barbara loses, then we’re both out of work.”
Boxer eventually won re-election. Her victory is Georgetown’s gustatory gain. The couple’s new restaurant, derived from the Latin phrase “E pluribus unum,” opens tonight in the long-shuttered Mendocino space on M Street NW. (Eater DC has the opening menu here.) “The fact is, this is something that I have been planning and saving and building toward,” Blane says. “[Boxer’s re-election] may have affected the timing of it. But it wasn’t going to affect whether or not we were going to do it.”
The new 50-seat eatery won’t be quite the wine-centric operation its predecessor was. “Wine will definitely be a big focus for us, but unlike Mendocino, we are also going to have a cocktail list,” Blane says, “and we’re going to have at least a dozen, probably 15, maybe even closer to 20 craft beers once we get going.”
Nor will it be so California-centric, either. “We have a decent amount of California wine, but we also have some French, Spanish, Australian,” Blane says. Virginia, too, he adds.
Maybe a more important difference: “Mendocino was a little bit more expensive….We’re trying to be a little more approachable,” says Blane, noting that entrees will range in the lower 20s.
Blane describes the fare as New American, a sort of catch-all of culinary influences. “To me, New American food is a compilation of and influenced by so many different cultures and cuisines,” he says. “Both American culture—-Southern influences, California influences, Texas influences, New England styles and flavors—-and then certainly the global community, French, Italian, Latin American.…We’re trying to be reflective of that diversity in the food, in the wine and in the cocktails.”
He points to a garam marsala–spiced lamb shank ($24), a Mediterranean–influenced roasted chicken breast with olives and dried fruit ($18) and a hanger steak served on crawfish grits ($24) as examples of this diverse range of cooking styles.
Above all else, Blane simply hopes his neighbors will find the place cozy. “We want this to be the go-to neighborhood restaurant in Georgetown,” he says.
Unum, 2917 M St. NW, (202) 621-6959
Photo by Ashley Dejean