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Former Rustico chef Frank Morales told Tom Sietsema on Friday that he left the Alexandria gastropub because he had done everything he could at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group property. What Morales apparently didn’t tell the Post, though, is that he still has much more to accomplish in the area of beer-related food.

“Rustico gave me a…style and a way to cook, and I’m going to continue that,” Morales told Y&H this afternoon.

Birch & Barley, the NRG property near Logan Circle, was supposed to be the place where Morales, as partner and executive chef, would really put his stamp on this still-evolving cuisine that pairs food with the unique hop and barley elements of beer. But for reasons that Morales can’t get into, he had to walk away from that project, too, although with no hard feelings toward his former employer.

Morales just feels that at this point in his career — he’s in his early 40s — he needs to be careful about his future moves. He feels like he doesn’t have time to waste if he wants to accomplish all the many things left on his agenda.

“Whatever I do next is going to define, for me, what my legacy is in D.C.,” Morales tells me.

Which is why he really wants to put together his own project, from the ground up. He wants to build the concept, the team, the investors, the whole shebang. He even has some neighborhoods where he would, personally, like to open his restaurant, whether the thriving 14th Street NW corridor, Cleveland Park, or Friendship Heights.

Wherever he opens a restaurant, assuming he does, he plans to showcase not only his beer-friendly food but also his bread-making skills, which he developed at Rustico as well. It’s a career move that, on some level, seems to surprise even Morales, a classically trained chef who worked previously at the Oval Room and Zola. But Morales sees lots of opportunity here to step outside a chef’s comfort zone — otherwise known as food-and-wine pairings — and develop a cuisine that pairs with the trendiest of drinks these days: beer.

“It’s a dining phase that I think will be in a very long time,” he says.

Image courtesy of Rustico