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A restaurant that pays tribute to New Orleans cuisine using Mid-Atlantic ingredients opens for dinner on Friday in D.C. Dishes like seafood gumbo, rockfish amandine, and duck jambalaya just might lure diners back to a deserted downtown. Dauphine’s, from Long Shot Hospitality, is part of the Midtown Center development at 1100 15th St. NW.
Executive Chef Kristen Essig, who has been cooking in New Orleans for the past two decades, will helm the kitchen. She says Chef Emeril Lagasse convinced her to move to the Big Easy to cook at Emeril’s in 1999. Most recently, Essig was the co-chef and co-owner of Coquette with her former romantic and professional partner Michael Stoltzfus. She told Eater that after they split, she moved to the District for a fresh start. Essig will cook alongside Long Shot Hospitality partner Kyle Bailey, who serves as the executive chef at sister restaurant The Salt Line.
Because of the pandemic, the duo’s first meeting didn’t occur in person. “Even though it was on the phone, you can smell seriousness and see the flames in someone’s eyes when they’re talking about the food they love,” Bailey says. Essig left the conversation feeling like she could be the “missing piece” at Dauphine’s. She’s made D.C. her new home, but whenever she wants to be reminded of New Orleans, she visits St. Vincent Wine. The Park View bar drew inspiration from NoLa’s Bacchanal.
Both Essig and Bailey radiate passion while discussing New Orleans’ multicultural cuisine, but they also acknowledge that they’re threading a tricky needle. Neither chef is from Louisiana and they don’t have ties to the Creole, Cajun, Black, or Native American communities responsible for some of New Orleans’ most iconic recipes. Nor do the other Long Shot Hospitality partners—Jeremy Carman, Gavin Coleman, and Paul Holder.
“One of the things that was really important to me is this is not a New Orleans restaurant because it’s not in New Orleans,” Essig says. “It’s inspired by the city, its people, and its culture. … We’re being very respectful and making sure we’re creating an homage.”
The goal, Essig says, is for customers to settle their checks and book flights soon after. “I want them to walk out of the door and say, ‘I want to go to New Orleans right now and go see it the way it’s supposed to be seen.’ It’s such a great place more people need to be exposed to. I hope it gets people down there,” she says.
For diners hungry for a side of education with their meal, the Dauphine’s website will have a “reference” tab that displays information and links to additional reading about purveyors, ingredients, landmarks, and professionals. “When we talk about professionals, there are a lot of people who have done a lot of work over the last 100 years in New Orleans who haven’t been recognized,” Essig says. “You need to know where recipes come from and the labor that went into them.”
The main dinner menu is divided into three sections. Small plates and large plates will change frequently while “Dauphine’s Classics” will stay on. “We’ve just skimmed the surface of bringing a little New Orleans to D.C.,” Essig says. Once the restaurant opens for lunch and brunch, diners can look forward to even more of their favorite foods.
Four dishes customers should try straight away, according to the chefs, are the oysters spaghetti ($23), blackened soft shell Creole (market price), paneed rabbit ($29), and duck jambalaya for two ($75). The menu is still being finalized but it also includes oysters Dauphine, pommes soufflé, and BBQ shrimp.
Before Dauphine’s brought Essig on, Bailey was workshopping potential dishes with the restaurant’s first New Orleans expert Neal Bodenheimer. He owns Cure in New Orleans and oversees Dauphine’s cocktails. They got to talking about oyster spaghetti and where it comes from. “When Kristen signed on we had our big menu meetings,” Bailey says. “She was like, ‘Let me take over the oyster spaghetti.’”
Essig says there’s a red sauce version and a cream sauce version of the pasta. She went with the latter inspired by a simple pleasure at Pascal’s Manale’s—Spaghetti Collins. Most people know the New Orleans restaurant that’s been around since 1913 for its barbecue shrimp.
Dauphine’s mixes vermouth, oyster liquor (the liquid found inside of raw oysters), clam juice, heavy cream, and Pecorino Romano together to form the sauce for the bucatini. “It’s a really fantastic combination of Creole and Italian cuisine,” Essig says. “Oysters get poached in the sauce and folded in.”
Surprisingly, the crab may not be the star in Dauphine’s blackened soft shell entrée. The Prairie Ronde rice the restaurant sources from Louisiana gives the crustacean some friendly competition. Beth James and Radiators musician Dave Malone own the farm. “It smells so good when you open the bag,” Essig says. “It’s extremely fragrant. You have to have quality on your base ingredients.” The restaurant “creams” the rice, which means Essig folds in plenty of butter and lemon juice.
Essig finishes the dish with filé—a powder made from dried and ground sassafras leaves. It typically plays the role of a thickening agent. Like the rice, Dauphine’s sources filé from Louisiana. But it’s not as simple as putting in an order and awaiting shipment. Essig has to go get it.
“My friend is from end-of-the-world Louisiana where it meets the Gulf of Mexico,” Essig explains. “People there forage for wild sassafras. They bottle it in baby jars and put it on their front porch with an honor box. You drop in $20 and take four jars.” She only has about 20 jars in the freezer so she’ll have to travel to restock once the restaurant is open for a while.
Dauphine’s paneed rabbit preparation is a colorful plate of rabbit, kale, beets, and a sherry and Creole mustard beurre blanc. The rabbit is topped with crab salad and crab roe. Including crab speaks to New Orleans’ fondness for surf and turf. “That’s what everything is about in New Orleans, that deep flavor,” Essig says. Bailey adds that he’s noticed a trend lately where meat dishes are meat dishes and seafood dishes are seafood dishes. “The idea of cooking with everything together feels a little throwback in a way.”
Those looking for a feast should order Dauphine’s only dish for two—duck jambalaya. “I know restaurants in New Orleans sell jambalaya, but I’ve had it more often in people’s homes,” Essig says. “I wanted to create a dish that reflects that hominess but adds a little more.”
The process doesn’t sound like anything like a home cook could nail on the first try. Dauphine’s dry-ages the breasts separately from the rest of the bird for two weeks to thin out the fat. Then they roast them to order and lacquer them with cane syrup from Louisiana. They’re served with a pot of rice flavored with caramelized onions, bell peppers, celery, and duck stock. It’s topped with a quenelle of duck liver mousse, cracklins from the skin, celery, green onion, and parsley.
The braised leg meat is used to make a jalapeño duck sausage served on the side with sauerkraut that brightens the dish with acidity. “Pickles are a big thing,” Essig explains. “There are very few times I’d go to someone’s house and there’s not a jar of pickles on the table.”
When Dauphine’s, which is named after a street in New Orleans, opens, it will serve dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There are 154 seats inside and two separate outside spaces—one with 60 seats and another that acts more like a bar and lounge with 50 seats. The restaurant can only seat diners according to the city’s current capacity limits. Reservations are accepted through OpenTable.
Outside of the kitchen, Bailey says he hopes Dauphine’s brings D.C. a taste of New Orleans hospitality. “That’s what drew us to the project to create this thing,” he says. “This indescribable feeling of hospitality and what a better time to do it than on the tail end of a pandemic when people have been missing it so much. I miss cooking for people and seeing happy faces.”
Dauphine’s, 1100 15th St. NW, (202) 758-3785, dauphinesdc.com