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A bistro that relies on rotisserie cooking is opening downtown next month. At first Frederik de Pue wasn’t sure he wanted to take on an 8,000-square-foot space, but then he formed a plan to be the go-to place for power players in search of private dining in the District. The Henri has a 60-seat restaurant and 50-seat bar with an open kitchen, plus six private dining rooms.
While both the space at 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW and de Pue’s ambitions are big, the restaurant is personal. The chef and restaurateur designed The Henri himself and named it after his grandfather. In Belgium, where de Pue spent the first 25 years of his life, he was close to his mother’s father, Henri Vanhoutte, who also served as his godfather. “He was an amateur cook who made really good tomato soup with meatballs,” de Pue says. “It was always a fight to see how many meatballs each of us got.”
The Henri is more than three years in the making. Construction was set to begin in April 2020, but de Pue pressed pause because of the pandemic. “I was able to show my grandfather the renderings before he passed away a couple of years ago,” he says. “It was heartwarming that we could show it to him.”
There’s no meatball soup on the menu, but de Pue draws inspiration from both Belgian and French cuisines at The Henri. Diners can choose to build a meal by selecting a rotisserie main dish like venison sausage or a lamb t-bone and complimentary sides such as potato croquettes to soak up the juices or celery root lasagna.
There’s also a full menu of starters and entrees. Highlights include a winter mushroom soup served cappuccino-style, saffron broiled prawns, wild boar lasagna, a crab cake in blood orange dressing, and a stew of veal cheeks spiked with lambic beer. See a menu, subject to change, here or below.
Washingtonians will remember de Pue from his former D.C. restaurants, starting with Table in Shaw. He was also behind Azur, which became Menu MBK downtown. The latter restaurant closed abruptly after less than a year amid a legal battle between de Pue and his business partners that culminated in a settlement in 2015.
“We cherish a new opening in D.C. very deeply,” de Pue says. “It’s always been a dream for me to back in D.C. as well and we’ve been able to serve a lot of people in D.C. in that they were regulars in our restaurant in Annapolis. I’m happy to come back to D.C. and see them all again.”
De Pue has also stayed involved in D.C.’s culinary scene through his catering business. He’s been catering for decades and that experience inspired his foray into private dining at The Henri. So did being married to a lobbyist. “The idea is I can have them come to me instead in a beautiful setting with personalized menus,” he says.
There are three tiers of private dining prices per person—$85, $105, and $135—before drinks, tax, and tip. The Henri can book parties as small as three and as large as 80. Each room has its own sound system and AV capabilities. They share a satellite kitchen and bar.
The rooms aren’t solely for business affairs. “If you go with your parents for dinner and your parents are older, half of the conversation they have no clue what you’re talking about,” de Pue explains. “But in a private dining room, you can choose the music.”
Christian Kerekes is the bar manager and says to expect classic cocktails with simple twists when The Henri first opens. The drinks will change with the seasons. “Our ethos and motto is simple yet approachable, with a little bit of elegance,” he says. “We’re surrounded by a lot of office spaces, a lot of politicians. We want everyone from the secretary of the office to the VIPS coming down to enjoy themselves.”
The bar menu will also include some zero-proof cocktails. “You don’t have to feel like you’re ordering a lemonade,” Kerekes vows. “The sprit-free cocktails take just as much work as a full-spirit cocktail.”
The Henri is scheduled to open Feb. 15 with dinner service from 4 to 11 p.m. nightly. In the months that follow, they’ll add lunch service. Ultimately, de Pue says he wants to serve breakfast in both the bistro and the private dining rooms. Reservations are already available on Tock.
The Henri, 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; (202) 981 2002; thehenridc.com