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At Newland, the soundtrack is all ’80s all the time. The Outfield’s infectious “Your Love” came on several times the night I visited, and Richard Marx’s treacly power ballad “Right Here Waiting” and The Cure’s heart-on-sleeve machismo takedown “Boys Don’t Cry” also made appearances. It’s all fun and familiar, and not necessarily what you’d expect at an upscale restaurant like Newland, which, of course, is the point.
“[The music] adds a whimsical breath of fresh air to fine dining and gives it a not-snobby texture and approach,” says chef Andrew Markert, who opened the restaurant at the beginning of March. “It says, ‘We’re here to have fun, and we hope you have fun with us.’”
Newland is Markert’s latest venture on Capitol Hill. His OG establishment in the neighborhood, Beuchert’s Saloon, is just a couple blocks over on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. A few doors down from there, he will soon roll out a brick-and-mortar location of Fight Club, his pandemic-era sandwich pop-up that operated out of Beuchert’s.
Taking over the former Montmartre space on 7th Street SE, Newland sounds poetic, like a distant shoreline yet to be named on an ancient map. The truth is much less mythical: It’s the name of the street Markert grew up on. Born in 1982, Markert frequently looks back to his childhood to inspire the trappings of the dining experience, though his food here is decidedly modern, showcasing progressive flavor combinations and chef-driven techniques.
A perfect encapsulation of this blend of nostalgic whimsy with forward thinking cuisine is the supplemental caviar service (available with either Hackleback or Ossetra caviar). It arrives in a retro metal lunchbox, decorated in themes such as AC/DC, David Bowie, Back to the Future, or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The top swings open to rest on the head of a small toy, perhaps a Star Wars figure or a Battle Beasts character (bonus points if you remember the latter; I had to Google them).
Inside is a clutch of warm sour cream and chive beignets, meant to be split open and filled with caviar, microplaned cured egg yolk, and vanilla curd. A bite tastes like a sour cream and onion dip stuffed doughnut. Ingenious, decadent, delightful.
There are two ways to experience Newland, either as a 4-course pre-fixe for $80 per person or a 6-course chef’s tasting menu for $120 per person (a 22 percent service charge is added to all bills).
I opted for the latter, which begins with a trio of amuse bouche, including a miniature bass brandade sandwich on crunchy crackers. Next out was house-made focaccia served on a vintage floral accented plate, with a pearl handled spreader for the silky cultured butter enriched with cashews and lemon. It’s #cottagecore meets #breadlove vibes.
The rest of the dinner unfurls slowly, thankfully. A Snickers-bar sized tamale hides unctuous trotter and cockles, a spurt of jammy fermented green plum salsa verde doing its best to cut through the richness. Rosy duck breast comes with salted plum sugo to perk it up, as well as rich duck pate with a jaunty duck skin tuile. And tender strip steak treated with koji features roasted beets to offset all the umami magic happening.
One of the best bites of the night was another optional upgrade. With a jagged sheet of gold leaf gently fluttering atop it, like an abstract flag, a hefty crepe came wrapped around a torchon of foie gras and fermented huckleberries. It was all the things at once—sweet, salty, savory.
Not all the dishes were a success. Glossy scallop crudo sitting in grassy green jus lacked oomph, its flavors too mild to make an impression. In contrast, black bass arrived in a honey chamomile broth that was so sweet it overwhelmed everything else.
The space is modern and minimalist with white walls, tawny chairs, and light wood tables with teepee-shaped fixtures hanging low over them. The boldest accent piece is behind the bar— swirls of what look like licorice pizzas by D.C. artist Emon Surakitkoson.
The restaurant currently has room for 31 guests, including the four-seat bar. It may add a few more spots at a chef’s counter by the kitchen, where guests will enjoy a 10-12 course tasting menu. In the spring, a small patio for approximately 16 more diners will debut.
Newland’s logo is a vanilla bean plant, an obsession of the chef. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved vanilla ice cream and the subtle nuances and depth of flavor it has,” says Markert, who has a tattoo of a vanilla bean on the inside of his forearm. “It’s an underutilized ingredient as far as the savory world goes.”
Expect it to pop up on the menu, though it won’t always be utilized. The night I dined at Newland, it showed up several times, never as the star, always as an accent. The most memorable was as vanilla curd in a picturesque presentation of small apple spheres balancing a canopy of thinly sliced apples and shaved almonds. It reads like a dessert but tasted like a savory fruit salad.
After the official dessert course, meals here end with a tiny treasure box brimming with a trio of mignardise balanced atop a glimmering jumble of fake gems: a gold dusted miniature Berger cookie (a nod to Markert’s Baltimore roots), kalamansi spiked chocolate, and salted miso caramel. Fun and flavorful, it’s a spot-on finale.
There’s one last nostalgic flourish to your evening: The bill arrives slipped inside a Little Golden Book.
As I walk out, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” pours out of the speakers, its lyrics a propulsive tumble of headlines. Great exit music after a great experience.
Newland, 327 7th St. SE. (202) 525-1395. newlanddc.com.