Anticipating Cinco de Mayo, we recently lunched at Agua 301 in the Navy Yard. Appropriately located at 301 Water St. SE, the “modern Mexican” restaurant was doing a brisk business. We were lucky to snag an outdoor table overlooking the water, where we ordered a margarita and light Corona beer. My margarita was too sour, but our server promptly whisked it back to the bartender, who doctored it up.
Portions are huge, and we made the mistake of scarfing too many addictive chips and tangy salsa. Guacamole arrives “traditional” with tomato, onion, lime and cilantro, or “de jaiba,” laced with lump crabmeat and sweet corn. Peter chose the latter, almost a meal in itself. Agua makes its ceviche with various seafoods, or a combo thereof, but we chose whitefish. The ceviche was tasty but needed an extra spritzing of lime.
Bocaditos are savory little morsels enjoyed with drinks: think black bean cheese dip or queso fondito, Mexico’s answer to cheese fondue. Besides the litany of empanadas, tacos and hurachoes (homemade flatbread with assorted toppings), the menu offers entrees like salmon poblano, lomo saltado (sliced beef tenderloin) and hanger steak. Heading the dessert list is Mexican-style flan.
Across from Aqua 301 and neighboring Osteria Morini, Nicoletta Pizzeria has docked at the Yards Park Pier, replacing Morini Piccolo kiosk. Created by Osteria Morini chef Michael White, the 45-seat newcomer serves five signature pizzas, including a monthly favorite and “build your own.” The menu also showcases arancini (divine little mushroom-filled risotto balls perfumed with truffle oil), zesty chicken wings, salads and a short drink list. Located at 301 Water St. SE, Nicoletta is open daily, with delivery coming soon.
Tropical Barracks Row
Tio Javier has ditched its Mexican theme for Caribbean. Dubbed Tortuga (Spanish for turtle), the reinvented restaurant will deliver “beach vibes” and tiki-style cocktails. Chefs Lauren Hunter and Brian Guy are creating various ceviches, fried plantains, octopus and whole fried snapper. Located at 514 Eighth St. SE, the space now sports a whitewashed driftwood decor with surfboards and neon signs. Named the Rooftop Turtle Club, the rooftop bar is now decked out with palm trees and turtle murals. To ward off spring chills, the approximately 200-capacity space will be heated with firepits and tiki torches. According to James Abbott, marketing and beverage director of Tortuga’s parent Hill Restaurant Group, Tortuga will boast the largest commercial rooftop in the neighborhood. Tortuga will be open daily.
Indian Street Food Coming
Nearby, Bombay Street Food is sliding into the space formerly occupied by Rob Weland’s Garrison, 524 Eighth St. SE. An offshoot of Asad Sheikh’s Columbia Heights restaurant, it will, under chef Pradip Shrestha, offer the same menu as the original’s: vegetable pakora, cheese fritters, Indochinese chili chicken and lamb biryani. Look for Bombay Street Food 2 later this summer, serving lunch and dinner. The dining room and patio will seat about 75 people. For more information visit www.bombaystreetfood.us.
H Street Happenings
The Outsider, serving offbeat Japanese fare, opened recently at 1359 H St. NE, next to the Biergarten Haus. Outsider – a translation for the Japanese word for foreigner – offers a brief menu of kushiyaki (skewers) and origiri (nori-wrapped rice balls). Our trio sat at the bar, chatted with proprietor J.D. Quioco and sampled about everything: baseball-size rice balls filled with salmon, scallions, soy; spicy pork with chili and sweet sausage, my favorite.
Skewers are threaded with whole tiny octopuses, thinly sliced beef teriyaki, scallops with peanut sauce, soy chicken with ginger and a colorful veggie combo of eggplant, hearts of palm, tomato, bell pepper. To avoid wasting food, the kitchen skips plate garnishes. We ate with our fingers; management provides no eating utensils. However, I did cheat, using skewers as chopsticks.
Besides cocktails (think Negroni, Old Fashioned, Hemingway Daiquiri and exotica like “Mezcal Last Word”), patrons sip Greek wine (imported by a friend), sake and Sapporo beer. Outsider is open nightly except for Monday when it’s shuttered all day. Call 202-899-0061.
Last month, at the District Wharf, the Gerber Group unveiled its highly anticipated 12 Stories at 75 District Square SW, perched atop the glitzy InterContinental Hotel. Designed by SL Design, the penthouse boasts a nearly 360-degree view of the Potomac and Washington landmarks.
Meanwhile, near Union Market, we’re getting yet more pizza. Stellina Pizzeria debuted last month at 399 Morse St. NE. What might set this yeasty newcomer apart are fermented pizza crusts, housemade pastas and Southern-style Italian “street food.” You’ll find the red-and-white-tiled Stellina on the ground-floor corner of the Edison apartment building near St. Anselm. Stellina chef Matteo Venini and restaurateur Antonio Matarazzo previously cooked at the local Italian group Lupo Verde, which also operates an outpost at The Wharf.
Guests place their orders at the 50-seat counter. With warm weather finally here, an outdoor patio accommodates an additional 20 diners.
A Burmese restaurant has opened in the Atlas District space vacated by Sally’s Middle Name. Created by mother-daughter duo Jocelyn Law-Yone and Simone Jacobson, plus biz partner Eric Wang, the Asian newcomer is called Thamee (“Daughter”). The culinary team also operates the Toli Moli stall in Union Market.
Located at 1320 H St. NE, Thamee will have its full menu this month, with pickled tea leaf salads, assorted curries, noodle dishes in clay pots and family-style platters. Examples: a whole fish stuffed with Asian citrus fruits; a “golden barbecue platter” loaded with king prawns, chicken, pork and beef enlivened with masala curry.
At Eastern Market recently, an odd-shaped, fabric-wrapped cheese at Bowers Fancy Dairy Products caught my eye. The item in question was sarro de cabra, a semi-hard Spanish goat cheese, hand pressed with a cloth to impart the “amazing texture and shape.” Tagged at $29.99 per pound, the unusual looking but fairly mild cheese goes well with “young red wine, or a white wine with character.” The price might seem steep, but a little goes a long way.