Unconventional restaurant owners open wood-fired Italian restaurant L’Ardente DC

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L’Ardente opens with Italian wood-fired cuisine (photo: lasagna with sugo beef and truffles). Photograph by Rey Lopez

One of the most anticipated fall openings is almost here: L’Ardente, a glam, wood-fired Italian restaurant from Unconventional Diner owners Eric Eden and chef David Deshaies. The 180-seat space – which includes an elevated bar, all-season patio, and private restaurant – opens in the Capitol Crossing development at 200 Massachusetts Avenue, northwest from Tuesday, October 5.

Eden describes the atmosphere of the restaurant as “democratized luxury”, an elegant space equipped with a gold-plated Marra Forni pizza oven and a Spanish wood-fired grill, but with a fairly affordable menu of antipasti, homemade pasta, thin crust pies, sharing platters and desserts.

“We tried to play on Hollywood glamor and the Italian coast,” Eden explains of the look of design firm HapstakDemetriou +, which is also behind the glitzy dining rooms of Fiola Mare and Punjab Grill. “Think about this stylish Italian aunt’s food and furnishings that we all wish we had.”

Cocktails are prepared with Italian spirits and liqueurs. Photograph by Rey Lopez

Although the restaurant is located in a brand new development in DC’s East End (between downtown and Capitol Hill), the dining room is designed to exude old world charm. Gilded Murano glass chandeliers hang from wooden beams, while dining rooms hang from Missoni curtains and reinforced with terrazzo flooring. A 25-seat lounge bar is equipped with mohair bench seats and Italian bull leather seats. “Coming out of Covid, it’s nice to have a little glamor and something to look forward to,” says Eden.

Most diners know Deshaies for its French and Franco-American cuisine. Legendary chef Michel Richard brought the native Loire Valley to America in 2001, and Deshaies, an alum of Michelin-starred cuisines in Burgundy, quickly rose through the ranks at Richard’s Citronelle and Central, eventually leading both kitchens. (Deshaies, now a partner at Central, recently reopened the downtown restaurant after a brief closure and renovation). L’Ardente is inspired by Deshaies’ love of Italian cuisine and trips to coastal Italy, but the chef, whose title here is Culinary Director, doesn’t rely solely on a wandering palate. The kitchen team includes pizzaiolo Logan Griffith of Tino’s Pizzeria in Cleveland Park, who designed the menu of creative Neapolitan-style pizzas and focaccia. Sfoglino Andrew Clark (ex-Napoli Pasta Bar and Fiola) is behind the noodles and stuffed pasta. Runs Daily Operations: Chef Leena Ali, who cooked with Deshaies for eight years and ran the kitchen at Unconventional dinner.

So what would the elegant Italian aunt serve for dinner? Appetizer to start – grilled focaccia with prosciutto and figs, maybe some fried artichokes – then an antipasto spread with lots of seasonal veg on the hardwood grill alongside seafood appetizers such as cooked shrimp on fire with black garlic, pomegranate molasses and Calabrian peppers. The pizzas, made with a tasty sourdough and rye crust, showcase creativity. Take the “Octoroni” topped with smoked octopus, aged pepperoni, basil pesto and Fior di Latte cheese, or a “fun-guy” pizza with a stew of smoked shallots, sage and hen of the woods mushrooms. Pasta can be both comforting (bucatini carbonara; goat cheese ravioli with lemon butter) and luxurious, like lobster pasta or 40-layer lasagna to share with beef sugo, sottocenere and truffles. Tables can share other family-style options like grilled whole branzino with fennel, tomatoes and olives, or a 30-day dry-aged Florentine steak.

L’Ardente is the first restaurant to open at Capitol Crossing, a $ 1.3 billion mixed-use ‘green development’ that has been in the works since 2014. The project has teased other big names in food over the years, including an Eataly rumor and more concrete plans for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe, which never came to fruition. But the ambitious Italian restaurant of a team of accomplished locals aims to be an equally promising destination. Next year, the restaurant will be joined by Love, Makoto, a Japanese dining room from Eden and global restaurateur Makoto Okuwa. In the meantime, pastry chef Makoto Manabu Inoue, who has cooked under Michelin chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Joël Robuchon, will lead L’Ardente’s pastry program.

As for the name, L’Ardente wants to be “an ardent admirer”, says Eden. “It’s about our love of Italian cuisine and wood-fired cooking.”

The Ardente. 200 Massachusetts Avenue, NW; 202-448-0450. Open for dinner on October 5, Monday to Saturday.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the restaurant and bar scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and the Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia University in New York City, and held various cooking and writing positions in New York and St. John, in the US Virgin Islands.

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