Downtown D.C. now has four Latin steakhouses within an eight block radius. Following Del Campo, Toro Toro and Rural Society, Claudia's Steakhouse—the most gussied up of them all—has arrived at the corner of 15th and K street NW. The restaurant has a limited menu and hours until the grand opening on June 19.
"I never thought of the competition," says co-owner Claudia Rivas, who previously ran a restaurant called Brasas Grill in Waldorf, Md. "We looked for the space for nine months, and when I walked in here, I was just like, 'This is the place.'"
As for why the steakhouse, Rivas says her brother used to work for Morton's. "It was a special occasion kind of place, but also it was so typical of a steakhouse—the guys with the tuxedos, the mahogany," she says. "And being a female, I loved the steaks, but I wanted to infuse it with grandma's cooking, a different twist."
If that sounds a little bit like "female-friendly" STK, Rivas insists the Dupont restaurant was not an inspiration. (Although some of the initial advertisements, including window wraps, were somewhat similar. Claudia's Steakhouse has since toned down its previously sexed-up website. Instead of stock photos of a man taking off a woman's dress, the site is now filled with pictures or food and opening party guests.)
"I wasn't trying to be somebody else," Rivas says. "Everything we're doing will just fall into place on its own. Maybe the sexy window thing wasn't a good idea, I don't know... But I'm trying to grow up to be Claudia's. I'm not trying to grow up to be STK or Rural Society."
The menu is a collaboration between Rivas and executive chef Brad Race, who previously worked at Bearnaise. Rivas, who grew up in El Salvador and moved to the U.S. when she was 15, learned to cook from her grandmother. Race, on the other hand, is a classically trained French chef. "When we finally got the kitchen going, I'm like, 'We need a translator!,'" Rivas says. Despite their different backgrounds, they'll still be working together in the kitchen: "When we put our brains together we come up with some really cool stuff," Race says. "More heads are better than one... It's Claudia's vision with us behind her."
Aside from the steaks, the menu features small plates like a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail, Peruvian-style ceviche with a sweet potato puree, grilled octopus, and salted cod fritters. When Race was auditioning for the job, Rivas took the fritters and stuffed them in her purse so she could bring them to Charles Adams, who's another partner in the restaurant. "There I am like a bag lady with a bottle of hot sauce," Rivas says.
Other signature dishes include empanadas with steak, egg, raisins, and olives (Claudia's family recipe), as well as a drunken ribeye marinated in Negro Modelo beer and some other spices. For lunch, the menu will include a chorizo hot dog, fish tacos, a Cuban burger, and a Mexican torta. "For a guy who wants a 32-ounce dry-aged rib-eye, we have that too," Race says.
The cocktail menu will feature an ancho chili margarita, a caipirinha, sangria, several types of mojitos, and other Latin-inspired seasonal drinks. Wines include some South American and Latin American varietals as well California cabernet and other big steak wines. There will be a happy hour daily from 4 to 8 p.m.
The space itself has kind of an '80s chic vibe with everything in black and white, plus pops of red. When you enter the restaurant, there's a waterfall glass wall backing a lounge with a sofa and ottomans. Eventually, they plan to add a baby grand piano. Other seating options consist of tall circular booths, a 42-seat U-shaped bar with a wall of fire in the middle, and lots of tables outfitted with enormous white orchids. There's also a "chef's bar" facing the open kitchen, where the restaurant will eventually host special wine pairing menus. Two private dining rooms, which can be combined into one or separated by a frosted glass wall, are both outfitted with high-end audio visual systems and TVs for presentations.
Completing the scene-y vibe: latin music and salsa dancing on certain evenings.
Claudia's Steakhouse, 1501 K St. NW; (202) 838-3230; claudiassteakhouse.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman