The last time Daniel Boulud lived in D.C. was 1982. The famed French chef began his culinary career here, working for the European Commission and for local culinary legend Jean-Louis Palladin. "I was 25 years old, and I had zero money," Boulud recalls. "I mean, I was making something like $27,00 a year."
He's done alright for himself since making his home base New York. He now has double-digit restaurants across the world, from Las Vegas to London to Singapore. But he's finally returning to D.C. to open a second outpost of his DBGB Kitchen and Bar, which debuts to the public on Saturday. It's also the first restaurant to open in the luxe CityCenterDC development.
“As much as I could have chosen to do a restaurant more—not important—but certainly more luxe in a way, that’s not what was going to make me happy," Boulud says. "I have that in New York. It’s fine. Here we are independent, we are not in a hotel. And for that reason I felt I didn’t have to try to match another brand with something that might be different.”
Boulud says of all his restaurants, DBGB is the one “with the most American and the French of me." (There are burgers... but also boudin blanc.) It also has some international flare—like, you know, D.C.—with flavors from the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere woven into some of the dishes.
Leading the kitchen in D.C. is 29-year-old executive chef Ed Scarpone, who previously worked at Cafe Boulud and db Bistro Moderne in New York. About 40 percent of the menu carries over from the original DBGB, including an array of sausages, and there are also some dishes transplanted from Boulud other restaurants, too. Beginning this fall, the restaurant will feature whole-hog dinners, family-style feasts centered around a slow-roasted suckling pig that requires 48 hours notice.
Boulud's key homage to D.C.? The Crabbie, a $22 house-ground black angus patty topped with Maryland crab, lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce on a potato bun. “You know the famous krabby patty from SpongeBob?" Boulud says. "I managed to steal the recipe from SpongeBob and create the crabbie patty.”
There are also some other dishes unique to D.C., like a fluke grenobloise with cauliflower, grape, and dandelion. Boulud wanted to cook the fish on the bone; he’s never done that in his other restaurants, he says. “Rather than have a fancy dover sole, I’d rather have a local fluke," he says. “Is it related to D.C. culinary heritage? I don’t think so. But at least it’s a dish we made just for here."
Rumor has it that the chef may also try his hand at a half-smoke. And yes, Boulud has tried the original at Ben’s Chili Bowl. “It’s bad,” he says, complaining of the sweetness and quality of the meat. “I hope to make a half-smoke very good. It’s high on my list, but first there’s other priorities. The half-smoke will come at the right time. Maybe for Valentine’s next year.”
Y&H will have much more about Boulud's D.C. debut in next week's print edition, so stay tuned.