The Riggsby only opened on Monday, but restaurateur Michael Schlow wants it to feel as if it's been there since the 1940s or 50s "but we've just kept up on the paint job."
"I set out to build a restaurant that is a little bit of a throwback to a bygone era," says Schlow, a Boston-based chef who also owns Tico on 14th Street NW. The American restaurant is located inside Dupont Circle's Carlyle Hotel, which was recently taken over by Kimpton Hotels. Schlow says he thought it would be cool to pretend that the place had just been there forever "and the new owners came in and they just couldn't get us out. You're sort of transported to this place that's always been here."
The forest green walls in the bar area are purposely painted with a hand brush to show all the imperfections underneath. Schlow says he told his staff to stop polishing the zinc bar so much because he wants it to develop patina and get nicked up. The old-school dining room, designed by Edit Lab at Street Sense, is outfitted with maroon walls and banquettes, white tablecloths, and paintings from Schlow's wife, who's an artists. Near the end of the month, the restaurant will bring in a crane to remove the ceiling in the dining room and put in a a skylight and "one really spectacular" chandelier.
The menu, which is a collaboration between Schlow and executive chef Philippe Reininger, is also a throwback and a complete departure from Tico, which features small plates inspired by Schlow's travels to Spain, Mexico, and Latin America.
Bar snacks—potato chips with green onion dip and deviled eggs—are all twists on finger foods from cocktail parties that Schlow's parents use to throw. Appetizers are mostly things that Schlow loves to eat but doesn't see done well on menus that often anymore like beef carpaccio and Caesar salad. The Riggsby will always have at least one dish that Schlow's Russian grandfather, who was an upholsterer, would have eaten. Right now, it's sardines, but in the future, it might be sweetbreads or chicken livers. "He wanted beautiful but simple food that was fresh, clean, and as he would have said, 'no monkey business.'"
Entrees are equally straight-forward: a New York strip filet, German-style schnitzel, and wild striped bass with corn, bacon, and pickled onions. Schlow is insistent on cooking many things the old-school way. The kitchen has a sous vide machine, but they only use it for cooking eggs and preserving ingredients in vacuum-sealed bags. Schlow says young cooks often rely too much on the technology, which makes it easy not to mess up.
Schlow also wants dessert that live up to their menu descriptions. "Old fashioned chocolate chocolate cake" is exactly that. "I had it for breakfast the other day," he says. "It's chocolate cake the way you want it. There's nothing crazy about it."
The cocktail menu highlights classics like negronis, sazeracs, and juleps, but there are also some original creations like the "Nut Job" with pisco, sherry, lemon, and walnut bitters.
The restaurant is just open for dinner for now, but it will expand to breakfast and lunch in the coming weeks.
"It's nothing new. It's not necessarily attempting to be provocative," Schlow says. "It's a restaurant to go and have a nice meal at, and it doesn't have to be trendsetter."
The Riggsby at the Carlyle Hotel, 1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW; (202) 234-3200; theriggsby.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman