Johnny Spero’s Reverie plates an imaginative menu beyond our wildest fantasies.
The crab is hidden under a milk crisp wedge.
Don’t be fooled by the austere design of Reverie, chef Johnny Spero’s new restaurant in Georgetown. The minimalistic eatery, tucked away on a quiet alleyway, belies the layers of flavor and texture, and artful technique in each dish. The menu seems like something subconscious—an idea right below the surface, waiting to boil over in an explosion of creativity. But that could be what Spero—who’s held stints at Johnny Monis’ Komi and minibar by José Andrés, and was seen on Netflix’s The Final Table—had in mind. After all, the name refers to a dream state, being lost in thought—and, if you nab one of the 18 counter seats, you can watch him in reverie in the show kitchen.
There are 64 seats inside, as well as 20 on the patio for the warmer months. The Nordic-inspired space emits a sense of calm, thanks to soothing blue and white subway tiles, and slate and wood flooring. Nightly selections from the eclectic wine menu—the work of GM Evan Zimmerman, whose passion for the grape burst back at Komi and while working in Oregon wine country—are set on the counter for guests to browse (the labels aren’t your run-of-the-mill design). And a midcentury modern sideboard that was converted into an expo station is used for tracking orders. You’ll see Spero here at various times, pencil resting over his ear, giving him an approachability for those who want to know more (which you will).
The 2,400-square-foot space was designed by DC-based Edit Lab
It’s easy to order everything (or nearly so) on the menu. It’s short but points to Spero’s preference for transforming ingredients into the unexpected. Begin with starters, like we do, such as the seasonal sunchoke. It’s slow-cooked in butter and walnut oil until tender. There is a puree of roasted sunchokes blended with a yeasted buttermilk, and the whole thing is topped by a chia-flaxseed cracker, grains and pine nuts. Dig to the bottom (with that cracker) to get everything at once, including a yuzu curd, for its silky citrus notes. It’s creamy, crunchy and indulgent. But a sip of the 2017 Dom. des Herbauges Grolleau Gris Rosé cuts through the lush mouthfeel.
The scallop crudo is vibrant and aromatic. A green buttermilk dill dressing and sprigs of the aforementioned herb carry the tangy flavor from start to finish. A final flourish comes by way of the cured scallop chips, thin slivers that bring a hit of salinity to the kombu-cured crudo. Then there’s the beef tartare. It’s umami-forward, with crisps and a puree, both of black garlic. The puree has an underlying coffee flavor, particular when mixed into the farro tamari sauce in which it rests.
The Crystal Visions libation with 12-year-old rum, vermouth, Campari, grapefruit peels and nasturtium is a fresh taste.
It is around this point in the meal, after ordering a glass of the 2017 Partida Creus merlot + cab blend for our mains, that I notice the team has spotted that I am left-handed and moved my flatware to the appropriate side. It’s a nice touch, one that I can’t say I’ve witnessed before.
The same can be said of the crab, a complex dish that uses the Jonah iteration in entirety for a waste-free preparation. The meat is tender and sweet, cooked with charcoal oil and brown butter. There’s a chicken jus infused with the shells and crab fat, poured tableside. Spero even ferments shiitake mushrooms inside the crustacean for a few days before it’s served. Clarified bergamot punches up the richness, and a caramelized milk crisp is an edible utensil.
The bay leaf ice cream invigorates the palate.
But the mushroom concoction blows me away. Three words: egg yolk fudge. Equal parts egg yolk and sugar come together to create a velvety bed for the hen of the woods mushrooms. They are charred ever so slightly, and there’s shiso and salsify for vegetal flavors and brininess to break up the heady dish. Vegetarians could very well make a meal out of the offerings here—though those who aren’t should try the lamb. Cooked to perfection without a hint of gaminess, the meat gets an unexpected pop from pomegranate and blood orange, which also complements the fruit-forward vino, with its tart cherry nose.
Chef and owner Johnny Spero
Now, a note on the menu: You could, like us, order myriad small plates and mains. Or, you could share one of the three larger plates, like a whole duck; or the tortilla Espanola, with its sea urchin and abundance of paddlefish roe. Whichever you choose, you’re in for a treat—one that continues into dessert.
Of the trio, the white chocolate is a testament to creativity. The aerated white chocolate melts in your mouth and is balanced out by a spread of brown butter and a sprinkle of miso. The bay leaf ice cream is eloquent, a savory symphony with zippy candied citrus, pear and smooth vanilla.
A culinary dream? Yes, that’s what dining at Reverie feels like. And I can’t wait to close my eyes again.
3201 Cherry Hill Lane NW, 202.808.2952, reveriedc.com
Starters, $8-$24; mains, $18-$32; shared plates, $100-$150; desserts, $12
Photography by: Greg Powers