Haidar Karoum has always preferred to let his food speak for itself while he eschewed the limelight. That never stopped him from earning endless accolades and a chef of the year RAMMY for his trio of scene-setters—Proof, Estadio and Doi Moi—which he left in the spring of 2016. Now he’s back with his debut solo venture, Chloe, which thrusts him onto center stage like never before.
The 3,200-square-foot, 105-seater eatery lives on a busy corner in Navy Yard, just a few blocks from the ballpark and the Anacostia River. Everywhere you look outside the restaurant, there’s a new building going up. Inside, though, a calmer atmosphere prevails. There’s a stripped-back modernism enlivened with woody textures, earthen tones and restrained lighting. Hanging shelves garnished with plants frame the showcase kitchen, which is rimmed with counter seating for 14. Sit here if you can: You’ll have a front-row seat for all the action.
The eminently shareable menu—listed from lighter fare to large-format entrees—is a globe-hopping journey that plays to the chef’s many strengths. Expect forays into Asian, New American and European traditions.
A dainty mix of brined bites—cornichons, olives, pickled garlic and peppers—is a nice note on which to begin. So is the fluffy Sardinian ricotta drizzled with local raw honey. Slather it on the slices of crunchy country bread that bear a switchback of grill marks and a brushing of olive oil.
Karoum has a deft hand with vegetables, honed during his time working for famed chef Nora Pouillon. Halved bok choy are cooked in what the chef calls “a little Japanese love”: soy, sake and sesame. These additions don’t overwhelm; the delicate sweetness of the greens dominates. Golden florets of roasted cauliflower come lavished with tahini, finely chopped mint and some crunchy pine nuts. Meanwhile, a butter-rich trumpet mushroom sauce complements tender knuckles of gnocchi.
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