Hazel’s executive chef, Rob Rubba, is a master storyteller—with food. When asked to describe the showstopping fare coming out of his kitchen, he says, “It’s very authentic to who I am and very personal. Every dish has a story.”
A fabulous example is his Peking-style duck preparation, served family-style for two or more diners. It was the desire to learn how to cook the game bird that inspired him to attend culinary school. As a homage, he has been showcasing duck on his menus in various incarnations for years, including during his most recent post at the now-departed Tallula and EatBar in Arlington, Va. (Before that, he cooked under such luminaries as Charlie Trotter, Gordon Ramsay and Guy Savoy).
At his latest venture with Neighborhood Restaurant Group—which also owns The Partisan, The Evening Star, Birch & Barley, and others—he serves an epic entree in two parts, cheekily named Ducked Up! The first course features wings or drumettes coated in tempura-like batter fried crackly crisp and tossed in the housemade Fire Panda hot sauce, along with duck sausage wontons amped with black garlic and ginger. Round two is duck-fried rice, a mixed green salad with a brightly acidic duck-fat dressing, and slices of dry-aged breast with citrus glaze. The idea is to use the latter to stuff steamed buns, along with pickled cucumbers, black garlic ketchup and kimchee.
As you construct and dine on your own bao buns, it’s clear the 34-year-old chef is having fun at the 38-seat restaurant complemented by a a sleek bar aglow with sepia lighting. Director of Operations Peter Koll conjures the cocktails, and guests will find a smart wine list and a craft-beer selection thoughtfully categorized by flavor profile. Outside, there’s an eye-catching floral mural decorating the substantial patio, which already has become a see-and-be-seen space.
Perched on the northern end of the superbuzzy Shaw neighborhood, the restaurant is across the street from the trendy Atlantic Plumbing complex and adjacent to the iconic 9:30 Club. The decor includes a nod to the nearby venue: a decoupage installation consuming one wall that showcases album covers, concert posters and artworks from musical greats like Elvis Costello, Little Richard, the Ramones, Black Flag and others. Other memorable touches include the mélange of reclaimed banisters dividing the bar from the dining room and paper umbrellas transformed into light fixtures.
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