The New Grandmothers

Last night I had the great honor to meet world-renowned Chef Massimo Bottura. Chef Bottura is much more than a perennial winner of Michelin stars, best restaurant awards and every other accolade that can be awarded in our business. He is in fact a transcendent figure with a vision that goes far beyond his restaurant in Modena. I encourage everyone to watch his episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix to see what I am talking about.

Chef was in town at American University to promote his new book, Bread is Gold, a collaboration with other chefs of great renown. It is a recipe book, but it is also a vision for the future. In Chef’s eyes, the key to providing food for those who need it lies not in increased production, but in decreased waste.

As part of a panel discussion with local thought leader Chef Spike Mendelsohn, the notion that culinary traditions—and guidance on how to appreciate and not waste food—is less and less a thing passed down from grandmothers or others in our families. Our society, particularly in America, lacks that generational connection in many ways. And so, who is there to replace them? Who can carry on the legacy of appreciating that food comes from effort, from the earth, and it must be savored when eaten, cared for with love, and least of all, wasted?

Perhaps chefs?

Moderator Mitchell Davis from the James Beard Foundation threw out that notion acknowledging that concurrent with the decline in family traditions, there is a rise in the celebrity status of chefs. No longer in the back of the house, they are now front and center on panels, at the White House, on TV and in every conceivable venue for influence that exists.

They wield great power in influencing our culture, especially the younger generations, on how to treat food. They can act as thought leaders and shape generations and perhaps solve this great problem in our world as we race towards a more crowded—and hungry—planet.

Quite a responsibility indeed. Especially when many of these men and women have responsibilities to their businesses and families. However, what an extraordinary opportunity. And it can be done in a granular level by showing people how to prepare food for themselves, in their homes, with love and care for the ingredients. Just like your grandmother might have shown you.

Chef Bottura’s career has been defined by bold—and perhaps reckless—visions that he makes into reality through a singular combination of passion, drive and savvy. And of course, with a tremendous team to support him. This latest vision represents just the latest move for a man who seems hellbent on leading the way and creating change. From Parmesan 5 Ways to making Cacio e Pepe a rallying cry for earthquake victims to driving our world to think differently about how it eats—and wastes—food.

Just another crazy idea. One that may be gold.

Grazie, Chef.

Bar Elena Opens on H Street With Arcade Games and Two Happy Hours a Day

This article first appeared in The Washingtonian on November 9, 2017

Chef Adam Stein is an H Street hospitality veteran, having opened the Queen Vic and the Big Board and been a regular at Boundary Road. When the latter seasonal American restaurant closed this summer, owner Karlos Leopold (Nido, Mola) asked Stein to create a new concept for the space. His idea, now come to life: Bar Elena, a neighborhood-oriented spot with daily happy hours, arcade games, kids’ menus, and a few splurges like raw bar platters and lobster pasta.

We’re really trying to carve out multiple niches over here,” says Stein. “Not everyone can be Rose’s Luxury. I feel like it’s super important to offer several different kind of things for people.”

Bar Elena still looks a bit like its predecessor—all that exposed brick hasn’t gone anywhere—but the team created a larger bar area, plus space in back for two skeeball machines, pinball, arcade games, and tabletop Pac Man. Two televisions were added above the bar, and there’s a large projection screen for showing major games or events. Stein says the concept is like a miniature version of the Eleanor, a bar/restaurant/bowling alley he’s opening next year in Ivy City.

Even more diverse than the games is Stein’s menu. The raw bar—a first for the neighborhood—offers fresh-shucked oysters and clams, head-on shrimp cocktail, and chilled lobster. Many appetizers are hybrid snacks, like elote-style hushpuppies showered with chilies, crema, cilantro, and queso fresco, or “clam chowder poutine,” where fries and curds are smothered in chowder-gravy. Patrons will find both seafood and snacks discounted during daily happy hours, which run early (4 to 7 PM) and late (11 PM to close). Drink specials include $5 wines, beers, and cocktails.

Games are intended for the young and young at heart alike. Stein says he’ll launch a children’s menu in the coming weeks and that kids are welcome to play while their parents eat; he expects an older crowd later in the evening. There’s a nod to his own childhood on the menu: a pasta sandwich. 

“Both of my parents worked long hours, so we ate spaghetti a lot as kid,” says Stein. “I remember splitting rolls, jamming a pat of butter in there, and stuffing it with spaghetti.” 

Toddler tributes aside, Stein also offers a few chef-y entrees like shellfish stew or that same spaghetti dressed up with lobster and brown butter. Still don’t expect the dishes to get too precious.

“The mantra is, ‘We make it in-house if it’s better than what we can get.’ But I always tell the staff: no one wants the chef’s version of ketchup. We have Duke’s mayo and Heinz.”

Bar Elena. 414 H St., NE; 202-450-3265. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 4 PM to 2 AM; Friday and Saturday, 4 PM to 3 AM. Weekend brunch starting soon (11 AM). Closed Mondays. 

Peek Inside H Street’s Playful New Bar Elena

This article first appeared in Eater DC on November 7, 2017

Atlas District restaurant unveils comfort food and games November 7

There’s no shortage of entertainment options at Atlas District newcomer Bar Elena, the neighborhood restaurant opening Tuesday, November 7, that fulfills chef/co-owner Adam Stein’s dream of bringing fun food, local brews, and engaging games to his former stomping grounds.

Stein, an alum of local eateries including pubby Queen Vic and beer-friendly Big Board (among others), tells Eater he has longed to see more laid-back restaurants crop up along the drastically evolving strip.

“It’s time this side of the street got some love,” he says.

Stein’s contribution to that cause involves offering up funky comfort foods, a number of electronic diversions, and a slate of intriguing drinks. He’s joined in this mission by Sharon Wetteland, who followed Stein over from his most recent stint at Red’s Table in Reston, Virginia, to serve as general manager at Bar Elena, and by Lindsay Parsons, a Radiator alum tasked with overseeing the bar.

Bar Elena chef and co-owner Adam Stein.
Stein tells Eater that friends created most of the art featured all around Bar Elena.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

 

The front of the new restaurant should look somewhat familiar to those that visited its predecessor, Boundary Road. Stein says he’s moved some things around, but wound up keeping roughly the same number of seats. The major difference in terms of design — yes, the mattress chandelier is hanging around — is the mini-arcade Stein has installed in back.

Twin Skee-ball machines at Bar Elena.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC
Two pinball machines and two “multicade” machines — one of ‘em’s even got Space Ace (watch out for that infanto ray) — are primed and ready to siphon quarters from every pocket.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

 

The bar boasts two pinball machines (Indiana Jones, The Sopranos), two Skee-ball machines, and two video game cabinets that feature over two dozen classic games (think: Arkanoid, Ms. Pac-Man). Don’t get too attached to any high scores, though; Stein says the company that owns the games — and which he’s working with on larger scale entertainment complex, the Eleanor — is cool with swapping out the machines “as often as we need based on customer wants.”

Those interested in more tangible investments should give the menu a once over. Parsons has stocked the drink list with four evergreen(ish) cocktails — including a modified version of the Campari-fueled “Vespa” cooler served by Boundary Road — as well as a handful of seasonally inspired selections (a rum-mezcal creation is mesmerizing).

Staff mixing drinks at Bar Elena.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

 

Wetteland, meanwhile, has brought together wines from around the globe. There’s crisp whites from America (Adelsheim Auxerrois), bold reds from Europe (Familia Montana Rioja Reserva), and dueling rosés (France versus Washington state).

Back in the kitchen, Stein has a blast with everything from briny oysters to “fancy nachos” flanked by fiery arbol chile sauce. (See the full menu below.)

The General Tso’s wings at Bar Elena.
Photo by Warren Rojas / Eater DC
A sampling of fresh seafood at Bar Elena.
Photo by Warren Rojas / Eater DC

 

Bar Elena is projected to operate from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday through Thursday, from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., Fridays, from 11 a.m to 3 a.m., Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sundays. The plan is to run two daily happy hours (4 p.m. to 7 p.m, and again from 11 p.m. till closing). Stein says brunch should follow “in a couple weeks.”

H Street Gets Spaghetti Sandwiches Next Week

This article first appeared in Eater DC on November 3, 2017

Incoming Bar Elena plays around with comfort foods

A sneak peek at the opening menu for new Atlas District restaurant/arcade Bar Elena reveals that ordering bar snacks and sandwiches there may be more fun than all the video games and Skee-Ball machines sprinkled throughout.

While chef/co-owner Adam Stein has carved out room for plenty of seafood dishes — he plans to offer raw oysters, moules frites, lobster rolls, and roasted skate, among others, when Elena debuts next week — his atypical bar fare is a diner’s playground.

Stein tells Eater that a spaghetti sandwich — yes, that’s happening — reminds him of childhood meals featuring tomatoey pasta and warm dinner rolls.

“I have very vivid memories of slathering cold butter inside those rolls and twirling a big fork full of sauce laden noodles and stuffing ‘em inside that pocket,” Stein says of his ode to carbo-loading. His version, which also happens to double as a vegetarian offering, includes baguettes, noodles, tomato sauce, and grana padano.

Meat eaters can get down with funky chicken wings, as well as a twist on a Canadian favorite. Stein makes his bird General Tso’s style, pairing the sweet-and-spicy chicken with what he calls “Japanese cowboy sauce” — a condiment marrying tangy ranch dressing with savory furikake seasoning.

Poutine gets a similar makeover; except Stein turns to New England for inspiration here rather than Asia. He doctors his melted cheese curd-covered French fries with “clam chowder gravy,” smothering the aforementioned spuds in broth, clams, and bacon.

”I thought, after eating my way through Montreal, that it would be a cool take,” he says.

A chicken sandwich eschews the deep frying favored by many these days. Instead, Stein is marinating chicken thighs, grinding them into sausage in-house, forming them into patties, and then searing them on a flat-top grill until “golden brown and crispy.” The finishing touch: beet-kimchi aioli.

Should any of these selections strike a chord with the H Street NE set, they may eventually migrate to his forthcoming Ivy City restaurant/bowling alley, The Eleanor.

“To a certain extent this is an incubator/test kitchen for The Eleanor,” Stein says.

Bar Elena is replacing recently shuttered restaurant Boundary Road.

Replacement H Street Bar Aims to Double Its Drinking Space

This article first appeared in Eater DC on September 29, 2017

The remaking of popular H Street eatery Boundary Road into a funky new video game-stocked bar includes taking things to another level: adding a second floor, to be exact.

Adam Stein, the seasoned chef turned newly minted managing partner of forthcoming Bar Elena, tells Eater that he and the current stakeholders are taking a page from three-year-old plans the previous owners never got around to executing and growing upwards.

Construction on the second story is expected to begin shortly. When it’s done, Stein says there should be room for 40 to 50 additional seats, another bar, a private event space, plus more of the pinball, Skee-Ball, and arcade games he’s planning to work into the entertainment mix.

“I kind of see this as a baby Eleanor,” he says, tying the immediate overhaul to the 7,000-square-foot dining complex he’s installing in Ivy City. That long-standing dream, which Stein says is now expected to open in early 2018, is projected to feature a restaurant, bowling lanes, live music, and movies.

Stein is hoping to get Bar Elena rolling later this fall. (A “now hiring” ad went up just this morning.)