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.)

Help Wanted

What makes DC a great food city is not just the food, but the media that cover it. We are lucky to have a collection of passionate and hardworking journalists in DC who do more than just review the new poke place. Or the new poke place. Or the new…For real, what the Hell with poke?

To understand this business, you must look past the fabricated drama of openings and closings and what pop-up theme bar has the longest line. This is a business with many determiners of success existing behind the scenes. Recently, one of DC’s best food writers, Jessica Sidman at the Washingtonian, drew attention to what might be the single most critical factor in the success or failure of restaurants over the next couple of years.

Staff.

This piece draws attention to what is being considered a crisis. I have written that talk of a bubble is hyperbole, but this issue is very real, and while I don’t think it will deflate the industry, I do think that many restaurants that might otherwise have the pieces in place to be successful, will not be.

As the article points out, every operator in town is acutely aware of this issue, and it is not a new one. However, what makes this piece helpful is that it singles out the Wharf as particularly exacerbating the problem.

No doubt, the Wharf will be a good thing for the city. Growing up here, the SW waterfront was good for buying seafood, and that was it. It is certainly underutilized, and I look forward to seeing it succeed. I also look forward to someone inviting me to see the Foo Fighters opening night at The Anthem. Hello? Anyone? Sigh.

As the excitement builds towards the opening of the Wharf, residents are excited, and no thought at all is given to how many customers it will take to support these businesses. That should be a concern. There are simply too many places for everyone to do well. And with the prices these places have paid, they will need every customer they can get.

Reports are already out that several places will not meet the required opening deadline. That is expected but nonetheless troubling.

But again, that is not the real worry. Sidman’s article states that the Wharf will need nearly 900 employees just for the restaurants. And she rightly theorizes that those employees will certainly come from other restaurants. That of course is nothing new—staff routinely hop to the newer spots.

But there is still a gap.

There simply aren’t enough competent and well-trained employees to staff all these new places and all the other places that are continuously opening around the city.

The solution to that problem is complicated, but workforce development is key. There are solid jobs at every skill level to be had in restaurants, and there is substantial opportunity for growth. Whether it is local non-profits focusing on culinary specific job training (plug for my non-profit, La Cocina VA), or broader initiatives by local and national government, more needs to be done.

There is always talk about America needing better jobs, but that is not true here in DC. The jobs are here–we need the people to work them.

And to be clear, I do believe that our industry needs to do more. The antiquated ways in which we treat staff need to continue to evolve. The idea that long hours, low pay and tough conditions are part of the job is ridiculous.

If we want to attract the best and the brightest—and occasionally just get a warm body in there to fill a shift—then we need to do more ourselves to attract that talent.

I have had a lot of conversations of late with smart people in the business who are trying to figure this out. We are way past realizing there is a problem, but we also don’t have all the solutions in hand. Articles like this help to make the broader community aware of the crisis, and perhaps allow for outside solutions we haven’t thought of. I think that would be welcome.

Food Frenzy: Try 11 New Restaurants Before They Open

This article first appeared in Washington City Paper on September 6th, 2017

Whet your appetite for 11 forthcoming restaurants at Mess Hall’s third installment of New Kitchens on the Block on Sunday, Oct. 8. It’s the largest class of coming attractions the recurring event has featured to date. The first one, held at Mess Hall in Aug. 2016, highlighted seven new restaurants.

Attendees bounce from station to station trying bites and sips from each new restaurant’s chef at the Northeast D.C. food incubator. Tickets are now on sale for two separate two-hour sessions, beginning at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. General admission tickets cost $65 and VIP tickets, which come with a gift bag, are $105. These events typically sell out.

Highlights include:

Spoken English and Brothers & Sisters 

Both of these Erik Bruner-Yang restaurants are bound for the LINE DC Hotel. Diners can expect Spoken English to feel like a lively Japanese “tachinomiya” or standing restaurant common in Tokyo. Only 14 diners can fit at a time and the food will consist of yakitori, tempura, noodles, Peking duck, and more. His other restaurant, Brothers & Sisters, will feature Taiwanese and Japanese twists on American classics.

Lucky Buns

Chef Alex McCoy of Alfie’s is readying to open his burger joint in Adams Morgan. The patties are inspired by his world travels. “Whether I’m in Bangkok, South America, or London, I have to find the best burger shops,” he says.

Maydan 

This next restaurant from the Compass Rose team pulls inspiration from Eastern Europe including the Caucasus, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. Executive Chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan will be doing a majority of the cooking over open flames at the restaurant going into the Manhattan Laundry Building just off the 14th Street corridor.

Coconut Club

Chef Adam Greenberg is bringing a little aloha spirit to the Union Market district with his restaurant Coconut Club, set to open in 2018. Some of his favorite things to make are island-inspired including poke, Spam fried rice, and jerk chicken. Greenberg formerly worked at Barcelona Wine Bar.

Pluma by Bluebird 

Pluma is also headed to the Union Market district. Married pastry chefs Tom Welling and Camila Arango are opening a bakery and cafe that will serve breakfast pastries, salads, sandwiches, Roman-style pizza, dessert, coffee, beer, and wine. Because Bluebird Bakery sells to many coffee shops around town, you may have already tried their food.

Chloe

Chef Haidar Karoum is opening his first solo restaurant in Navy Yard. It’s named for his niece and the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture, Chloe. He previously ran the kitchens at Estadio, Doi Moi, and Proof. Karoum will focus on cuisine inspired by his Lebanese roots, his love of cooking Southeast Asian cuisine, and his travels around the Mediterranean.

Other participants include:

Bindaas (Foggy Bottom): A second location of Ashok Bajaj’s Indian street food restaurant.

Manna: Chef Todd Gray, the longtime chef/owner of Equinox is opening an Israeli food restaurant inside the future Museum of the Bible.

The Eleanor: Chef Adam Douglas Stein, formerly of Red’s Table, is bringing a restaurant and bowling lounge to Ivy City.

Dorjee Momo: Try Tibetan dumplings and other dishes from Tibetan refugee Lobsang Dorjee Tsering. His meals are currently available through meal delivery service Foodhini.

Cured: Chris Johnson and James Brosch are partners in all things charcuterie. Expect them to serve slices of duck prosciutto, Tuscan-style pork liver mousse, and a rillette.

In addition to food, many of the restaurants will serve cocktails with spirits from New Columbia Distillers, Catoctin Creek Distillery, and One Eight Distilling. Also look for local illustrator Samyuktha Krishna, who will sell food-focused artwork during the event.

Mess Hall, 703 Edgewood St. NE; eventbrite.com/e/mess-hall-presents-nkotb-30-tickets-37632647261