Ed Lee is almost done wrapping up his menu for Succotash, his first restaurant in the D.C. area, slated to open by the end of the month in Maryland's National Harbor development. Well...theoretically he's almost done.
"I think the menu's pretty good to go," Lee tells Eater while working on menu testing in National Harbor's test kitchen (the restaurant is still very much under construction down the street). "We're just refining some last minute things...and then at the last minute I'll change everything," he said with a laugh.
Hopefully, he doesn't change too much. Succotash, arguably National Harbor's first splashy, chef-driven, destination restaurant, will be a Southern-influenced restaurant driven by Asian spices. The menu items are all newly-designed, though Lee does draw some inspiration from his popular cookbook, Smoke & Pickles, and his Louisville restaurants. "There are things in my head that are just stuck there," Lee said, such as his bourbon-spiked pickled jalapenos. Lee has been in town for the past several days testing recipes with executive chef Lisa Odom and sous chef Kyle Cook.
Other menu items will include wings, two versions of fried chicken (one with waffles, another spicy one), barbecue-inspired smoked meats, his version of pimento cheese (spiked with Korean chili paste), and (naturally) succotash. He's at work on a chicken biscuit sandwich featuring fried chicken, those pickled jalpenos and his "Jezebel" sauce, a version of the Southern apple and pineapple concoction.
The Asian influence in Lee's cooking is more subtle than overt, he says. He may use ingredients like soy sauce, miso paste and fish sauce, but he doesn't consider the cuisine fusion. "The audience will probably just think, 'Oh, that's very good barbecue that tastes a little different.'" he said. "Southern food has a lot of sweetness, and I think adding Asian ingredients brings a lot of umami to the table."
Succotash, which is about 5,000 square feet in size, has seating for about 200 people. The restaurant is large, with lots of brick and a large concrete bar accented with wrought iron (that bar will serve classic cocktails plus new drinks like a milk punch and a frozen bourbon cocktail). The restaurant will be decorated with spray paint art pictures of horses and bourbon bottles, as well as some antique bourbon bottles. Claudio Picasso has designed a mural for the space as well. The idea for the glassware is a "Grandma's china" feel. The restaurant has a patio with a retractable roof and a patio, and the restaurant features some Sinatra-style raised booths and gas lights. There is a private dining room with seating for 30-50. One focal point: a 6.5-feet horse sculpture fashioned by local artist Howard Connelly from Steinway pianos.
Lee sees some parallels between Louisville and D.C.: both are sort of on the "outskirts of the south," as he puts it, which means they're less bound to strictly follow Southern traditions. It's a philosophy he sees at D.C.'s restaurants, where a whiskey bar like Jack Rose is putting out Lee's favorite biscuits in the city. "There aren't a lot of theme restaurants here," he said. "I don't cook traditional Southern food; I'm not a preservationist."
National Harbor was chosen because his business partners, designer Michael Reginbogin and Jason Berry, found out about the opportunity. "It's a good way to make introduce [ourselves] to the area, rather than just trying to make a big splash right away downtown," Lee said. He also liked the idea of not just cooking for an elite, downtown audience, as well as the Harbor's waterfront setting.
Will he eventually make that big splash downtown? "That's up to the gods and our audience and how busy we are," Lee said. "For any restaurateur, the goal is to do more restaurants. [But] we keep our eye on one thing at a time."