DBGB Kitchen and Bar opened last year to much fanfare — it was the first Daniel Boulud restaurant to open in the D.C. area. Located in the city's talked-about luxury development, CityCenterDC, Executive Chef Ed Scarpone and General Manager Koli Zeka have guided DBGB through its first year. Eater DC took some time to talk with Scarpone and Zeka and dished about DBGB's many VIPs, a world-renowned chef bringing one of DBGB's own chef to tears, and what else to order besides the restaurant's popular burgers.
How has the last year been for you?
ES: It's been busy. We had a warm welcome to D.C. And it's a little different than the scene in New York — not good or bad. We're able to adapt pretty quickly. And our clientele is a lot of regulars. We've been very fortunate to be busy and have a very successful restaurant.
What's been the biggest surprise about the D.C. market?
ES: Personally, the weather. I do not like humidity whatsoever. It's brutal, especially in the kitchen.
KZ: Living in a swamp and wearing a suit isn't the best. But on beautiful days like this, we open up the windows.
ES: All of our restaurants in New York are so different, it's hard to compare. It's the same as D.C. where neighborhoods are so different with regards to the clientele. For us here in City Center, we do a huge lunch business, but everyone's out by 1:30 or 2:00 o'clock. People aren't lingering because they have to get back to the office.
KZ: It's a very traditional lunch service. Since we opened the doors it's been one of the most predictable shifts ever. You know what you're going to get. You know how it's going to be, so you better be ready.
ES: And I'm used to dinner to being busier a little earlier because we did pre-theatre dinner. Here, it's a little later with people staggering in until 6 or 6:30. In the winter, our business starts a little earlier, but in the summer, it really starts when the sun goes down, especially for the patio.
Do you get a strong pre-concert crowd with the Verizon Center being so close?
ES: It kind of depends on who's playing. Bette Midler, we got crushed. Same thing for Madonna. But when "Disney On Ice" comes to town, that really doesn't impact us too much.
KZ: Last year it started with the Washington Capitals hockey team. Once people were more familiar with DBGB, people started coming before the games. Right before playoffs, we are definitely busy.
ES: I could tell if there was a game going on because nearly everyone would be wearing a Caps jersey.
KZ: And it goes with our decor too.
What's moving on the menu? Everyone talks about the burgers, but what else is DBGB known for?
ES: For lunch, it's the burger. That's what people want for lunch, especially in this area. For dinner, we don't sell a lot of burgers. Our biggest sellers are the fried chicken and the coq au vin. The coq au vin was the first dish I had when I was staging in New York. Everyone thinks you have to come up with these new ideas, but that coq au vin grounded me instantly. It's so old-school, and one of the best things I had in my life. I will keep it on the menu as long as I'm here. And it sells like crazy.
What about the baked Alaska? During your opening, you had an incredibly massive baked Alaska and you even have one drawn on the front window.
ES: The baked Alaska and the chocolate profiterole are both very popular and a bit interactive. We pour the chocolate table side for the profiterole and ignite the baked Alaska table side, and both add some flair to the dining room.
KZ: It's turned into a show. And the guests just love it.
Will you be changing up the menu for fall?
ES: We'll be making menu changes in the next few weeks. But if the weather doesn't break, then we can't do that. Winter went so long this year, and I wanted to put spring items on the menu, but it kept getting pushed back.
If you could change one thing from the past year, what would it be?
ES: I was thinking about this question, and to be completely honest, there isn't a whole lot I would change. Opening a restaurant for people that don't know, there's so many moving parts. It's a living, breathing thing. Just like taking care of a child. You have it and you don't ever want to leave it alone. And the second it cries, you come running. Looking back, nothing was really that crazy.
KZ: We are very happy with where we're at. There are challenges every single day. That's what makes it interesting. But it's been a very good year, but all that attention and care we paid, it shows.
Who is most memorable VIP you've served over the last year?
ES: We had Massimo Bottura [Osteria Francescana] come in a couple weeks ago. And I can honestly say, it resonated [with] me because he's my favorite chef in the entire world. It's life changing. Bottura brought one of the chefs to tears because she was so excited to see him.
KZ: We have dignitaries. We have actors. But one of the most down-to-earth people I had ever met is Dick Gephardt [former House Majority Leader]. Anytime he and his wife comes, it's like seeing family. But we have so many regulars like that, I can't name them all.
And who do you want to come to DBGB?
ES: The president. I've cooked for the First Lady when she was in New York. But I never cooked for him. It's one of those things on pretty much every chef's bucket list.
And what does the next year have in store for DBGB?
ES: We have our legs under us. I can step out of the kitchen with confidence that everyone knows what's going on. We're going to try to do more wine dinners in these two beautiful rooms we have upstairs. We did one wine dinner last month. We're doing one this month. And we'll do one next month. So that'll become a theme. I want to also bring more influences from my experiences in New York and elsewhere to D.C.
KZ: This upcoming dinner on September 25th is featuring Corsica. A lot of people are not familiar with Corsican cuisine or wine. And we want to showcase some unique things from the island.
ES: We're going to rotate the menu a lot. So we plan on bringing some new foods you don't see often.
KZ: Right now, our focus is to polish thing up. Just like Ed mentioned, this restaurant started off as a brand new baby. It's going to learn to walk. Now that it can walk, it's making sure it can run.