Chef David Deshaies is set to open his long-anticipated Unconventional Diner next week inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, serving modern twists on traditional comfort foods inside a bright Southern California-inspired oasis.
LA’s Republique, a modern diner serving every meal of the day, served as a reference point for this new venture. As did Deshaies’ mentor and former boss Michel Richard, who signed off on Deshaies’ idea to open a diner before his death in 2016. Many co-workers he’s known from 15 years at Citronelle and Central have also come on board.
The 8,000-square-foot restaurant (1207 Ninth Street NW) includes two huge kitchens, a quick-service counter and caféarea, and spacious dining space with a 25-seat bar wedged between.
Mid-century accents, reminiscent of airy Palm Springs respites, include custom bar stools, chairs, and tables from local furniture makers alongside palm trees and sea foam green and peach-colored booths. Deshaies also wanted to open up the ceiling with a painted white and industrial look, which set back the project about five months.
The 55-seat cafe portion is projected to operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting next month. “You can have eggs at 4 p.m.,” he notes.
For now, its debut dinner menu (see below) in its bigger 90-seat dining space will start serving at 5 p.m. Highlights include corn bread muffins, chicken noodle soup, chickpea stew, steak and eggs, and chicken Parmesan with its gooey cheese built into the inside.
“People don’t eat like they used to. They have two appetizers, a main course and dessert to share. People snack and want sharable dishes,” Deshaies says.
There’s also French fries with “sexy sauce” — aka, spicy twists on traditional dips like mayo and ketchup, as well as kale nachos and shiitake spring rolls to start.
Some current standards get the “interactive” treatment, such as build-your-own avocado toast that gets mashed up by guests table side.
Art is also a big part of the brand, with bright pops of color adding to the laid-back vibe. Deshaies thinks Richard would approve.
“This would have excited him. He was 66 but was very bright, thinking like he was 25 and always up to date with what is trending,” Deshaies says.
Scroll on to see the space coming together: