Arroz wants to transport eaters to Southern Spain and Morocco, via its shared plates and bright, airy ambiance.
Authenticity is evident the moment guests enter the main entrance through the hotel lobby. Gold-framed photographs documenting the team’s 2016 research trip to the region sit alongside urns, plates, and teapots shipped from Morocco. Even the red fez cap Mike Isabella sported on camelback is present.
Arroz — which is Spanish for rice — enters new territory for the Top Chef contestant, whose existing D.C. food empire largely celebrates Greece and Italy.
The Arroz menu, splashed across just one page, covers a lot of ground: meats and cheeses, bomba rice, bigeye tuna crudo, and a 28-oz. bone-in ribeye, to name a few.
“There are a lot of things going on in each dish. A lot of cool flavors, textures, colors, and presentation,” Isabella said.
The same rings true for the decor, which includes Arabesque and keyhole archways, coffered ceilings, tiled floors, brass accents, and exotic patterns and tapestries. Fresh, colorful bouquets of flowers are everywhere as an ode to those Team Isabella spotted all over bazaars and spice markets.
The lengthy and dramatic arched path leading to the hostess stand is also reminiscent of alleyways the team wandered through during while traveling.
“You have no clue where you are going or what is next, with small entrances,” Isabella said.
Natalie Park Design Studio (designer of sibling spot Kapnos Kouzina) wove a rich blue hue throughout the new space, which pairs well with the sun-drenched environment.
One eccentric bar the team visited overseas — featuring zebra prints, patent red leather ottomans, and brass touches — especially inspired the look, Isabella said.
The 138-seat space includes 110 seats in the dining room and a 28-seat bar and lounge area. A 12-seat private dining room includes a live-edge natural elm table built by Charlie Nemeth, who also did the gray-stained elm tabletops in the main dining area.
“There are three levels of seating, depending on how comfortable you want to be,” he said.
Dinner service only starts Monday, with lunch and brunch coming soon. An additional 62 seats are expected to follow this spring with an outdoor terrace facing Massachusetts Avenue outfitted with fire pits and a canopy-covered lounge and dining area.
Executive chef Michael Rafidi most recently worked at Michael Mina’s RN74 in San Francisco. The beverage program — heavy on sherry and sangrias — comes from Mike Isabella Concepts beverage director Taha Ismail, a native of Casablanca. (Stay tuned for additional details about featured food and drink offerings.)
“You can’t find something like this in D.C., from the design and the food. We feel it’s going to be a special concept,” Isabella said.
As for his prime placement inside the three-year-old convention center hotel, Isabella’s happy about “great backup business” from out-of-town travelers — but wants to be clear about Arroz being its own thing.
“It’s a separate entity inside the hotel,” he said.
Arroz is the first of a few high-profile hotel restaurants set to debut this spring: The Darcy in Logan Circle is preparing to welcome chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Siren, while The Line in Adams Morgan has carved out space for projects by chefs Erik Bruner-Yang and Spike Gjerde.