Downtown’s glitzy Mirabelle is back online this week with a fresh cast of characters and new dishes, swapping overpriced $26 ham sandwiches for deconstructed twists on more than just the French cuisine the restaurant’s served since opening last year.
The new chef behind the wheel is Keith Bombaugh, whose previous cooking experience at Grant Achatz’s imaginative Alinea in Chicago is evident throughout the completely overhauled menu. Following a major staff shakeup this summer, the restaurant reopened for lunch and dinner service on Tuesday, August 7.
“Grant’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with. He opened my mind about to how to think about food in so many ways,” Bombaugh tells Eater. “I’ve taken the concepts and theories about the way he thinks about guests and the dining experience and the questions of ‘why’ and ‘why not’ and ‘what if we did this’?”
He ran those questions through his head while recently eating a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich in his new Chinatown neighborhood. “I thought, ‘why can’t put that in a jar?’” he tells Eater.
Later this week he plans to plant a “potted banh mi” on Mirabelle’s menu — a compact medley of braised pork, foie gras butter atop bread, fish sauce pickles, and cilantro.
The menu changes come a little over a year since prolific restaurateur Hakan Ilhan unveiled the power dining destination steps from the White House under chef James Beard Foundation Award winner Frank Ruta and respected pastry chef Aggie Chin. But Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema’s initial enthusiasm for the newcomer waned.
Along with bringing in Bombaugh, who most recently cooked at Boston’s upscale waterfront restaurant Meritage, two familiar faces from Mirabelle’s original opening team are back: pastry chef Zoe Ezrailson — most recently cooking at Mount Pleasant’s Elle — and Jennifer Knowles, who left a brief stint at Requin to rejoin as general manager and wine director.
The new and evolving menu is, in part, meant to induce childhood memories. Ezrailson’s strawberry and Lillet cream-filled macaroons could be confused for elevated versions of Little Debbie desserts. “Memories of an Ice Pond” — charred trout, shishito-umeboshi, and blistered cucumber — is an ode to Bombaugh’s fishing trips with his dad.
“Jen and I were talking about how to put New England on a lunch plate. What did we eat when we were kids? It was all about walking across the beach and getting a box of fried clams,” he says.
His version at Mirabelle is a Cape Cod “duo of clams,” accompanied by corn bread and sauces.
Other inspiration comes from Bombaugh’s most recent stint in Boston, where he says he once fed the entire New England Patriots coaching staff — including a sweatshirt-wearing Bill Belichick. At Mirabelle, he’s got a futuristic spin on the classic New England clam chowder. His deconstructed version features halibut, alongside littleneck clams, confit leek, and soubise.
He’s glad D.C. is no longer a “steakhouse” city, estimating it’s about “15 years” ahead of Boston’s dining scene — and ready to ditch longtime rules tied to formal dining.
“Who says you can’t drink a bottle of $200 bottle of wine at a white tablecloth restaurant and have fried clam steamers? Who says that’s not fine dining?” says Bombaugh.
At Mirabelle, three courses with dessert costs $85, or $95 with cheese. And 12-course chef’s tasting menu is available for $195. Anything, however, can be ordered a la carte. Mains range from $29 to $40 (and start at $23 at lunch) and include pork presented four ways, as well as squab with celeriac, fava bean, peas, and truffle jus.
Knowles’ French-forward wine list also integrates lesser-known wines from Chile’s inland areas. There’s 28 wines by the glass, including seven sparkling varieties, and 500 by the bottle. Check out Mirabelle’s revamped menu below, as well as select menu items highlighted by Bombaugh:
A fresh take on lobster: Some thought-provoking dishes are designed to conjure summer memories — like feasting on fresh-caught lobster with corn on the cob. His poached lobster is dusted with bacon powder and the Mexican delicacy huitlacoche (essentially a fungus that grows on corn). “This is about presenting it in a way that’s refined and more than just whole grilled lobster on the plate,” he says. There’s also a “voulevant” lobster roll with baby corn, shoot salad, and corn-silk buttermilk sauce.
Forest Landscape: At first glance, this veggie dish resembles a walk through the woods. A few bites reveal the medley of tarragon “moss,” butter braised-trumpet royales, chanterelles, morels, wheat berries, crispy maitakes, and black garlic. Mirabelle’s bar is also into mind tricks. The Business Casual mocktail ($10) is one of the first D.C. bars to integrate London’s SeedLip — a distilled non-alcoholic spirit that mimics the taste of booze.
Bar bites: Bombaugh gives the concept of a simple taco the Alinea treatment; his time-intensive shell is made of caramelized banana puree that’s dehydrated, fried, shaped, and chilled — then filled with foie gras ($15 for two). “You can go to a taqueria for a $3.50 taco — and yea, this is about half the size but it’s not as filling. And we’re talking about three days of labor into making the shell,” he says. When the bar bites are gobbled up, they reveal a secondary snack: a plate of pistachios.
Letting produce shine: Produce sourced from Lexington Park, Md. farmer Mike Mustard — including tomatoes, peas, beans, and flowers — star in the tarte flambée (seasonal veggies, smoked butter, Viking salt) and Father’s Garden with peas, chèvre, and tomato consommé. “Mike brings us the best of whatever he has that week. Last week he had a surplus of squash,” he tells Eater.