Six months after receiving an eviscerating zero-star review from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema, a high-end restaurant in the Wharf development has hired a head chef and completely overhauled its menu.
La Vie opened amid a lot of anticipation last July, but Social Restaurant Group introduced the newcomer without an executive chef in the kitchen, a red flag the critic seized.
In his La Vie writeup, Sietsema blasted basics like Caesar salad and broiled oysters as unsafe and called the risotto “dense and sludgy.” The “poor” review (no stars out of four) came merely a month into service. It was the critic’s first zero-star review since his epic summer slam of downtown’s Founding Farmers two years prior. Eater deemed it one of the strongest takedowns in the country.
“This was an eye-opener,” owner Naeem Mohd says in a statement. “A review of this sort is not only about the restaurant. It forced us to analyze ourselves and identify and tackle the challenges we were faced with. It inspired us to come up with a stronger team.”
A representative for La Vie says that Mohd, an original co-owner, has assumed full control of the restaurant from partner Mike Bramson. After considering internal candidates, Mohd hired executive chef Juan Rivera, who’s had about a month to replace roughly 90 percent of the Mediterranean menu.
Rivera spent nine years working at José Andrés’s critically acclaimed Zaytinya. He also honed his Greek chops working at Mike Isabella’s now-shuttered Kapnos Taverna and the Isabella Eatery at Tysons Galleria.
At La Vie, Rivera is focusing on seafood dishes such as branzino fillets served with eggplant caponata and citrus beurre blanc. There’s a large-format fisherman’s stew in a lobster broth with saffron potatoes and tomato leaks. Lobster fra diavolo gets splashed with squid ink. Maryland crab risotto features English peas, mint and lemon.
Shared plates feature familiar spreads like hummus, baba ganoush and tzatziki; lamb pie with feta cheese and phyllo; and arancini stuffed with ratatouille and burrata ($12-$22).
After Sietsema compared La Vie’s coconut sorbet to “frozen candle wax,” the restaurant has also hired a new pastry chef. Laos-born chef Deth Khaiaphone is in place making tarte tartin style apple charlotte with buttermilk panna cotta, almond crumbles, diced apple and sponge cake.
Khaiaphone’s cooking experience includes working as an executive chef on yachts and resorts. He was previously executive chef at Policy, chef de cuisine at Doi Moi, and a collaborating chef at Thip Khao’s Union Market pop-up, Khao Poon.
New cocktail director (of course) Chad Cotner created the “La Vie AF” — a spin on an Old Fashioned with balsamic reduction and herbs de Provence.
The design remains largely unchanged amidst the latest overhaul. Terrace areas, however, will soon get a newly designed bar overlooking the Potomac River.
According to a release, Mohd’s portfolio includes Bar Bao, Pamplona, and Provision No. 14. A previously announced sister sushi bar sliding in under La Vie, called Tabu, is still in the works. Expect pop-up offerings teased out at La Vie soon.