Seven Reasons opened this week on 14th Street NW, bringing the bustling corridor daring Latin fusion dishes from Venezuelan-born chef Enrique Limardo.
Limardo is counting his blessings while opening his first restaurant in D.C. Back home, a plummeting economy has led to widespread food shortages that make it difficult for many people to find a meal, let alone support a local restaurant.
“Venezuela is completely fucked,” Limardo says. “For me it’s no more hope. I don’t see a solution, probably not for 10 years.”
At one point, Limardo had a restaurant in the trendy capital of Caracas. But spiraling conditions across the country made ingredients tough to source and business slow to a halt.
“The economy was so hard — you had to struggle to get one pound of sugar or flour,” he says. “Prices were impossible.”
For the past five years, Limardo has helmed Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore. His cooking there caught the eye of Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema and led to a business partnership with his Seven Reasons co-founder, Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger.
Limardo hasn’t been back to his native country since Alma opened, though much of his family remains there with no electricity and scarce access to food. He doesn’t have a passport anymore, and he says it’s impossible to get one.
“You can’t compare it with any country in the world. Historically nothing is similar. There are two presidents, two everything. Corruption is everywhere, in every sense,” he says.
He studied architecture and design growing up, tacking on culinary studies to support himself. Realizing he needed more formal training, he moved to Spain and worked at a handful of Michelin-rated restaurants across the Basque region and in Barcelona.
“Then I realized I wanted to do my own thing,” he says.
During his hardships in Venezuela, his luck took a turn when a wealthy regular whisked him away as his family’s private chef for four years. The gig took him to Dubai, Hong Kong, New Zealand, France, and Italy. Suddenly he went from scraping by to having the most exorbitant ingredients at his disposal.
“I didn’t have any limitations in any product. If he wanted white truffles, the best caviar in the world, gold leaf — OK,” Limardo says.
The chef also got to know Caribbean cooking while running an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, but he felt a little lost among a sea of guests always coming and going.
Looking back, he’s thankful for his well-traveled past because it helped him come up with his Seven Reasons menu, which unites flavors from Venezuela with those from Peru, the Amazon rainforest, and the Caribbean.
7R_FOODMENU_APRIL15 (1) by on Scribd
Dishes at his new 90-seat, three-story space (2208 14th Street NW) cater to a range of diets. There’s a lobster ceviche accented with a coconut leche de tigre marinade; a vegetarian jelly tomato salad; and duck with torched salsa verde, sour cream, and raw cauliflower rice.
“I learned how [the] Spanish make great food in Basque but I still have my roots from Venezuela — I pulled from different things which became [part of] my style now,” he says.
He’s going all out with kitchen bells and whistles at his latest restaurant, outfitting his workspace with high-tech tools. In addition to liquid nitrogen, he uses a freeze drier to dehydrate herbs and vegetables. They’re defrosted slowly, frozen again, and defrosted again to keep colors and nutrients intact. The technique helps build a cumin sauce.
Limardo’s artistic plating draws inspiration from his memories and visits to local landmarks.
“Sometimes I’m inspired by nature or go to a museum or remember something from my country, then I picture it and start building it to represent that landscape,” he says.
A layered dessert dubbed Coconut Delirious (coconut custard, coconut ice cream, lemon jelly, chocolate sphere, and white chocolate truffle) has a sand-like look, aiming to take diners to the beach.
He debunks a comparison to Alinea’s theatrical (and ridiculously pricey) presentations; he says that’s “too fancy” — “we want you to feel relaxed.”
As an ode to Venezuela’s obsession with sweets, there are more than six options to finish off the meal.
“You always save space for the dessert,” he says, of his culture’s motto.
Seven Reasons desserts by on Scribd
Bar manager Josue Gonzalez, who most recently stirred drinks at Bresca and St. Anselm, leans on his Cuban roots and his experience at top cocktail bars in Miami to create an opening list of 10 cocktails ($14-$17) served from behind a leafy 12-seat bar.
Seven Reasons drink list by on Scribd
Seven Reasons is on Resy and currently operates Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until midnight.