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Former Palena, Mirabelle Chef Frank Ruta Returns to the D.C. Dining Scene

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The Beard Award winner has joined Ashok Bajaj’s Knightsbridge Restaurant Group

Frank Ruta, right, won’t be working with longtime partner Aggie Chin, left, at his new job.
Aggie Chin/Facebook
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Frank Ruta, the decorated former White House chef who won a James Beard award at Palena and opened Mirabelle to rave reviews in 2017, is returning to work in D.C.

Prolific restaurateur Ashok Bajaj has hired Ruta to work for his Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, reviving Ruta’s career after nearly a year off. Ruta, who’s cooked under three presidents, and pastry chef partner Aggie Chin left Mirabelle last summer among a staffing shake-up that led the restaurant to close and re-open with a different chef, Keith Bombaugh.

A representative for Bajaj confirms the hire but says the restaurateur “has not yet decided” where Ruta will land. Knightsbridge’s lauded portfolio includes Bibiana, Oval Room, Bombay Club, Olivia, Bindaas, Rasika, and Sababa.

The most obvious landing spot for Ruta’s French cookery would seem to be a forthcoming project in Dupont Circle. Last fall, Bajaj spent $4 million to buy the building that housed Restaurant Nora, the business from organic dining pioneer Nora Pouillon that shuttered after a 40-year run.

Bajaj plans to flip Nora into a new spot called Annabelle, and Ruta may play a role there. “I am working on other projects for him at the moment as that opening is not until fall,” Ruta tells Eater.

Chin, a respected pastry chef and Ruta’s longtime colleague, did not come with him. She’s “sadly” moved to San Francisco, he reports, where she’s been keeping up her desserts game (according to Instagram). Along with Mirabelle, the highly sought-after culinary duo thrilled local diners at the Grill Room in Georgetown and the late Palena — a fine-dining restaurant in Cleveland Park with a notoriously good burger.

Ruta has taken some time to figure out what he wanted to do next. Following his departure at Mirabelle, he told Eater the following in August: “Most immediately I’m getting caught up in the garden after it has endured some period of neglect. Professionally, I’m working my way through my inbox, without rush.”

He says he’s taken on some consulting gigs but hasn’t cooked professionally since leaving Mirabelle.