Truno opened in the Canopy by Hilton Embassy Row on the south side of Scott Circle yesterday, bringing one of D.C.’s busiest transit hubs a laid-back lunch and dinner destination that trades in hotel tropes for Nigerian beef skewers, Bangladeshi pakoras, and South Carolina grits. A new wood-fired oven gives chef Dwayne Motley, a holdover from former New American seafood restaurant Nage Bistro, a place to cook Yemeni-influenced flatbreads.
At the new 85-seat restaurant, sprawled across the lobby at 1600 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Motley, who cut his teeth working for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, wants to send out hotel food that’s more than “calamari and club sandwiches.” At Truno, his staff is making every dough and sauce. Motley grinds up lamb shoulder to make a spicy sausage that gets spread raw across the dough before entering the pizza oven.
“I want that fat to hit the crust. That grease is flavor,” he says. The flatbread, jazzed up with tomato, red onion, nigella seeds, pine nuts, sumac, and mint, appears on the bar bites and dinner menus.
“It’s more of a show piece that shines at night,” he says.
Motley says Truno represents the culmination of his 20-year cooking career, a large chunk of which included hustling inside Meyer’s fast-paced kitchens across NYC. The menu will expand slowly. He’ll put on a Yucatan-style roasted lobster for Valentine’s Day and eventually plans to add a whole-grilled branzino.
“I always hoped to have a place that I can call my own — this is me,” he says proudly. “It’s very open. I like that it doesn’t feel like a restaurant.”
The shiny new setup resembles a hip living room, lined with funky furniture and edgy, colorful murals. Pricey details include a bronze fireplace overlooking the bustling circle outside and bathroom mirrors with squiggly faces imprinted in the glass in illuminated lines. Come spring, a new patio will provide a city escape from cars whizzing by on 16th Street NW.
Drinks are designed by Devon Tarby, a partner in revered NYC cocktail bar Death and Co. An opening lineup of nine cocktails includes a sweet-and-savory Americana with Amontillado sherry and bacon and brown butter-infused apple brandy.
Motley had been the chef at Nage since 2014. The prime piece of real estate operated as a Courtyard by Marriott for 20 years. When the venue closed for a full top-to-bottom refresh in 2018, Motley began a year-long R&D project to create a global-meets-local menu that brings on flavors from Mexico, Syria, West and East Africa, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Korean fried chicken wings conjure memories of the K-Town basement haunts that Motley used to visit for ramen, wings, “and really cold beer” while he was starting out as a line cook in New York. Honey from Bubba’s Sweet Nectar Farm in Waynesboro, Virginia give the starter a local touch. Glazed baby carrots from D.C.’s Agora Farms are served with 12-hour braised short ribs and Anson Mills heirloom grits.
“I’m kind of a wood snob. I love to barbecue,” says Motley, who spent time at Blue Smoke. “I am the person that orders Post Oak from Texas for my brisket. I’m that weirdo.”
Upon graduating at the top of his culinary class at Stratford University in Falls Church, the Capitol Heights, Maryland, native opted to jumpstart his career in NYC over D.C. During his 5-year stint at Indian fusion spot Tabla, he worked his way up to sous chef under Top Chef Masters winner Floyd Cardoz.
“It took a couple years to find my own voice,” Motley says, “but I think I am here. I have arrived.”
Motley, who says he’s a big fan of what Kwame Onwuachi is doing at Afro-Caribbean hotel restaurant Kith/Kin, has included a couple West African dishes in his new repertoire, too. Spicy suya skewers, made with flank steak, are a shoutout to Nigeria. Jollof rice and Ghanaian red red, a black eyed pea stew, are listed as sides.
During Truno’s previous life as seafood-focused Nage, Motley says he amassed a “fantastic” neighborhood following. A lot of regulars from surrounding embassies have been asking where he went.
“I said I never left. It’ll be good to see old faces and welcome whoever comes,” Motley says. “I want to treat this as my home.”
Status: Certified open for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m. to 11 p.m.). 1600 Rhode Island Avenue NW; website.