The Oval Room, the glitzy, white tablecloth restaurant near the White House that’s served countless celebrities and politicos, has officially closed after 26 years of business. Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj plans to hold onto the space and introduce a new, undisclosed project there, a representative says.
The modern American restaurant, a favorite of Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema for prix fixe lunches and people watching over shrimp and grits, adapted to the novel coronavirus by introducing a takeout sandwich pop-up in September. Bajaj quietly closed up shop last month. The restaurant’s website says, “Stay tuned for the opening of a new restaurant concept in the near future.”
Bryan Moscatello, an alum of Bajaj’s 701, was the most recent chef. Talented alumni to come through the kitchen at the Oval Room include Tony Conte, who left in 2015 to open an essential pizzeria in a strip mall outside Gaithersburg, Maryland. John Melfi, who now runs Modena for Bajaj’s restaurant group, came after.
In 2014, Bajaj spent $1 million on a renovation that included a white marble bar, dangling theatrical lights, and art from star painter Jennifer Bartlett. Customers like Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and Mayor Muriel Bowser would take in the scene.
Bajaj hasn’t hesitated to switch things up at his restaurants. He rebranded Bibiana as Modena last year. Months before that, he turned NoPa Kitchen + Bar into Mediterranean-minded Olivia, complete with Picasso replicas, white sails, and banquettes lined with Hermes fabrics.
Olivia has also closed in a Penn Quarter location (800 F Street NW) hit hard by plummeting foot traffic around downtown. Sietsema gave Olivia a glowing review in his spring dining guide, applauding dishes like flaky Moroccan pastries, creamy cod rillettes, and roasted eggplant with pickled raisins. Bajaj hopes to resurrect that restaurant, but in a different part of town and in a smaller-sized location.