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An Eater Award Winner Opens His Hearth-Fueled Middle Eastern Restaurant Next Week

Former Arroz chef Michael Rafidi is bringing Albi to Navy Yard

Chef Michael Rafidi will run Albi after nearly two years away from a full-time kitchen.
Chef Michael Rafidi will run Albi after nearly two years away from a full-time kitchen.
Albi [official]

More than two years after winning Eater D.C. Chef of the Year honors for his Spanish, French, and Mediterranean cooking at Arroz and Requin, Michael Rafidi starts his comeback next week. Rafidi announced today that Albi, his wood-burning, modern Middle Eastern restaurant, will open in Navy Yard on Thursday, February 20.

At Albi (1346 Fourth Street SE), Rafidi will blend his Maryland roots with his Levantine heritage, using regional produce to create dishes that riff on recipes taken from the Palestinian side of his family and research trips through Lebanon.

For example, he’ll present kibbeh naya two ways. One more traditional plate of the raw meat dish will be based in minced lamb and bulgur. Another will focus on vegetables like beets or tomatoes. Both will come with man’oushe (flatbread) and toum, a potent whipped garlic condiment. A menu of shawarma-style mains includes smoked chickens, legs of lamb, and spice-crusted heads of cauliflower. An open kitchen at Albi includes a hearth and a wood-burning pita oven.

Rafidi, a former corporate chef for Michael Mina in San Francisco, drew notice in D.C. for his work at Mike Isabella restaurants. Rafidi resigned from his position shortly after a former manager for Isabella’s group made sexual harassment allegations in a lawsuit against the celebrity chef. Rafidi said at the time he was leaving to pursue his own project, not because of the suit, but he was able to distance himself from Isabella’s company during the worst of a controversy that led to two bankruptcy filings and the cratering of Isabella’s empire.

At Albi, Rafidi is assuming ownership stake while partnering with longtime D.C. sommelier Brent Kroll. The pair are opening a second location of Kroll’s Shaw wine bar, Maxwell Park, next-door to Albi. Today’s announcement also included plans for a cafe called Yellow that will take over Albi’s private dining space during the day with coffee and pastries from Gregory Baumgartner, a Northern Virginia native who established himself at 71Above and Atrium in Los Angeles.

Fans of the Middle Eastern cocktails at the Green Zone in Adams Morgan will be intrigued to hear that owner Chris Francke is the bar director at Albi, too.

Albi’s opening is part of a dining boom hitting the Southeast neighborhood that surrounds Nationals Park. Recent additions include Maialino Mare, the Roman pasta spot that represents the D.C. debut of NYC powerhouse Danny Meyer; ABC Pony, Erik Bruner-Yang’s Asian-Italian all-day cafe; and Shilling Canning Company, the Mid-Atlantic restaurant from Dabney alum Reid Shilling.

Planned arrivals include popular New York bakery Mah-Ze-Dahr and an undisclosed project in the former Whaley’s space from Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan, formerly chefs at live-fire Middle Eastern hit Maydan.

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