On a recent visit to Xiquet, a new high-end Spanish restaurant opening tonight in Glover Park, Danny Lledó’s crisp white chef shirt stood in stark contrast to the coal-colored fingertips he was sporting after checking in on multiple wood fires burning inside the renovated, top-floor space that used to serve as office space for Slate Wine Bar + Bistro downstairs.
At Xiquet (2404 Wisconsin Avenue NW), the crown jewel of a recent renovation project at Slate, Lledó is producing dishes that call back to his hometown of Denia, Spain, a city on the Mediterranean coast that’s not far from Valencia. He’s bringing the outdoor practice of cooking wide, shallow dishes full of paella over open fires indoors, installing a massive ventilation hood over a setup that includes multiple grills, a horizontal spit, a plancha, and a Big Green Egg outfitted with a stone for baking off crispy flatbreads known as coques.
Because oranges are a famous export of the region, Lledó is using California orange wood to build fires for paella and the smoker. Grilled items and rotating suckling pigs will cook over smoldering apple wood.
“If you want to sell a house, bake an apple pie,” he says with a smile, explaining that he hopes the smell will help make visitors feel welcome.
With tasting menus that go for $90 (for five courses) and $130 (for eight), Lledó is laying on more luxury than the homey analogy might suggest. An a la carte menu starts with options for caviar. Ingredients in three different paellas ($35 to $50) include foie gras, black truffles, and lobster.
The traditional Spanish rice dish is the main attraction at Xiquet because Lledó has devoted years to perfecting it, picking up trophies at paella competitions in the U.S. and Europe that now line the walls of the staircase heading up to Xiquet. He talks about understanding the “inertia” of stoking wood fires at the proper temperature and insists his vegan paella, made with cauliflower, green romano beans, lima beans, and red bell pepper, compares well with the version stuffed with roasted duck and venison. He uses medium-grain sénia rice to soak up stock, saying it’s superior to bomba rice but less forgiving of overcooking.
Other items include a spinach and artichoke ravioli that shows up on both menus, seared sea bream served with runner and lima beans, and grass-fed strip loin steaks.
Lledó has contracted with his friend Didier Fertilati, a former maître d’ and manager from Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and England, to consult on service at Xiquet and Slate. Fertilati talks about wanting to create an environment where customers can focus strictly on enjoying themselves for the duration, likening the restaurant to a movie theater where phones stay on silent. A 16-seat mezzanine bar in between Xiquet and Slate will help ease the transition, serving as a holding area for customers awaiting their tables upstairs. The bar there is stocked with top-shelf scotch and whiskey, Spanish vermouths, and Lledó’s collection of vintage port bottles from 1977.
Another longtime Lledó colleague, former wine distributor and sommelier Rachael Buehrer, has joined him as a director of operations overseeing a wine program with more than 100 bottles ($55 to $2,500) and 10 options by the glass ($12 to $30). Buehrer plans to offer a la carte wine pairings for glasses that go with each piece of the tasting menus.
From tables inside the 30-seat space on the top floor, customers beneath two sets of skylights can watch Lledó and Co. futz with the wood fires thanks to large glass windows peering into the cooking area. The other end of the room contains a different sort of view: an overlook of the baseball diamond at Guy Mason Recreation Center.
Xiquet is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.