Add whipped labneh to the list of global pantry items that croissant connoisseurs can now find piped into pastry around D.C.. Yellow, a new daytime cafe and bakery that operates out of a canary-colored space within wood-burning Middle Eastern restaurant Albi, will serve za’atar-dusted croissants filled with the strained yogurt when it opens for carryout in Navy Yard on Saturday, May 30.
Chef-owner Michael Rafidi, a former Eater D.C. Chef of the Year, is mostly ceding the floor to pastry chef Gregory Baumgartner, who has developed a lineup of breads and other baked goods that inject Levantine flavors into French patisserie staples.
“Albi is a little bit more focused and — I don’t want to say serious — but there’s a lot of work we put into making that concept hum,” Rafidi says. “Yellow is more like, ‘Let’s have some fun.’”
Rafidi says his only request for Baumgartner’s bakery was to make the za’atar and labneh croissant he’d been daydreaming about for a few years. Pastries available from 9 a.m. on include a morning bun spiced with Moroccan ras al hanout, pistachio-covered kouign-amann flavored like baklava, golden date coffee cake, and a harissa bacon and cheese. Breads included a potato-yogurt pita that’s repurposed as za’atar dusted man’oushe, sfeeha (meat pies), and a circular, cast-iron harissa focaccia with peppers baked into the dough.
On weekends, customers can get urfa chile bagels with sumac-scallion labneh schmear or smoked fish. Mouneh (preserves) and spreads are sold a la carte, ranging from harissa and toum ($3) to hummus and marinated feta ($8) to smoked olives ($10).
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Yellow will continue to sell the pastries while segueing into lunch with a selection of meze and a rotating menu of pita sandwiches that starts off with options for soft shell crab with chermoula-bay mayo, smoked chicken with a turmeric tzatziki, smoked eggplant and feta, or barbecue lamb.
Rafidi says the casual, lighthearted approach to Yellow is apparent here in items like “habibi sauce,” which uses an Arabic term of endearment to label a tahini-based condiment that goes into a grilled eggplant pita. Batata tots, which turn Rafidi’s shingled, fried potatoes into a shawarma-spiced version of a bar snack, come with an urfa chile crisp mayo.
For drinks, Yellow will serve a handful of juices (think sumac lemonade). Counter Culture coffee will be the base for drip java, lattes, and a coconut-cardamom cold brew. Baumgartner’s labneh soft serve floats atop espresso in Yellow’s take on affogato. A couple light cocktails from Albi will be available at the cafe, too.
With the new bakery, Rafidi is excited to give Baumgartner an opportunity to experiment. The friends met when they were sous chefs at Michael Mina’s Baltimore restaurant Wit and Wisdom (now closed). More recently Rafidi recruited the pastry chef to leave Los Angeles and join him at Albi, where hew as already turning heads with brown butter knafeh.
“He’s very technical,” Rafidi says of Baumgartner. “Everything he does just comes out way better than I expect.”
The chef expects Yellow to remain a carryout-only operation as D.C. begins to ease coronavirus-related restrictions in the coming weeks. Opening a cafe and bakery with lower prices than his ambitious restaurant, which has been offering a $40 per person prix fixe to go, gives him another way to bring in revenue during a devastating time for the industry.
“It’s crazy,” Rafidi says. “It’s the same game we’re playing, just the rules have changed completely.”
Yellow (1346 Fourth Street SE) will open for carryout from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday starting Saturday, May 30.