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The Wharf Is Getting a Casual French Bistro With Waterfront Views This Summer

The group behind Mi Vida and the Grill will open Bistro du Jour in the former Dolcezza space

The waterfront space that formerly housed Dolcezza will flip into an airy French bistro this summer.
The waterfront space that formerly housed Dolcezza will flip into an airy French bistro this summer.
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Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

D.C. restaurant group Knead Hospitality + Design plans to open its third waterfront venue in Southwest this summer with the addition of a Parisian cafe that segues from croissants and cappuccinos during the day to Champagne and coq au vin by night.

Bistro du Jour (99 District Square SW) will fill out a high-profile corner space that formerly housed a location of gelato shop Dolcezza. The local cafe chain closed its 3-year-old Wharf development location last fall as part of a companywide consolidation, leaving the 1,770-square-foot space up for grabs.

“We are looking to do something relaxed and fun with a Parisian neighborhood feel,” Knead co-founder Michael Reginbogin says.

Knead has not made a decision on what chef will lead the bistro kitchen. Chef Roberto Santibañez created the menu for the group’s other two restaurants at the Wharf development: contemporary Mexican spot Mi Vida and the Grill, a stylish steakhouse and martini bar.

The new all-day bistro will build upon Knead’s growing DMV partnership with powerhouse New York City bakery Mah-Ze-Dahr. Baked goods and pastries will be availble starting at 7 a.m. Mah-Ze-Dahr’s incoming commissary kitchen and cafe in Crystal City will supply the Wharf bistro and a small shop in Navy Yard, as well as Knead’s glossy diner the Gatsby, opening this spring. La Colombe will supply coffee.

As the day progresses, traditional fare like coq au vin, French onion soup, steak frites, and foie gras will join the mix. For drinks, expect a nice bubbly section, fresh-squeezed juices, and a short list of spirits (think: one gin, one vodka, one rum).

The idea from the bistro stems from a trip the Knead partners took to Paris two years ago. Specifically, they fell in love with a chic and always-packed cafe called Carette.

“We went three times in one week for scrambled eggs, fresh OJ, toasts, croissants, and more bread — there is so many plates coming you need a side table to hold the food,” Reginbogin says. “It’s a lovely way to start the day. We want to bring some element of that to the Wharf.”

The Wharf development opened in 2017 with French fare from Requin, Mike Isabella’s fine dining jewel that folded after the embattled chef’s career imploded the following year. Upscale NYC Lebanese restaurant Ilili is scheduled to slide into the glassy structure this year.

“[Requin] had a high price point of $85 checks, on average. We are looking at the $20 range, with breakfast for $8 or $10,” Knead co-founder Jason Berry says. “An approachable place that does quality well.”

The catch-all cafe hopes to cater to everyone from remote workers on laptops to brunch fans to late-night diners.

“There’s not anything like that at the Wharf, plus the location is amazing with waterfront views and people watching,” Reginbogin says.

With polished peach and green hues throughout, Reginbogin says Cafe du Jour won’t resemble familiar East Coast fixtures like Le Diplomate or NYC’s Balthazar that sport an “American-French” look with dark woods, subway tiles, and vintage artwork.

Dolcezza’s space will get a renovation by architecture firm //3877 and a design makeover by Knead, complete with an expanded patio to grow the total seat count to 100.

Along with more outdoor seating, other pandemic-era touches will come into play. The bakery, espresso and bubbly bar, and to-go areas will share real estate around a V-shaped counter. A hybrid service model calls for to-go or sit-down options, with QR code-enabled menus on each table.

To encourage its 300-plus employees to get vaccinated, Knead is offering four hours of paid leave (for tipped or hourly workers) or a bonus vacation day for salaried employees to get their shots. Between guests’ perception that it’s safe to be served and revenue protection from not having to close due to internal outbreaks, “it’s good for everything — it checks all the boxes,” Reginbogin says.