To understand chef Enrique Limardo’s vision for Imperfecto, his new fine dining restaurant in the West End, order the tuna tartare. Bluefin tuna is served with toum, but instead of the traditional whipped garlic condiment, Limardo offers a version that folds in Mexican guajillo chiles and tomatillos.
“It is layers from the Mediterranean, layers from the Middle East, and layers from South America,” explains the Venezuelan-born chef, who has received national acclaim for artsy plating and modernist techniques at pan-Latin Seven Reasons on 14th Street NW.
Imperfecto opens Friday, March 19, at 1124 23rd Street NW. The restaurant draws from Limardo’s travels through Latin America, the six years he spent cooking in Europe, and his experience as a private chef in the Middle East. He says he puts all that globetrotting through his own creative filter. “My style is very fusion,” he says.
“[Many] of the things that we know in Latin America, at some point in time it came from the Mediterranean,” says Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger, Limardo’s business partner and an Argentine expat. “So what we’re trying to do now is the reverse.”
Vázquez-Ger and Limardo plowed ahead with expansion to their restaurant group during the pandemic. The philosophy behind Imperfecto is a little abstract. The name represents the impossible goal of attaining perfection. Limardo says the Mediterranean-meets-Latin American restaurant is “a completely different animal,” from Seven Reasons. “It’s another species,” he says.
One thing the two restaurants share is the chef’s obsession with complex, innovative cooking methods. A braised lamb terrine starts out with organic, grass-fed lamb that gets brined for 24 hours and roasted for 17 to 18 hours. Nearly every fish dish begins with the same meticulous breakdown of a sustainably sourced product.
“We receive it, we bury it in ice, then we clean the scales, then we wrap it in kombu seaweed for 22 hours, then we clean it, then we pass through ice water salted for about an hour, then we drain that, clean that, wrap it in cheesecloth and then we air dry it in the walk-in cooler for another 24 hours,” Limardo says. “We will never get that fishy taste from the flesh of the fish, and it’s going to be better texture when you cook it.”
The 98-seat restaurant will offer an a la carte menu featuring dishes like ricotta ravioli, chicken and mole, grilled Portuguese octopus, and a pan-seared John Dory filet. “Every three months, probably 25 percent of the menu will change,” the chef says.
Expect a price point of $80 to $90 per diner for an a la carte meal, while Imperfecto’s 11-course tasting menu starts at $140 (tipping at the restaurant is optional, because a mandatory service fee is included). Diners at the chef’s table will try a fluke tartare accented with lemongrass dashi, corn silk, avocado, and edible flowers. An amberjack crudo includes red leche de tigre, black garlic powder, cilantro flowers, and kampachi chicharrón. The prix fixe also has savory small plates like scallops with sweet plantains and desserts like a brioche with camembert mousse, fresh kumquat, and truffle honey. A wine pairing with the tasting menu will feature all sparkling wines.
The communal table will hold six seats to start, and 12 “once everyone is vaccinated and ready to share a table with people they don’t know,” Vázquez-Ger says.
The restaurant is divided into three areas: the bar, the main dining room, and a chef’s table. A private dining room and outdoor dining will arrive later in the spring.
“We didn’t change the design much because of Covid,” Vázquez-Ger says. “We always have a very positive [mindset] that this is going to be over, and we try to keep it that way.” The look of the space, designed by Greek-Swedish firm OOAK Architects, includes Mediterranean blue accents amid stark white walls and materials like Greek and Italian marble, brass, terra-cotta, and honey-toned wood.
If building out a restaurant during a pandemic isn’t tough already, things got even more complicated because Imperfecto is located in the Westlight Condominiums, where Vice President Kamala Harris used to live before she was sworn in to office.
“For the last months of construction, it was quite difficult to get in. To park in the parking lot was going through three security points,” Vázquez-Ger says. Maybe the VP will return to the building as a diner. “She’ll get an invite,” he says, “probably when we open the private dining.”
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- Imperfecto [Official Site]