A fantastical dinner awaits at the Grove, a daring new dining oasis where a Spanish-born chef shows off his Vegas credentials across a menu full of meticulously plated Mediterranean dishes. Alexandria-based Common Plate Hospitality (Mason Social, Urbano, Augie’s Mussel House) steps out of its casual comfort zone with tonight’s opening of a highly ambitious restaurant for Potomac, Maryland.
Nestled in the Cabin John Village shopping center, the Grove’s nightly menu showcases flavors and techniques synonymous with regions of coastal Spain, Italy, and Greece (7747 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac, Maryland). Its huge fine-dining hire is executive chef Jose Lopez-Picazo, whose former West Coast workplace — the Bellagio’s French-Spanish showpiece Picasso — earned two Michelin stars and the James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant under his watch. More recently, he helped spearhead the opening of Fabio Trabocchi’s Spanish stunner Del Mar on the Southwest Waterfront.
Well-versed in the art of everything from seafood preparation to sous-vide, the graduate of the Madrid Cooking Institute flexes his gastronomic muscles to the max at the Grove. His tuna tartare, a rectangular slab of avocado cream, nori, toasted sesame seed, Osetra caviar, and Mediterranean soy sauce, is “a different presentation than anyone doing it.” Red beet gel makes an appearance in beef tartare and pintxo built with Iberico black sausage and quail egg. Vibrantly hued, laser-cut crackers resembling the restaurant’s logo finish off much of the menu.
“We realized there’s nothing here to cater to a higher-end experience,” Common Plate’s founder Chad Sparrow told Eater this year. “People don’t have to go to D.C. — we can offer that at the Grove.”
Lopez-Picazo plans to rotate through local and seasonal ingredients all year, and his opening menu leading into winter celebrates comfort foods like paprika potatoes and sous-vide veal cheeks with caramelized red cabbage, celery root puree, and thyme demi sauce.
Boiled octopus capped off lemon foam is another good way to start. Braised meat atop brioche bread meets up with guanciale and creamy mashed potatoes in the “Unexpected Oxtail” order that lives up to its name.
An Italian breed of cows that predominately dine on corn supply the Buffala burrata, which he smokes and serves with sweet corn cream. “When you taste the milk of this cow and combination of the crema it marries very well,” he says. His sourcing skills are also evident in day boat seared scallops bought from a lauded New York purveyor, paired with artichoke puree and royal trumpet mushrooms. Entrees fit for two include an abundant Catalán fisherman’s stew brimming with monkfish, prawns, lobster, and clams or a whole sea salt-baked dorada — a rare catch akin to branzino.
Look for a la carte dinner to start (5 p.m. to 10 p.m.), with a tasting menu joining the mix in about a month and a half. At the harmoniously designed project, the dreamy decor intentionally matches the artistry of the dishes. The elegant restaurant, predominately filled with corals, pinks, and white tones, features a “similar color [scheme] with the food we do,” says Lopez-Picazo.
Lopez-Picazo’s stateside cooking career kicked off in the late 1990s under José Andrés in D.C. and flourished across the U.S. in other large Vegas roles like Aria’s Julian Serrano Tapas.
“Bringing him in was a huge feather in our cap. He has the potential to win a Michelin star here,” Sparrow told Eater this year.
For now, the kitchen is focused on communicating the Grove’s story to guests.
“My goal is to make people understand what we do and surprise them with my food,” says Lopez-Picazo, whose sous chef worked under chef Robert Wiedmaier.
An 18-foot wine rack stocked with all sorts of Mediterranean varietals “lights up like a Christmas tree,” says sommelier Julia Ollar. An opening list of 45 bottles is expected to double down the line.
“Like any beverage program, we are not the stars of the show — we are here to compliment and support the [food]. They’ve raised the bar pretty high for us,” says beverage director Dan Marlowe, who came up with the creative cocktail list after Lopez-Picazo handed over his menu.
The bar leans heavily on Mediterranean classics like gin, amaro, port, and sherries. “But there’s so much you can do with that,” adds Marlowe.
A sangria shooter served in a cordial glass is quick-sipper sure to please, comprised of a savory wine reduction, orange liqueur, brandy, gin, and gelatin foam. Instead of one everyday espresso martini, there’s two next-level kinds: one with grappa-based liqueur and root spice syrup and another with honey and tequila reposado.
Common Plate’s second act in Maryland is its anticipated Heights Food Hall, slated to open near the Friendship Heights Metro next month.