Two years after teasing out blockbuster plans to come to D.C., Manhattan’s legendary French brasserie Pastis is ready to make its fashionably late debut tonight. At the starry new dining addition to the booming Union Market district (1323 4th Street NE), timeless Parisian glamour meets beef Bourguignon and glasses of Bordeaux in a refurbished warehouse space that speaks to the trend-setting legacy of Pastis.
The iconic original opened in 1999, basically a lifetime ago in restaurant years, and the instant A-list celebrity magnet went on to transform the industrial Meatpacking District into a scene over its 15-year run. For its well-received reboot nearby in 2019, London-born founder Keith McNally partnered with fellow hospitality magnate Stephen Starr. The James Beard Award-winning duo recently brought a Pastis to Miami and team up again on the sprawling D.C. edition, which makes three.
“We see a lot of growth here and we love the energy in D.C.,” says Starr, whose growing presence in the Northeast neighborhood includes steakhouse standby St. Anselm and lively Mexican newcomer El Presidente.
Pastis imports a handful of dishes from Starr’s perennially packed Le Diplomate in Logan Circle, though the two French-influenced brands are separate.
“Pastis is the grittier brother to Le Diplomate,” says Starr. “There will be overlap on the menus, but how each dish is prepared and served will be different.”
Like the New York counterpart, rotating specials for each day of the week (like pan-fried dover sole and rabbit pappardelle) are handwritten on vintage mirrors for diners to view. Daily dinner service, Sunday to Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday until 11 p.m., will be soon followed by lunch and brunch.
Many Manhattan menu mainstays make their way down the I-95 corridor, but some debut dishes are reserved just for the nation’s capital. That includes poached beef tongue served with crispy veal and potatoes and wiener schnitzel, a homey plate of breaded veal with Persian cucumbers and potato salad. Familiar Pastis favorites include duck confit and French onion soup gratinee, built with a hearty base locked in a chest under a browned crust of breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Speaking of cheese, two crowd-pleasing sandwiches include the creamy croque-monsieur (gruyere, ham, bechamel, then pan-fried) and gooey croque-madame made even more decadent with a runny egg.
Another star Starr starter is the garlicky, herbaceous, shell-in escargots tucked into cast-iron nests.
A trio of salads are somewhat lighter, though the Lyonnaise does come with bacon lardons and a poached egg. As for entrees, steer towards the beef Bourguignon, duck a l’orange, or the winter-friendly bouillabaisse (seafood stew).
Starr personally pines for the steak haché. “I had it in Paris once and fell in love with the dish. I asked the team if they could recreate their own version of it and it was even better than I remembered, so I knew I had to have it on the menu,” he says.
Pastis leans in on aperitifs across the cocktail list, showcasing Parisian-style classics and popular spritzes like the San Tropez made with St-Germain, Cap Corse Blanc, and sparkling wine.
“Of course, we have some great martinis we’re proud of,” says Starr. See: the Le Dirty Martini and a perky Cafe Pastis (Tito’s, Borghetti coffee liqueur, averna, hazelnut, espresso).
The wine list shows love for benchmark producers across France, as well as selections from trailblazing winemakers poured by the glass and carafe. On tap, there’s also two French beers, a local pale ale, a cider from Normandy, and a Belgian dark ale. There’s also a few N/A offerings.
The same designers behind Pastis’s luxe looks in New York and Miami also crafted the D.C. spot, going heavy on golden orbs of light and distressed, hand-painted mirrors. Other Pastis calling cards include curved burgundy banquettes ringing the walls, bright white subway tiles, lots of marble, mosaic flooring, and empty bottles of wine that hug the ceiling.
“Part of Pastis’s charm in New York was that it stood out from its gritty, industrial backdrop; it was a warm and unforgettably welcoming place to see and be seen,” says Starr. “It’s no mistake that Pastis in D.C. is also situated in a former warehouse.”
Pastis opens without Top Chef alum Marjorie Meek-Bradley, its longtime executive chef who brought Brooklyn’s popular tavern St. Anselm to D.C. with Starr and partner Joe Carroll back in 2018. After rising the ranks to the role of Starr’s corporate chef, NY-based Meek-Bradley parted ways with the company last fall to join Core — a swanky, members-only club with a hot new Fifth Avenue address.
Starr isn’t done in D.C. yet; his team is planning an Italian restaurant and market in Georgetown’s old Dean & DeLuca with Los Angeles-based chef Nancy Silverton. And McNally (the Odeon, Balthazar) will quickly double down on Union Market with the anticipated arrival of Minetta Tavern, his burger-fueled power spot from NY.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report