Going to Emilie’s as a party of two will only lead to regrets—first, the regret that you can’t order more from the menu or the roving carts conveying pickled things and desserts around the dining room. And then there’s the regret that comes when you have already over-ordered and eaten too much, and a giant bowl of fried chicken with thick, buttery slices of Texas toast lands in front of you.
But how can you skip the fried chicken when chef Kevin Tien, the owner of Hot Lola’s in Ballston Quarter and the former owner of the now-closed Himitsu in DC, has made a name for himself with delicious takes on the Southern favorite? The James Beard finalist’s latest version pulls in another American staple, ranch dressing, which inspires the bird’s brine and arrives as a cool, creamy accompaniment along with house-made hot sauce and bread-and-butter pickles.
Even without a parade of appetizers, this decadent entree could feed four. But that doesn’t mean you should skip an order of outstanding focaccia served with a choice of spreads like Szechuan honey butter and mascarpone with pepper jelly. And when a friendly server shows up rolling a golden cart carrying items like gigante beans stewed with tomatoes, aromatics and chorizo, or a small dish of marinated eggplant that she describes as tasting like vegetarian anchovies, the whimsy of it all feels impossible to resist. Give in.
Echoes of Himitsu, where Tien was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2018, carry through to his new home. There were always interesting raw fish dishes, such as hamachi with oranges and yuzu-infused tobiko or kampachi with kimchi apples. Here, the chef dresses up buttery raw scallops with candied okra, fried curry leaves and colorful bubbles of chili oil floating in broth. A roasted sweet potato perched atop pumpkin-seed mole, sprinkled with cotija cheese and brightened with lime evokes a squash elote he created at the tiny Petworth restaurant that his former partner has transformed into Pom Pom.
The bold flavors and colors found on the plate—including a sundae with sizzle thanks to the addition of mala peppercorns—are in stark contrast to the chic yet understated decor that includes black-swirled white marble slabs, pops of soft green, white and mottled gray subway tiles and industrial accents like exposed brick and polished cement floors. The 110-seat dining room is also strikingly different from Himitsu’s charmingly cozy space, which seated 24.
Thankfully, Tien knows how to bring the cozy when it comes to his cooking.
The stylish, sleek space—filled with contrasting materials like shiny marble and exposed brick—allows equally stylish diners to choose between a table, the kitchen counter or lounge seating.
Focaccia with mascarpone and pepper jelly; gigante beans with chorizo; sweet potato with pumpkin-seed mole; ranch fried chicken. // Emilie’s DC: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC
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