Chef Enrique Limardo is serious about the number seven at his first D.C. restaurant, Seven Reasons, which welcomes its first customers tonight on 14th Street NW. There’s a seven-layer coconut dessert, and a seven-course chef’s tasting menu is in the works. Even the opening date of April 16 adds up: one plus six equals seven.
“The number seven is one of the strongest in numerology, in religions and cultures,” the Venezuelan-born chef tells Eater. “We also define customers as a seven — the person looking to discover a new experience.”
Staking a claim in D.C. makes Limardo a seven for the same reason. His first stateside project, Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, opened in 2014 and caught the eye of Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema, who awarded it a rare three-and-a-half stars. Limardo’s new business partner, Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger, was also paying attention. The Argentinian consultant-turned-restaurateur used to make the frequent trek to Baltimore with his wife for Limardo’s cooking.
After drinking rum one night at 2 a.m. together, Vázquez-Ger finally posed the question: “Why are you here? It’s a great city, but it’s not D.C. You need to bring your food to D.C.”
At Seven Reasons, Limardo will present his menu in seven sections: snacks, small plates, medium plates, large plates, desserts, cocktails, and wines, aiming to unite flavors from Limardo’s native Venezuela with those from Peru, the Amazon rainforest, and the Caribbean.
For example, there will be a skate ravioli in plantain dough with cheese foam and squid ink sauce. A lobster ceviche will incorporate trout caviar and purple sweet potato. A pink guava dessert repurposes the fruit into a dulce de leche foam with raspberry croutons.
“The Amazon is really a massive supermarket to the world in terms of new products, flavors, and techniques,” Limardo says.
Cacao from the jungle will be shipped in raw pulp form, which he’ll whip into a marmalade. Flavorful (and illegal) tonka beans will be used to infuse a flavor akin to vanilla and cinnamon into fish stock, desserts, and cocktails.
Fruits, vegetables, and spices from the Amazon also make their way into cocktails. Josue Gonzalez, who most recently stirred drinks at Bresca and St. Anselm, pulls from his Cuban roots as well as his experience at top cocktail bars in Miami. His drinks go heavy on rum, pisco, shochu, and mezcal. A carved-out coconut, dehydrated for five days, will act as a vessel for the cachaça and sake-filled Tranquilo y Tropical.
When Limardo and Vázquez-Ger were first scouting locations for the restaurant, they sought somewhere off the beaten path, maybe along upper 11th Street NW near Columbia Heights.
“We wanted people to hear about it and look for it,” Vázquez-Ger says.
But when the Piola space on 14th Street NW went up for grabs on Craig’s List, it was too good of a deal to pass up. They completed the turnaround quickly, in just three and a half months, proving their landlord’s six-month guesstimate wrong. Patrons will have a hard time remembering the 90-seat space’s former life as Italian chain Piola.
A complete redesign, in collaboration with Miami-based Valentina Story, kept the exposed ceiling and brick walls intact but altered pretty much everything else. Comfy brown leather chairs live along the top balcony, encouraging diners to linger while overlooking 14th Street NW below.
The new owners knocked down the kitchen’s wall to put the cooking show on display. Two tables saddled up next to the kitchen will be used for chef’s tastings for (naturally) seven-course dinners. Limardo plans to initially pull from his opening menu, then play with “crazy experimental things” across 14 or 21 courses.
Limardo has only been a D.C. resident for a month, but he’s already made fast chef friends with David Deshaies (Unconventional Diner) and Chris Morgan at Maydan a few blocks away. His whole team from Alma came with him to Seven Reasons, but no dishes will be repeated at their new restaurant.
“I liked Baltimore, but D.C. has the appeal to be more sophisticated and not in an exclusive way,” Limardo says. “The food scene is growing and is great right now. I want to be a part of it.”
Seven Reasons is on Resy and plans to operate Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until midnight. Brunch is about a month out.
The space will grow this spring with the addition of a patio area for 30, outfitted with lounge seating and a full bar.