Gordon Ramsay gets half straight from his Fish & Chips at the Wharf
Young Joy from Seven Reasons in Chevy Chase, Maryland marries the two ideas. The name pays homage to the innovative Latin American restaurant, Seven Reasons, which introduced Venezuelan chef Enrique Limardo to the district through Baltimore. At the same time, the newcomer’s menu features a few dishes meant to fill seats, none more jaw-dropping than the aptly named “Colossal” short rib sandwich.
His mere arrival stops the conversation. Two pounds of short ribs encased in a seemingly ciabatta bun, stabbed in the center with a knife, has that effect on a table. Open wide, like a python, if you treat it like a full-sized sandwich, which it certainly isn’t, starting with its $65 price tag. Before being wrapped in ciabatta covered in plantain butter, the beef is cured for a day and cooked until succulent in a bain-marie (sous-vide) for 16 hours. Black plastic gloves accompany the show, conveniences that allow recipients to tackle the dish, served with a rich veal demi-glace, any way they like with minimal mess — at least on themselves. (The two-fisted sandwich can easily feed three or four, though executive chef Jose Ignacio Useche says he’s seen individuals send the whole enchilada, so to speak.) Even if you decide to use a knife, the substantial topping of smoked cheddar cheese, pickled onions, and fried shallots rushes out homemade bread, creating a debris field. on the plate. But such an ecstatic diet!
Precisely the point: “People are having fun,” says Useche, 28, also executive chef at Seven Reasons. Useche, nicknamed “Nacho”, says the menu is a collaboration between him and Limardo, whom he has been cooking with since 2014.
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No matter where you plan to travel on the menu, start with a plate of tequeños. Venezuela’s popular cheese sticks do the job of bread baskets (increasingly hard to find) and make excellent companions for Joy’s distinguished cocktails. Buttered and flaky, the soft sticks come with melted centers of chihuahua cheese, whose pleasant saltiness compares to the cottage cheese used in the homeland of chefs, Useche says.
The most luxurious soup in town might be Joy’s hot vichyssoise. You taste the expected potatoes and cream, but also mashed cauliflower and a whisper of truffle oil, in every spoonful. Soup is one of those dishes that goes around the table, much to the chagrin of whoever ordered the indulgence. Finished with rosemary oil and served with veils of garlicky yucca, the bowl is invariably returned with little evidence of what originally filled it.
Seared Hokkaido scallops, lightly crusted with parmesan and cassava crumbs, disappear at a similar speed. Gathered as a trio on a puddle of guajillo oil and presented on a beautiful shell atop a skillet of small stones, the first course looks and tastes like a gift from Neptune.
A rice-stuffed tomato looks more intimate than tall. But the kitchen turns the familiar into something whimsical by stuffing peeled, roasted fruit with mojo-tinged grains of green tomato and packing in intense heat. A lacy fried egg tops the tomato, which sits atop a trio of sauces, a shade of shishito, white squiggles of feta and sour cream, and red dots combining tomato and cherry. Too? Too fun, maybe.
Eating here reveals that Joy is a chip off the block from Limardo’s restaurant collection, a brand that embraces Immigrant Food and Imperfecto. The ties that unite include service with a smile enlightened by the knowledge of each dish; drinks as smart as what appears on a plate; and busy but never boring combinations.
“Passion Over Perfection” mixes tequila, passion fruit juice, lime and (yeow!) arbol pepper in a fancy glass from every angle. A sprig of rosemary, lit at the table, makes a lively and fragrant garnish. Many places offer burrata. This is the only restaurant I’ve been to that tops it off with a shredded, cured and fried shredded flank steak crimp and fills it with cream of corn, a discovery made when the fork hits the heart. A tender, melt-in-the-mouth rack of trout mounted on quinoa — part chewy, part fried — sits atop a tuft of almond ranch dressing surrounded by a clear, green-gold oil coaxed with sea bean and rosemary. A fish of another color is sublime.
The window-wrapped frame is as uplifting as the food. Masks animate a wall near the bar which, in the tones of the original Seven Reasons, takes on the appearance of a jungle thanks to the airy greens. Yards of fiesta-colored fringe hang from the ceiling, and I love the abundance of cozy, softly lit cabins. The waiters are dressed in fancy jackets that could serve as paintings – mobile art.
“There are no wrong choices,” a waiter told me one evening. In reality, not everything brings joy to Joy. The night I tried it, the marinara fettuccine was a waste of good calamari and shrimp, their flavors drowned out by the salt in the sauce. Another entree, grilled and baked chicken, overstayed its welcome in the heat. The saving grace was its bomba rice bed swirled with sofrito, charred corn and other lip smacking. While I’m here, how about some cheaper wines?
Joy is redeemed with dessert, especially the almond soft drink. Made with almond milk and dressed in chocolate pearls and caramelized sprinkles, the confection comes in a waffle cone in a gold stand. Ask for “several reasons”. Sweeter still is the news that the owners plan to open another branch of the restaurant in Crystal City next year.
The menu includes several commands – “Have fun, go crazy, be sexy, enjoy” – which the restaurant makes easy to follow. A welcome new presence in her neighborhood, Joy is pretty much what she says.
5471 Wisconsin Ave, Chevy Chase, Maryland 202-417-8968. joybysevenreasons.com. Open for indoor dining For dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; for brunch from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (Coming this month, owners say: takeout and al fresco dining.) Price: Dinner entrees $15-$29, entrees $28-$130 (for a $38 tomahawk steak ounces). Sound control: 77 decibels/must speak in a high voice. Accessibility: no barriers to entry, ramp to dining area, ADA compliant washrooms. Pandemic Protocols: Staff are not required to wear masks or be vaccinated.