This year has been a busy one for restaurants on Washington Avenue. High-profile newcomers like Velvet Taco, B&B Butchers and Mascalzone have already given diners new choices, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down — consider that Woodrows Heights replacement The Durham House will open Friday.
Amidst all this good news, one restaurant that didn't make it is Beirut Lebanese Restaurant, which came to town with fine credentials thanks to a successful location in Hong Kong but closed in June "for renovations." While that typically means a restaurant is gone for good, Beirut will live on in a new form with a new name: Fig & Wasp Test Kitchen.
After a preview during Sunday Streets, the restaurant will be open Wednesday through Saturday beginning this week.
"With the size of the space we have, which is too much for one concept, we wanted to break it up into different concepts, partner Raul Lorenzana, who brings over 20 years of experience with Boston-based chain Legal Seafood to the restaurant, tells CultureMap. "The fig and wasp have a symbiotic relationship. A fig wasp pollinates the fig, without which, neither would exist."
As the name implies, Fig & Wasp are two symbiotic concepts under one roof. Fig is a Mediterranean restaurant that mixes some of Beirut's recipes with a "test kitchen" aspect that will see a monthly guest chef introduce new dishes from a Mediterranean country. Meanwhile, Wasp is a bar, lounge and event space that will host programming such as a weekly salsa night.
"One of the things I found with Beirut: the food, when the proper chef was cooking it to match the original in Hong Kong, was killer," Lorenzana says.
Towards that end, he's built his kitchen staff around ambitious culinary students who will work with one of Beirut's former chefs to execute the menu. In turn, they'll work with a different guest chef every month who will introduce one kebab, one flatbread and one tapas to the menu.
"They can go authentic, they can transform it, they can make it something brand new and eclectic," Lorenzana says. It just has to be inspired by a Mediterranean country and fit the three formats. "Those are the rules of the kitchen."
First up is Abdellah Sedra, who serves as the executive sous chef at the Hyatt Nort and will introduce three Moroccan dishes in November. In December a yet-to-be-revealed chef will introduce three Spanish dishes.
Lorenzana explains that the program is designed to give sous chefs both a chance to create dishes that wouldn't fit at their normal restaurants and to give them the sort of experience that will one day help them become executive chefs.
"In my experience, 22 years of doing this, some of the best chefs have been sous chefs, not head chefs," he says. "I find that the biggest difference between a sous chef and a head chef is a lack of business knowledge. On a culinary level, there are sous chefs who have been sous chefs 10, 15 years who are awesome."
Trying to be both a bar and a restaurant at the same time will be a tricky balancing act, especially given the experimental nature of Fig & Wasp's culinary program. Still, Fig & Wasp's ability to blend Washington's party past with its culinary future offers intriguing possibilities.