Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj has transformed the legendary Restaurant Nora near Dupont Circle into Annabelle — a supremely comfortable, cosmopolitan and chic dining milieu serving fresh, flavor-packed, locally-inspired cuisine, set to open Jan. 17.
Its mid-century modern dining rooms welcome conversation with sound-absorbing décor. An atrium garden room, dripping with vines, offers a perfect setting for an intimate dinner. The bower-like space can also be reserved for small parties. For larger groups, there is intriguing art gallery space upstairs. The welcoming bar at the entrance is a likely gathering spot for Kalorama at 2132 Florida Ave. NW.
James Beard Award winner Frank Ruta, who served Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush as White House chef, once raised chickens in his Arlington backyard. He wanted to learn how a really fresh egg looks and tastes. At Annabelle, he mines long-established relationships with growers and makers of artisan foods for menus reflecting this sensibility.
They offer a terrific range of options — from the celebratory (caviar service, truffled consommé, lobster Americaine) to the hearty (meats aged in the custom-built cellar room) to a vegetable-focused tasting menu (with seafood and meat add-on options).
Ruta’s fans will be happy to learn that his hearty soups, clever salads and roast chicken are being served. And his moderately priced bar menu — with a decadent version of his signature burger, a chicken pot pie and the likes of crudities, onion rings and steak fries — means they can dine informally (and frequently), as at his much-missed Palena restaurant.
The dessert menu is compelling, with classics like baba au rhum and Sacher torte sparked with interesting fruit and ice cream flavors. A ginger-spiked, passion fruit and pineapple pavlova and a goat-cheese cake with caramelized buckwheat puff pastry offer a modern twist to these preparations. There’s a worldly wine list, along with classic and modern cocktails.
Bajaj chose the distinctive artwork displayed throughout the restaurant and worked closely with restaurant designer Martin Vahtra of Projects Design Associates of New York on the reputed $6-million renovation of this challenging space. For her pioneering organic restaurant, Nora Pouillon had combined a grocery store with living quarters on the second floor and barrack-like sleeping quarters for workmen.
Pouillon has seen the new look and loves it, saying: “Ashok did a wonderful job transforming the restaurant into a new exciting place. I think the mid-century décor works too. And he has Frank Ruta to man the kitchen. Perfect!”