Image: Cooking is front and center at Albi
Last Updated: February 2023
Current Status: They are open Tuesday through Saturday for sit-downs service. They have returned to a la carte dining, though there still is a chef’s table option.
Overview: We started this site to highlight the gastronomic renaissance that D.C. was experiencing and help diners sort through so many good options. Sometimes a place is so good it doesn’t take any assistance to sort out, and all that is left to say is: Go! That is the case with Albi, where Chef/Owner Michael Rafidi is putting out creative, thought-provoking, compelling, and downright tasty food. If you need more convincing, then read on.
The food is rooted in the cuisine of the Levant. It draws upon the traditional recipes of his Palestinian family, but also incorporates local sourcing and other influences Rafidi picked up along the way. The centrality of the cooking is clear by the large kitchen visible as you enter with an open flame spiking up. It starts with pita made from an in-house recipe (and also used for the sandwiches at Yellow). Even dishes that sound plain can be a surprise, like carrots that employ a combination of sweetness and Sumac. Fruits and vegetables are used to offset the smoky and spicy – a bowl of pickles and lettuce to go with the Kibbeh Naya or fresh apples in a winter salad. But such contrasts merely scratch the surface of the interplay between textures and heat, or flavors bright and deep, like the dumplings with duck meat. Similar to the ballyhooed Lasagna at L’Ardente or the beloved potato dish at Anju, Rafidi used a stacked row of potato slices to get seasoning and crispy edges in every bite. Albi embodies and demonstrates the craft of cooking.
Desserts are currently limited to one composed dish of brown butter knafeh, plus options for small bites and soft serve. A self-imposed requirement for any serious restaurant is a special list of cocktails, and Albi meets that requirement incorporating ingredients like orange blossom, date molasses, Arak, and Turkish coffee into the cocktails. They are also building out the list of no-alcohol cocktails.
The wine list is impressive and a reflection of the team that built it. A deep list of bottles from Europe, West Coast, Lebanon and a few other random spots have been selected to highlight the quality that can be found in the region and how the flavors coming out of the kitchen can be paired in different ways. The interesting variety carries over to the by-the-glass list.
In parts or as a whole, Albi is excellent. That is not unexpected. Though Rafidi grew up in Maryland, he worked around the country (notably at RN74 in San Francisco) and even did a stint at Noma. When he came back to D.C., he was responsible for launching the better kitchens in the defunct Isabella group, including Arroz and Requin. Albi sits in a large, corner, glass-encased space in the Navy Yard. Just as it opened, Covid hit with full force. They had to adapt, move to take-out, return to tentative indoor dining and then full service. They managed to get through to the other side, much to our – and many others – joy.
Cuisine: Eastern Mediterranean
Neighborhood: Navy Yard
Address: 1346 4th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Washington Post: Tom was positive, but the review came out on March 13, 2020, blunting its impact.
Washingtonian: #2 on 2023 Top 100. Preview
DonRockwell.com: A handful of uniformly positive posts, including from one of the forum’s toughest member.
Lori (Been There Eaten That) – quick take post-shutdown.
Eater: Gabe Hiatt got Albi on the list for best new restaurant in the country.
Esquire: Jeff Gordinier’s 2020 best new restaurant list (subscription required)
Michelin: Listed, but no stars. More a reflection on the poor job Michelin does with D.C. than on Albi.