Image: Duck in all its glory
Last Updated: 6/24/2021
Current Status: Johnny Spero’s special mix of avant-garde and comfort food is primarily available via sit-down, prix-fixe menu. This from their site: “Our dining room will continue with the prix fixe menu. Starting in July we will reopen a portion of the kitchen counter with a slightly longer experience. To allow our guests who don’t want to commit to the full menu, our bar (walk ins only) and patio will open offering an a small la carte menu.” It appears take-out and delivery have discontinued.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: June 2019
Johnny Spero and his team at Reverie are doing some of the most imaginative cooking in the District right now. Along with places like Rose’s Luxury, Bresca, and Tail Up Goat, it is carving out a place for cooking that opens eyes and engages palates. This place is not for everyone. The food is going to be too avant-garde for some. It is not cheap either. Exemplified by a menu item a while ago of Spanish tortilla with sea urchin and caviar for $150. That said, I’ve been four times in less than a year trying to get my head around the place. I enjoyed every visit, often thinking back on dishes that were startling good.
The menu is divided into three sizes of plates that equate to small, medium and extra-large. While there are dishes that sound like entrees and cost like entrees, they come in at less than that size-wise. Unless you are getting one of the large dishes like the steak or the acclaimed duck, be prepared to order at least two dishes per person. The menu changes, but on a recent trip highlights included the scallop dish that was tangy from the buttermilk with dill added for pop. The agnolotti was hand-made with a rich, almost bisque-like, sauce. The Kanpachi used the rich meat from the fish’s collar. It had black pepper mayo, and pineapple sage. It was decadent and delicate at the same time, requiring you to ferret out each piece of flesh. The menu mainstay is the duck dish. It is large and can feed between four and six, depending on the other dishes you get. The accenting flavors of licorice and beet reduction are subtle enough not to overwhelm, but distinct enough to make it unique. One recent stand-out dessert was the chocolate cremeaux topped with sunchoke chips, popped sorghum and chocolate flakes. A hazelnut sauce with smoked olive oil is then poured over the bowl to create an adult version of cereal as the crunch, creamy and milky mix together. The cook who presented it was clearly excited about the dish with every reason to be so.
The wine list is dominated by natural wines. It is not a long list, but there are some good finds. One night it was an Austrian Cabernet/Zweigelt blend. Cocktails are good, but not quite as cutting edge as the food – which might be reassuring. The staff, though friendly and professional, seems stretched at times.
The setting is sleek and romantic. It is located down an alley with an uneven brick pavement (be careful in heels!). The room is large and open, but the ceiling somewhat low, making the conversations echo and bounce around the room leading to a pretty high decibel level on busy nights.
Spero has cooked at some of the most famous names in dining including Noma and Mugaritz in Europe. He did time at Komi and ran the kitchen at minibar. He is attempting to translate those high-end elements to something (slightly) less expensive and more approachable without losing the creativity. If that sounds enticing to you, then I suggest you make a trip down the alley. DC is lucky to have places like this, don’t mess it up.
Other Guidance: The limited menu that features dishes with multiple components means vegetarians will have to hunt and peck, and maybe request some assistance to build a meal. GF diners do better. Dress ranges from table to table. While a coat and tie formality is not out of place it is far from standard with jeans more than appropriate.
DonRockwell.com – Stark differences of opinion.
Lori (Been There Eaten That): “If its action you seek, sit at the counter. It’s a treat to be an eyewitness to Spero and the team as they apply an intense focus to their creations.”