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First Look: Little Blackbird Wine Bar Opens in Cleveland Park With a Fresh Take on an Old Neighborhood Spot

For D.C. restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, last week’s opening of Little Blackbird Wine Bar brings him full circle. The Cleveland Park space was most recently his Indian casual spot Bindaas and before that it housed Bajaj’s Bardeo wine bar which closed in 2016. “It was time for a change here in Cleveland Park, to revive a wine bar concept,” says Bajaj, adding that this was a refreshing option for the area.“We wanted to bring back a gathering place that serves the neighborhood.”

Bajaj was inspired by the fact that the French word for blackbird is merle, which is where the merlot grape got its name. There’s much more than merlot on offer, however. Visitors will be able to taste their way through boutique selections from South America, France, Italy, and the United States. Vineyards around the Mediterranean and its neighbors will also be represented, including Lebanon, Israel, Greece, and Morocco. Wines will also be from family-owned wineries that make sustainable, organic, biodynamic, and vegan wines.

Customers should expect the selection to evolve. “We are not tied to any specific regions. If we find a good wine anywhere, we are going to bring it in. Our goal is to have an eclectic wine list,” Bajaj says. The space was dreamt up by restaurant designer Martin Vahtra of Projects Design Associates of New York, who Bajaj says wanted to create an atmosphere reminiscent of an intimate Paris wine bar. The moody interior is brightened by a floral wallpaper accent and overhead planters. Seating is made up of blush pink and light green bar stools and dining chairs and gray banquettes. The floors are a herringbone pattern and there’s a white marble bar. A little blackbird light fixture pays homage to the name.

Bajaj tells DCist he wants the experience to feel like a casual and lively wine bar where customers can explore diverse options and have “good food alongside, as a wine bar should.” Executive Chef Ryan Moore, who also helms the kitchen at next door Sababa, will oversee the menu which will be anchored by the kitchen’s large stone oven. Appetizers include roasted halloumi with black olive and tomato, an Icelandic cod escabeche served with crispy rice, chili, and a lime avocado, as well as a tart flambe with bacon lardon, onion, gruyere and garlic labneh.

Entrees include heartier dishes such as branzino roasted with lemon and thyme, lamb loin with fava bean puree and pickled carrots, and a brown butter squash gnocchi. “Just like our wine offerings, we are not married to a specific cuisine and wanted to be creative with global flavors, giving our kitchen team a chance to express themselves,” says Bajaj.

Moore is also offering up a couple of variations of socca, a crispy flatbread popular in Italy and France. It is made with chickpea flour, olive oil and water, one version of the vegan bread is served with olives, tomato, onion and herbs, and a richer version is topped with lobster, carrot, ginger, and mascarpone.

Prices range from $10-18 for appetizers and socca flatbreads, and $22-30 for entrees. Wines by the bottle range from $44-90 and glasses range from $12-$18. A few craft cocktails are also available, priced at $12-16 each, such as Sherry Cocktail #2, made with rye and orange bitters, and a DC Sour crafted with bourbon, lemon, and a red wine float. “Bardeo was a great neighborhood spot, Bindaas helped revive the space, and as the neighborhood continues to evolve, we hope for Little Blackbird to become the next gathering place for our Cleveland Park residents and beyond,” says Bajaj.

Source: DCIST