[Update: Restaurant Nora has closed.]
The D.C. restaurant scene today is crowded with chefs that many people--inside and outside the city--will recognize by name. People like Mike Isabella, Aaron Silverman, Marjorie Meek-Bradley (currently on Top Chef!) and, of course, José Andrés have elevated the profile of our local cuisine and let the masses know we've come a long away from the K Street steakhouse.
But before there were plans for galleria food courts, tapas derived from various international cuisines and 2-hour waits on 8th Street SE there was Nora Pouillon, an Austrian transplant to the U.S. She opened Restaurant Nora in 1979 with a focus on local, organic and seasonal ingredients. These are commonplace terms in restaurants today, but in 1979, they must have been a revelation. According to the restaurant's website, in 1999, Restaurant Nora become the first certified organic restaurant in the United States--even today, there are just a handful of such establishments.
Tucked away in a non-commercial corner of Dupont Circle a couple blocks off Connecticut Avenue, Nora's look is pleasantly simple and old school. Although surely the interior has been redone since 1979, the restaurant has a decidedly "retro" feel, as it lacks a lot of the design touches so common in new restaurants. I actually rather liked this, as I thought the simpler decor made for a cozier experience. And, as the son of a quilter, I enjoyed the wall quilts that comprise the primary decor throughout the restaurant.
|Manhattan and bread|
|Hearts of palm salad|
Overall, we enjoyed our dinner at Nora, certainly one of the most influential and long-lasting dining institutions in D.C. A word of caution though: be prepared for the bill. The prices, while not outrageous, were a bit higher than we expected for what we had. Presumably, that's the premium you pay for Pouillon's fastidious sourcing. The menu states that over 95 percent of its ingredients are supplied by "certified organic and biodynamic growers and producers." If that's very important to you, you probably don't mind paying for it. If it's not, you may wonder whether Nora's $30 to $42 entrees are really worth the organic surcharge. Still, I'm glad to have had the chance to sample the food at one of the pioneering establishments of D.C.'s increasingly well regarded restaurant scene.
Restaurant Nora, 2132 Florida Avenue NW (at the corner of R Street, 2 blocks west of Connecticut Avenue), Washington, D.C. (Dupont Circle). (202) 462-5143. Reservations: Open Table.