By the time you read this Ventana may already be abierta. As of press time, Michael Fitzgerald was planning to reopen his modern Mexican restaurant in the alley on Fifth Street SE as early as today in its newly expanded iteration as a full restaurant and dining room serving a more diverse menu that head chef Sebastien Jack describes as “French/Latin with Japanese flair.” Fitzgerald first opened Ventana as a small plate and fancy drink lounge that was big on style and natural light but small on space in spring 2008. He says his plan was always to grow it into a full-scale restaurant when and if he could. Despite a sluggish local economy, Fitzgerald jumped on the chance to take over the adjacent tenancy when Migration: A Gallery vacated it earlier this summer. Having knocked out the wall between the two spaces, Ventana has grown to over 2,000 square feet from about 850. Not only that, the menu has upgraded to a lengthy listing of charcutero, queso, pequeno (small plates), medio (medium or half-sized plates), grande (large plates) and postre (the sweet stuff), plus a bar and late night menu, a chef’s table menu of 10 courses offered on Friday and Saturday nights with advance reservations for $95, and a Sunday brunch.
High, low, medium, wavy: Head chef Sebastien Jack throws it all into the mix at the reopened Ventana.
Since we first told you about the expansion plans in June, Fitzgerald has adjusted the menu slightly in recognition of the current recession or slow recovery or whatever finicky financial straits we’re still in. He’s added that medio section of the menu to give folks a chance to sample upscale fare in smaller portions without going all out for double-digit entrées, and he’s lowered his highest tab for grande plates to under $30.
“We’ve amped up the food but kept the price point reasonable,” says Fitzgerald, who expects that greater volume also will allow him to lower the prices on Ventana’s signature fancy cocktails.
Ventana’s new menu from Jack—a native of Alsace trained in both pastry and culinary arts and a 2001 finalist in the U.S. Pastry Competition—is hard to pin down by type. It’s obvious Jack’s having fun playing with approachable Latin spins on classic French dishes and a mix of high and low, with items such as Chipotle & Duck Terrine for $8 and Deconstructed Lobster and Chorizo Burrito for $27. The Franco-Latino-Nihongo fusion comes through in dishes such as Tuna “Taco” with wasabi sour cream and daikon radish salsa and Ventana’s Banana Leaf Tamale with sweetbreads, seared foie gras and vanilla/papaya compota for $28 (the most expensive dish). Sous Chef Sophie Keady-Molanphy is assisting Jack in turning out the ambitious fare.
As with the original Ventana, this bigger, better one is high on design. With the assistance of Heartwood builders, Architect Stephen von Storch has extended the original bar across to a new dining area and created an airy yet unique space. Despite the large windows, an open floor plan and use of reflective materials such as etched aluminum throughout the space, there still are areas tucked away and private.
“I like that when you stand at one end of the bar you can’t see the entire restaurant,” says Fitzgerald.
Ventana’s design highlight is the extensive metalwork by local artisan Steve Brownell. Part decorative, part functional, the emphasis on a mix of materials—some sleek, some rough-edged and tarnished—creates a mash-up of industrial and rustic elements that appropriately mimics the indefinable tenor of the new Ventana itself. Small plate or big plate? French or Latin? It seems to be whatever mood you’re in.