Chef Kwame Onwuachi gained quite the fan base during his affable turn on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and by orchestrating pop-ups before the opening of his debut restaurant, The Shaw Bijou. That restaurant wasn’t long for this world, closing less than three months after its splashy 2016 opening — but the young Onwuachi has resurfaced as the chef of Kith and Kin, an ambitious and chic waterfront restaurant that opened last week inside the InterContinental hotel at The Wharf. We got the chance to preview the space and food before it opened, and here are our takeaways:
Taking it down a notch
Onwuachi leaned heavily on his compelling life story and experiences when crafting the precious, pricey tasting menu at The Shaw Bijou, and that’s something he’ll do at Kith and Kin, as well. But rather than going ultra high-end and abstract, the chef with Nigerian, Caribbean and Creole roots now takes greater inspiration from the home cooking of his youth, his heritage and his travels. That’s not to say the food isn’t fancy and beautifully plated — this is a luxury hotel restaurant, after all. But this time around, the dishes here are not so far removed from those Onwuachi aims to honor with his cooking. There’s more soul than fanfare, and dishes like jollof rice and goat roti look refined but taste like comfort. Another must-try dish is the seafood plateau, a collection of six hot and cold options like king crab curry, tuna kitfo and salmon belly escovitch for a reasonable $39.
Your new power-breakfast spot
Kith and Kin has already kicked off breakfast, lunch and dinner services, with brunch and happy hour to follow. Since Washingtonians love a breakfast meeting, we suspect this bright waterfront spot will be filled with early-bird dealmakers who might stick with the basics — pancakes, waffles or eggs with hash browns and breakfast meat — or embrace the spirit of the chef with dishes like a crab benedict that incorporates the curried crab from the dinner menu; an omelet stuffed with ham, Swiss and callaloo (a leafy green popular in the Caribbean); or smoked salmon with Ethiopian berbere spice and injera.
Mercifully, it’s not a whiskey bar
Not every bar needs to be a whiskey bar — there, we said it — and lead bartender Zachary Hoffman concluded that rum would, in fact, best suit Onwuachi’s Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Here, the cocktails feature ingredients that change as you drink, infused spirits and mixers, and pretty garnishes of dehydrated starfruit slices. And don’t be surprised if the bartender spritzes your cocktail with a perfume atomizer filled with some tasty essence. You’ll find cocktails like the Caribbean Mule (a whopping $17, by the way), spiked with lemongrass-infused Belvedere, ginger beer, passion fruit and hibiscus, and the Jost Van Dyke, ($15), a blend of Bacardi Limon, Velvet falernum, Aperol, rooibos tea, lime and ginger that changes as the mango sorbet melts. Rye lovers will take comfort in the Papa Bois, a mix of Bulleit Rye, Pyrat XO Rum, coconut water and pineapple shrub flavored with pimento bitters. One thing to note is that the cocktails skew sweet.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you walk into the 96-seat restaurant is a thought-provoking mural painted by local artist Meg Biram that channels Keith Haring. Between the black-and-white strokes are quotes from people that inspire Onwuachi — from celebrity chef Thomas Keller to his own mother, Jewel Robinson. Other cool eye candy to look out for includes custom-made punch bowls on the bar that are made of glass draped over driftwood; a wine wall that showcases 300 bottles of vino; little loungey enclaves that look perfect for a tête-à-tête. Then, of course, there are those gorgeous water views if you’re there during daylight; and on warmer days, the windows up front open toward the water.
Kith and Kin is located at 801 Wharf St. SW; 202-878-8600