In the past six months, the seemingly unstoppable Todd and Ellen Gray have quickly expanded from one restaurant to an empire of three: Muse, Watershed and their iconic downtown flagship, Equinox.
In order for Todd to shuttle among the three without compromising the original, the chef has hired Equinox's first executive chef to take Gray's place. Karen Nicolas, a veteran of Manhattan's Gramercy Tavern and Dry Creek Kitchen in Sonoma, arrived last month and quickly implemented her own style.
Beet salads abound on area menus, but Nicolas' citrus-marinated roots ($13) set a new standard. The chef drapes them in fall trappings, including pomegranate seeds, olive slivers and sprigs of mâche. She scatters toasted pistachio across the plate and tops the salad with cakey ricotta beignets.
A fan of grains, not tubers, Nicolas uses them creatively. Coffee-rubbed lamb loin ($32) is served over farro blended with roasted Virginia chestnuts and rosemary. Broccolini and sherry-based bacon vinaigrette add a touch of bitterness and acid.
Nicolas shares Gray's commitment to local products. Grouper ($33)--served in autumnal splendor with buttery shavings of prosciutto and compressed Honeycrisp apples--is fished on the Eastern Shore.
Equinox, 818 Connecticut Ave. NW (at I St.); 202-331-8118 or equinoxrestaurant.com