By: Carlo Massimo
One of the hardest parts of running a restaurant is striking the right balances: cost to price, lunch menu to dinner menu, tradition to innovation. Designing a kid-friendly restaurant with the kind of sophisticated menu that you see on 14th Street is nearly impossible. But that’s exactly what’s happening at Little Beast (5600 Connecticut Ave. NW), Aaron Gordon’s new bistro-pizzeria-bakery in Chevy Chase, which opened this month.
It’s not a surprising move from Gordon, a former ANC commissioner and the man behind Bakers & Baristas, the Red Velvet Cupcakery, and Drafting Table. He summoned an all-star staff for the venture: executive chef Nicholas Martino of Tredici Enoteca; sous chef Nick Hall of Gaithersburg’s well-known Quench; pastry chef Naomi Gallego of Le Diplomate, Blue Duck Tavern, and others; general manager Ralph Lee, from Ghibellina and Rare.
The whimsical artwork, including hairy little fantasy animals affectionately called “monsters,” are the work of Kim Köster, a local German-born artist. Like the name of the restaurant, the “monsters” are a tribute to Gordon’s daughters. Moreover, Little Beast has big ambition. A little space by Chevy Chase Circle, seating 74 inside plus more on the terrace, Little Beast plans on hosting everything from story time for kids to Sunday poetry readings.
And the food? The bakery will open later this month. For now, Little Beast is a bistro only. It’s a bar and pizzeria. The pizza comes out of a wood-burning oven, a big tiled affair that serves as the restaurant’s beating heart, and certainly the most interesting thing to look out once the “monsters” start creeping you out. The pizza itself is reasonably sized and priced, and it’s quite good.
The house cocktails are delicious. The beer and wine lists are good but uneven. Of all the good cheap beers in the world, PBR is a bit of a strange choice, particularly for an older, Chevy Chase clientele. The rest of the menu is devoted to “shared plates,” which in this case means appetizers. The smoked duck toast was excellent – or rather the duck, smoked in-house, was excellent, but laid a little thin and drowned in honey. The lentils and eggplant were a surprising winner, beautiful to look at and beautifully balanced. Expect to pay a little more for a shared plate than for a pizza. The chocolate cake, one of Gallego’s specialties, was also excellent.
The house was packed late Friday night. There were mostly older couples and families. The service was brisk and friendly.
Little Beast is open on weeknights from 4:00 to 10:00 p.m., and it’s open from 4:00 p.m. to midnight on weekends. The bakery will open for breakfast everyday from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. You can find more information about Little Beast on Instagram and Facebook.