Michelin-starred chef Nicholas Stefanelli has already expanded the Italian (Officina, Masseria) and Greek (Philotimo) halves of his legacy. Stefanelli leans on the classically trained French foundation with the debut of Le Clou for its latest culinary success in DC.
Located in the lobby of The Morrow Washington DC, Curio Collection by Hilton, Stefanelli’s modern interpretation of a French brasserie features swirl marble tables and stylish leather cabinets (222 M Street NE).
A one-day French feast at Le Clou calls for bountiful seafood rigs, frisee salads, Hudson Valley foie gras, escargot, frog legs, stir-fries, French onion soup, and delicate trout. Stefanelli showcases the season’s first winter black truffles on a veal toffee platter, along with cauliflower and gravy gribiche. Nico Cezar, kitchen chef at Le Clou, who worked with Stefanelli at Masseria and the (now closed) Bibiana, was most recently cooking at Tonari.
“I have always loved French cuisine and its wine world,” says Stefanelli, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine. “This brings me back to my 20s and shouting at me. [L’Academie founder] François Dionot, for not keeping the soup warm enough.”
His longtime love of champagne is no secret in the city (Officina and Masseria is packed with some of the best selections in town). At Le Clou, a private champagne cart departing from France will soon begin circling the dining room and the adjacent Lobby Lounge, with a choice of drinks alongside a dozen glasses each day in tow. Stefanelli is such a proponent of bubbles that she even pushed for a mini Moët vending machine in the lobby. “I’m the one who ordered it,” he says. “I love it.” Show your drinking age ID to a hotel receptionist for a coin dispensing $20 bottles from the glowing machine visible from the street.
The wheeled champagne cart is just one of several traveling delights at Le Clou. A French cheese cart will carry about 12 sought-after selections at a time. Cheese service at the table is also a popular attraction at the three Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington. Bottles of Cognac and Armagnac will also work in the room, serving top-notch French brandies to diners after dinner.
Open for the start of the dinner service, Le Clou will eventually become an all-day event. Look for breakfast, lunch, and brunch to join the mix by the end of January. Lined with white oak pillars, travertine floors and plush furnishings, the luxurious Lobby Lounge extension will also serve coffee, juice and elixir throughout the day. The in-room dining menu is narrow by design, limited to just 10 items from Le Clou.
“We really want everyone to leave the room and be in the restaurant,” he says. Also, shellfish don’t like to travel or wait outside the door.
“I can send it to you [one-ounce Osetra] Serving caviar to your room, though,” he adds casually. Another Le Clou splurge is cote de beouf, a 28-ounce bone-in entrecote aged for 30 days alongside Fourme d’Ambert cheese ($148).
Stefanelli says the general menu inspiration comes from the legendary recipe book Le Repertoire de La Cuisine. He remembers studying its pages as a student at L’Academie de Cuisine, which is widely regarded as the bible of French gastronomy.
“This book opened my eyes to what a kitchen is, especially as I get older and get more involved in the creative process. I always go back to that book,” she says. In fact, he still carries the original copy with him.
Since locking down the Morrow project 18 months ago, he’s made three trips to France, all in the name of R&D. After traveling around Lyon, Paris, Dijon, Burgundy, Champagne and Southern France, she brought a fresh and light interpretation to the classic cuisine she adopted at Le Clou.
“We have new cooking equipment and techniques that can be applied to things that didn’t exist 150 years ago,” he says.
Le Clou’s wine list bounces around the same famous French wine regions it has visited, from the Côtes du Rhône to Bordeaux. Le Clou unlocks 609 powerful labels (and an inventory of over 4,000 bottles). A glassy wine wall in the dining room showcases distinctively rows of reds with chilled whites in the back.
“Like everything we do in our programs, wine is a huge focus,” he says.
Le Clou is conveniently close to its Michelin-rated Masseria in the Union Market area (a six-minute walk to be exact, or a straight shot with its 350cc Vespa). There, truffle time is deep and plans to shave off white and black varieties through NYE. Meanwhile, Philotimo is closed for now due to the fire it got this year.
In early 2023, Stefanelli will spearhead two more food and beverage initiatives rising at the 203-room hotel. This includes a rooftop lounge and bar that pairs panoramic views of the Capitol Building and Washington Monument with cocktails, wine, charcuterie boards and light snacks. An intimate cocktail lounge called Vesper on the 11th floor will serve caviar, delicate appetizers and live music.