Unconventional Diner, designed by Scott Kester
When David Deshaies was the executive chef at Citronelle, he'd often tag along with his boss and mentor, the late Michel Richard, when the esteemed chef cooked special dinners around the country. Over crummy hamburgers and beers after work at late-night diners, the two chefs would talk about a lot, including potential restaurant ideas.
"'If one day you want to make money . . . make it a diner,'" Deshaies recalled Richard saying.
The idea: Make the food people are familiar with, but do it well and with a modern twist. Deshaies, the executive chef, general manager and partner at Central Michel Richard, may not have thought much of the suggestion at the time. Now, however, he's preparing to follow Richard's advice. The chef is opening Unconventional Diner in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the spring.
Unconventional will be split into two parts: a 50-seat daytime cafe and pastry shop, which will offer a mix of grab-and-go and made-to-order items, and a 100-seat dinner-only, full-service dining room.
“I want to do a diner, but I also want the freedom to do whatever I want,” he said. So Peking duck with steamed buns? He'd like to offer it, along with his interpretations of such classics as fried chicken, meatloaf, burgers and spaghetti and meatballs. There will be daily blue-plate specials, too — jambalaya is one possibility. “It gives me the opportunity to be unconventional but be a diner,” he said of his approach.
That being said, his overall goal is to maintain a fairly tight, affordable menu that will turn Unconventional into a neighborhood spot where people can return several times a week.