The headlines begged the question, but it was the chef himself who posed it directly: What’s a good Jewish boy from the Virginia ‘burbs who grew up eating Chinese food doing as head chef of a fancy hotel restaurant? Barry Koslow has led a deliciously storied career thus far and is now embarking on a new chapter at W Hotel Washington’s Pinea, named after the pine trees in southern Europe.
Koslow spent his youth in Alexandria. After school, he left for North Carolina to play guitar in a number of rock bands, waiting tables on the side. As food soon became more music to his ears than attempting a career as a rock star, he came back to the DMV to attend culinary school, graduating in 2000. Interestingly, he first met his wife there, though they only started dating years later after being set up on a blind date.
Through culinary school, Koslow scored an externship with our friends at Equinox. He stayed for three years, honing his craft and working his way up to saucier, the highest post for line cooks. Later, he moved on to several other area restaurants, serving as chef at 2941 and the famed Citronelle and then executive chef at Mendocino Grill.
The big story, of course, was when he was approached by old friends with the familiar name Wiseman. Nick Wiseman and Koslow had hung out in the back of the Equinox kitchen for several years, Wiseman working there over the summers during college. The Wiseman challenge? Open a Jewish deli.
Naturally, Koslow jumped at the opportunity to take the pastrami plunge. All being locals, they’d smarted at the lack of quality delis in the District. “Doing this was a no-brainer,” Koslow said. “It was going to be great for the city, especially since the state of the deli is now a sad one.” A real deli, he noted, “is as rich in history as it is in calories.”
And thus DGS Delicatessen was born. An artisanal deli, everything is made in-house: the meat brined and cured and smoked, all by hand, all from scratch. Sourcing is critical. Koslow tasted every bread in town and visited the farm where DGS’s beef is raised. Mechanized commodity meat, this is not. DGS isn’t meant to be cheap or fast, but an experience, testing the boundaries of deli cuisine. “I wanted to push Jewish food forward,” Koslow said with a smile.
After three years at DGS, though, he was ready for a new challenge. A student of fine French cuisine, it was time to return to his other roots. At the new Pinea, he’s able to let them shine. The W closed down its old-DC-style J&G Steakhouse, giving Koslow and his team a stunning space in which to cook up an entirely new concept.
Pinea is lighter, warmer and less stuffy than its predecessor. Its pan-Mediterranean theme hews to Koslow’s wheelhouse, bringing together inspiration from Spain, Italy and, of course, France. The resources that the W provided allowed him to express himself in the kitchen, bar and dining area.
Pinea is Koslow’s homage to classic cuisine. He pays close attention to detail and draws on past experience, too: the meats are still cured in-house. And naturally, sourcing is of critical importance. Ingredients are as local and seasonal as possible. Recent specials featured ramps, morels (“the mushroom of the moment”), asparagus and spring peas.
“Washington, DC is a true international melting pot. I see locals, I see visitors, I see diplomats,” Koslow shares. A couple select seats in Pinea can even see the White House. And all over DC, for almost two decades, diners have seen the global culinary magic on their plates courtesy of Barry Koslow.
Pinea, 202-661-2440, 515 15th St NW, Washington, DC, Breakfast: Monday–Friday 6:30 am–10:30 am, Saturday and Sunday 7:30 am–10:30 am; Lunch: daily 11:30 am–2:30 pm; Dinner: Sunday–Thursday 5:30 pm–10 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm–11 pm. Not kosher.
Top photo: Whole branzino. Photos courtesy of Ashley Mason-Greene.