The lengthy space that housed Morton’s the Steakhouse in steakhouse is no longer dark and dingy. Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, the man behind Mirabelle, Ottoman Taverna, and Al Dente, has given the space a dramatic refresh while transforming it into a contemporary brasserie intended to lure in droves of millennials. When Brasserie Liberté opens this weekend, customers will find velvet drapes, custom chairs upholstered in leather and plaid, and design touches that reference the French revolution.
The restaurant is scheduled to open for brunch and dinner on Saturday, November 16, under the watch of chef Jaryd Hearn, a 25-year-old with cooking experience at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Alinea. Lunch will begin on the ensuing Monday.
Hearn’s menu includes a selection of tarte flambees, or French flatbreads, along with core classics like French onion soup, duck confit, and marinated hanger steak frites. There are also foie gras parfaits with Grand Marnier gelee, a vegan mushroom Bourguignon, and a creamy horseradish potato au gratin.
Ilhan completed a multi-million dollar renovation on the 6,000-square-foot space that enjoyed a 37-year run as an old guard steakhouse at 3251 Prospect Street NW. A construction crew completely gutted and expanded the narrow, aging building this summer. Major structural changes included raising the claustrophobic ceiling height from 7 to 10 feet and installing a skylight in the main dining room that overlooks a new outdoor space lined with abstract yellow chairs. The existing Prospect Street-facing patio was lowered, which included altering the garage below.
“This was one of the most challenging construction projects I’ve ever dealt with. Lots of details and moving parts,” Ilhan says.
D.C. design firm Swatchroom (Morris American Bar, Wilson Hardware in Clarendon) was charged with the design, aiming to capture the essence of France’s mark on fashion and art through the ages.
Accordion, French-style doors welcome guests inside a bright, airy brasserie that could fit into any hip arrondissement in Paris. The hostess stand is framed with a huge painting of the iconic French flag-planting scene that marked the end of the late-1700s revolution that shrank the gap between the rich and the poor.
The main dining room — a warm palette of pumpkin, crimson, and rich navy — is anchored by a creamy white fireplace invoking the shape of a Moroccan tagine. Curved booths and chairs are covered in woven plaids that match servers’ aprons. Handsome, navy-colored soundproofing panels wrap the walls and ceiling.
Elaborate bathrooms, located past a lengthy wall covered in glowing turquoise tiles, reference former French colonies with glass-encased jewelry, trinkets, and utensils native to Haiti and Morocco.
A 65-seat private dining area, complete with a private entrance for VIPs and blackout drapes, can be split into two spaces. Guests there will have a view of dual glass wine cellars housing some 1,100 bottles.
A high-tech programmable dimming system will create different moods throughout the lengthy restaurant, depending on the time of day.