The youthful Joy by Seven Reasons in Chevy Chase, Md., marries the two ideas. The name pays tribute to the innovative Latin American restaurant, Seven Reasons, that introduced Venezuelan chef Enrique Limardo to the District by way of Baltimore. At the same time, the newcomer’s menu features a few dishes bound to fill seats, none more jaw-dropping than the aptly titled “Colossal” short rib sandwich.
Its mere arrival stops conversation. Two pounds of short ribs encased in seemingly a loaf of ciabatta, stabbed in the center with a knife, has that effect on a table. Open wide, like a python, if you treat it like a regular-size sandwich, which this definitely isn’t, starting with its $65 price tag. Before it’s packed into the ciabatta slathered with plantain butter, the beef is cured for a day and cooked to succulence in a water bath (sous-vide) for 16 hours. Black plastic gloves accompany the spectacle, amenities that allow recipients to tackle the dish, served with rich veal demi-glace, however they want with a minimum of mess — at least on themselves. (The two-fisted sandwich can easily feed three or four, although executive chef Jose Ignacio Useche says he’s seen individuals dispatch the whole enchilada, so to speak.) Even if you decide to use a knife, the substantial filling of smoked cheddar cheese, pickled onion and fried shallots rushes out from the house-baked bread, creating a debris field on the plate. But such ecstatic eating!
Precisely the point: “People having fun,” says Useche, 28, also executive chef at Seven Reasons. Useche, who goes by the playful nickname “Nacho,” says the menu is a collaboration between him and Limardo, whom he’s cooked with since 2014.
No matter where you plan to travel on the menu, start with a plate of tequeños. Venezuala’s popular cheese sticks do the job of (increasingly hard to find) bread baskets and make great companions to Joy’s distinguished cocktails. Buttery and flaky, the soft sticks come with molten centers of chihuahua cheese, the pleasant saltiness of which compares to the white cheese used in the chefs’ homeland, says Useche.
The most luxurious soup in town might be Joy’s warm vichyssoise. You taste the expected potatoes and cream, but also pureed cauliflower and a whisper of truffle oil, in every spoonful. The soup is one of those dishes that gets passed around the table, much to the reluctance of whoever ordered the indulgence. Finished with rosemary oil and served with sails of garlicky yucca, the bowl is invariably returned with little evidence of what originally filled it.
The pan-seared Hokkaido scallops, lightly crusted with parmesan and cassava crumbs, vanish with similar speed. Gathered as a trio on a puddle of guajillo oil and presented on a beautiful shell atop a skillet of little stones, the first course looks and tastes like a gift from Neptune.
A tomato stuffed with rice sounds more homey than haute. But the kitchen turns the familiar into something fancy by stuffing the peeled, roasted fruit with grains tinted with green tomato mojo and packing serious heat. A lacy fried egg caps the tomato, which rests on a trio of sauces, one the shade of shishito, white squiggles of feta and sour cream and red dots combining tomato and cherry. Too much? Too much fun, maybe.
Eating here reveals Joy to be a chip off the block of Limardo’s collection of restaurants, a brand that embraces Immigrant Food and Imperfecto. The ties that bind include service with a smile informed by knowledge about each dish; drinks as clever as what appears on a plate; and combinations that run busy but never boring.
“Passion Over Perfection” mixes tequila, passion fruit juice, lime and (yeow!) chile de arbol in a fancy glass that’s all angles. A sprig of rosemary, lit at the table, makes for an animated and fragrant garnish. Lots of places offer burrata. This is the only restaurant I know that crowns it with a frizz of fried dried shredded flank steak and fills it with corn cream, a discovery made when fork strikes core. A square of meltingly soft trout mounted on quinoa — part fluffy, part fried — sits on a tuft of almond ranch dressing ringed with a clear, green-gold oil coaxed from sea bean and rosemary. A fish of a different color, it’s sublime.
The window-wrapped setting is as uplifting as the food. Masks enliven a wall near the bar, which — shades of the original Seven Reasons — takes on the appearance of a jungle thanks to overhead greens. Yards of fringe in fiesta colors hang from the ceiling, and I love the abundance of cozy, softly illuminated booths. Servers are dressed in whimsical jackets that could double as paintings — movable art.
“There are no wrong choices,” a server tells me one night. In reality, not everything elicits joy at Joy. The night I tried it, fettuccine marinara was a waste of good calamari and shrimp, their flavors drowned out by salt in the sauce. Another entree, grilled, oven-finished chicken, overstayed its welcome in the heat. The saving grace was its bed of bomba rice swirled with sofrito, charred corn and other lip-smackers. While I’m here, how about some lower-priced wines?
Joy redeems itself come dessert, notably almond soft-serve. Made with almond milk and dressed with chocolate pearls and caramelized pepitas, the confection gets delivered in a waffle cone in a gold stand. Ask for “Many Reasons.” Sweeter still is the news that the owners plan to open another branch of the restaurant in Crystal City next year.
The menu comes with several commands — “Have fun, get crazy, be sexy, enjoy” — which the restaurant makes easy to follow. A welcome new presence in its neighborhood, Joy is pretty much what it says it is.
5471 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, Md. 202-417-8968. joybysevenreasons.com. Open for indoor dining for dinner 5 to 9 p.m Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m Friday and Saturday; for brunch 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (Coming this month, say the owners: takeout and outdoor dining.) Prices: dinner appetizers $15 to $29, main courses $28 to $130 (for 38-ounce tomahawk steak). Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Accessibility: no barriers at entrance, ramp leads to dining room, restrooms ADA-compliant. Pandemic protocols: Staff are not required to wear masks or be vaccinated.