Food, Fuel at Easy Reach at New West End Eatery

Washington Post Express
February 6, 2008
by Marc Zawel

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ERIC RIPERT’S WESTEND BISTRO
, located inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel at M and 22nd street NW, has had all the makings of a D.C. hot spot since opening last November. There’s a celebrity chef, trendy $13 cocktails, locally sourced dishes — and views of an Exxon gas station?

To date, reviews of the restaurant have generally been positive. But there was some initial online buzz about the Exxon gas station across the street — its glaring billboard was shining directly into the bistro’s dining room annoying some diners.

Then, magically, a couple of weeks ago, blinds were installed that blocked the view. Gonzague Muchery, the restaurant’s general manager, said the decision was made after Exxon rebuffed his request to dim the nighttime lights. “But now, we don’t see it anymore,” he said, allowing diners to enjoy their tuna carpaccio appetizer ($14), roasted chicken with cornbread stuffing entree ($23) and perhaps most importantly, the bistro’s ambient lighting.

Shades are not the only quirk being worked out at the busy intersection, where urban luxury meets suburban blandness. The area is abuzz with activity as construction crews are completing some projects as others are awaiting approval.

Towering above the Exxon station, work on 22 West, a collection of 92 luxury condominiums (once cleverly known as X on West) continues. Occupancy in the units, priced between $840,000 and $3.8 million, has been pushed from last winter to the end of this May, according to Mary Mottershead, executive vice president of Eastbanc, which is developing the condo/gas station hybrid. She attributed construction delays to difficulty in finding trained workers to install the building’s unique zinc-panel facade and a sewer line that unexpectedly needed to be relocated.

Only a third of the units have been sold, but Mottershead hopes that a sales office opening in March will help to attract buyers. “With this market, no one is buying in advance,” she said. “There has been a lot of interest though.”

Google MapAlso coming to 22 West: A mini-mart for the Exxon station in April and a restaurant sometime down the road. According to Mottershead, Eastbanc is only in the early discussion phase with potential restaurateurs.

Directly across M Street from 22 West is perhaps D.C.’s newest — and quietest, at least for now — Starbucks, which opened on Jan. 25. During an afternoon there earlier this week, it was nearly empty, with untouched cinnamon scones sitting in the display case and baristas still being trained behind the bar. Next door at Walgreen’s, in the space formerly occupied by Lulu’s Club Mardi Gras, employees were scrambling to stock shelves with deodorant, toothpaste and other toiletries. A contractor installing the electronic theft prevention system said plans were in place to open this Friday.

And even as these projects wrap up, there’s still more to come. At 2201 M St. NW, across from the Ritz, the former Nigerian Embassy sits empty. But a new hotel project from Starwood Capital Group and Perseus Realty, known as 1 Hotel is waiting for approval. Signs promise that when opened in 2010, the hotel will be “inspired by nature” and boast “luxury with a conscience.” One casualty of the new hotel has been Asia Nora; the restaurant shut its doors late last year. Outside, there are notices for a public zoning hearing for the proposed hotel. A banner proclaims: “Farewell West End. It’s been a great ride.”

Photo by Michael Grass/Express

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