Vera, an innovative, experiential restaurant and lounge featuring a unique celebration of treasured dishes from Lebanon and Mexico, opens today in Ivy City. Conceived by Nayef Issa, founder of Nü Androids and co-founder of Residents Cafe & Bar in Dupont Circle, along with hospitality veteran Nour Chaaban, Vera is an homage to the first wave of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Mexico in the late 1800s-bringing their gastronomic traditions with them, ultimately creating meals that are now hallmark dishes enjoyed by millions around the globe. Vera is named after the port city of Veracruz, where countless immigrants first touched land after long, perilous journeys, and honors the blending of Lebanese-Mexican culture through soulful food, vibrant design and energetic music.
Vera’s story began nearly two centuries ago when Issa and Chaaban’s Lebanese ancestors migrated across the Atlantic to Veracruz, Mexico. Packed alongside their suitcases were memories, dreams, and vital parts of their heritage: time-honored recipes and culinary techniques. Soon after settling, they naturally began infusing local Mexican flavors and spices into their cooking, creating new memories that honored their homeland as they embraced their new home - tastes and traditions that live on today.
“Vera is a love letter to our heritage and an open dinner party invitation to all,” says Nayef Issa, founder of Vera who immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon when he was seven. “In Beirut and Mexico City, friends and families break bread until late into the night - making memories as they eat, drink and listen to incredible music. Our vision is to bring the soul back to dining by recreating that vibe here and bringing something new to the DC dining scene.”
Vera’s menu melds authentic flavors of the Mediterranean with a modern Latin twist. Standout dishes include: Fattoush Tostada made with greens, tomatoes, onions, scallions, black olives, avocado, bell peppers, sumac, pomegranate vinaigrette and tortilla cracker; “Birria Mishaweh” made with Lamb ribeye, birria adobo and a crunchy chickpea salad; and Samak Bezri “Chips” made with fried silverside fish, chipotle, labneh, and charred lemon. There are vegetarian options including Kousa Relleno, stuffed zucchini with rice, zucchini flowers, zucchini ragu, apples, pears, walnuts, peaches, raisins, cream of walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
From Tequila to Arak (a distilled spirit from the anise family), Vera’s cocktail program honors the (literal) spirits of Mexico and Lebanon. Signature cocktails include: Jardin, made with Moroccan mint-infused gin, herb bouquet and elderflower Tonic; Bei-root, made with tequila, charred red bell pepper, carrot, harissa and mango; and Vamos Habib,i made with Tequila, lime, nopal, basil, arak spritz and garnished with dehydrated flower salt and basil leaf. The Carajillo selection includes the traditional form of the coffee-based cocktail popular in Mexico as well as two new versions with a Lebanese spin: the Ahumado, made with espresso, Cardamom, Licor 43 and Hoja Santa Smoke; and the Mediterranean, made with espresso, Licor 43,Arak and maraschino liqueur. Vera sources ingredients from predominantly female-led rural communities in both The Levant and Latin America, and will ultimately give back to these communities by selling their goods and shedding light on their untold stories.
“Giving back to our community is important to us and we hope to build awareness around local artists and purveyors who are often overlooked,” says Nour Chaaban, managing partner at Vera and also a native of Lebanon. “We feel that it is the right time to combine our passion for music and love of Lebanese and Mexican food for a greater good to offer people an exceptional experience that will inspire them to eat, drink, socialize and dance.”
Drawing upon architectural styles from Beirut and Veracruz, Mexico City-based architectural interior design firm Sulkin Askenazi honored both cultures via abstract shapes, intentional colors, unique woodwork and carpentry. Tropical greenery represents the jungles of Mexico, while creative blue tiling denotes the oceans of Beirut and Veracuz.
“After a decade-long friendship with Nayef and Nour, I was honored they chose me to turn their dream of Vera into a reality through the design of this one-of-a kind restaurant and lounge,” says Jack Sulkin, co-founder of Sulkin Askenazi.“We used strong materials including cement blocks, made from the same material common within buildings in Lebanon and Mexico, Middle Eastern rugs to add warmth, and to complete the look we exploded shapes into circles and cylinders, creating a clay tile mosaic accented by deep hues of blue.”
Juxtaposed with industrial-style architecture surrounding the exterior of the location designed to coalesce with the local flair, the two-floor layout was created to manifest a socialized culinary experience. The 2,000 square foot lower level consists of a head-turning atrium with a custom chandelier from Mexico providing a sparkling focal point. Housed within the unique first floor atrium is a lounge and 19-seat cocktail bar to accommodate more intimate gatherings or pre-dinner cocktails. The lower level also provides a dining area that seats 24, and a private dining room affectionately called “Ouda Comida” (Arabic for “room” and Spanish for “food”) that seats up to 12. The restaurant is primarily situated on the 4,000 square foot second level, within a rooftop space that includes a 19-seat bar next to a lounge for up to 36. The central dining room for 58 guests sits adjacent to the lounge under a retractable roof offering a breathtaking view of the stars. Murals by local D.C. artists including Elizabeth Zulauf adorn bathroom walls, while artist Abbey Konchan transformed a bathroom with a visually stimulating disco theme. An additional bathroom is covered with images of an iconic Lebanese-Mexican actress.
Vera offers dinner service throughout the evening and provides the perfect environment for parties of all sizes. The vibe is carefully curated to encourage festive dinner parties similar to those in beloved Mediterranean cities like Beirut and St. Tropez, as well as traditional familial gatherings in Mexico. Channeling his expertise in music and live entertainment, Issa put time and energy into creating a high-caliber sound system that allows guests to enjoy both live and recorded music but in a way that is never disruptive to conversation. Issa will helm the music programming which will include live DJs, inspiring playlists and an eclectic array of Lebanese and Mexican musicians.
Located at 2002 Fenwick Street, NE Washington D.C. 20002, Vera is open for dinner/bar service on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from 5pm-11pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm until 2am. Vera is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Reservations are required and can be made online at veradc.com.
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