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Catching Up With Chef Danny Lledó

Cover Image for Catching Up With Chef Danny Lledó
By Chris LaMorte

Spanish fine-dining destination Xiquet opened in Washington, D.C. two years ago, just a few weeks before COVID-19 walloped the U.S. and sent the restaurant industry into a tailspin. But chef-owner Danny Lledó quickly adapted to the new reality. After its first year, the Valencian-focused restaurant earned a Michelin star, an extraordinary achievement under any circumstances. Last year, we spoke to chef Danny just as vaccines started to roll out, which many thought would bring a swift end to the lingering pandemic. While that turned out to be overly optimistic, Lledó has continued his upward trajectory at Xiquet and his other concepts Slate Wine Bar and Chef Danny at Home. We decided to check in to see how Xiquet’s second year has been, what’s on the winter menu, and which dishes his guests just can’t resist.

How was your second year running a restaurant during a global pandemic?
Well, it was interesting because we got a Michelin star in 2021, which was based on the prior year. They announced it on April 22nd, which was late because of COVID. Still, it was a little bit of a trifecta for us because people were already getting vaccinated and were excited about being able to visit us. We were getting emails from people who were like, “I just got my second vaccine today. I made a reservation for you guys two weeks for now. I’m super jazzed.” Not only that, [Michelin] was our first review, and people hadn’t heard of us before. 

What have you learned about running a restaurant during this period?
Because of spacing requirements, we could only have six tables in the restaurant. We learned that was all we needed for the style of this restaurant. So we went from offering an á la carte and tasting menu to offering only a tasting menu. In August, we extended from seven courses to 14. So it’s been non-stop since then. We never lost a step along the way. In December, we got a really great review from the Washington Post, reviewing our current experience. It was the second reviewer to publicly talk about us. It was a very good December, but this wave of Covid-19 has been torture because every week it’s different. But we’re still running strong. I think we’re two-to-three years ahead of schedule from where I imagined I’d be when I opened a restaurant because, during the pandemic, we were really able to work on our menu and our business. We were able to develop a lot faster.

Xiquet's Interior
Xiquet’s 6-table interior is the right size for tasting menus, says chef Danny Lledó.

Tell me about the Xiquet dining experience.
We emphasize product, creativity, and technique. We’ve come up with 14 stellar dishes that are part of a progression. You start at the chef’s counter with snacks and a welcome drink. You choose what kind of beverages you want for the evening, whether it’s something off the wine list or wine pairings. After you finish the snacks, you go upstairs to the dining room. You finish the dining experience with after-dinner drinks and mignardises in the lounge mezzanine area.

What are some dishes that really wow your guests?
People really talk about our rice dish, which has plankton, seaweed, and uni. Without the uni, it’s actually a vegetarian seafood dish, which is kind of mind-blowing. That’s a hands-down superstar dish. I think another standout dish from Xiquet is the Iberian pork tenderloin tartare. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to wrap their heads around eating raw pork. But it’s coming from a different pig and the way we do it — the flavors and sensations — are really different.

Iberican Pork Tartare at Xiquet
Iberican Pork Tartare.

Valentine’s is coming up. What are you excited about serving?
We always offer enhancements like truffles or A5 wagyu. We also have Dénia red prawns, something I save for Valentine’s Day. I like the stock market, so I learned to buy them when the price is low. I just ordered them this week. They are known for their sweetness. I’m the first person to bring it into the United States. It’s just a unique product from my hometown in Spain, Dénia. And that’s one of the dishes people enjoy most on our tasting menu.

Xiquet is only one of three concepts you kept running during this challenging period. In addition to Xiquet, you have Slate and Chef Danny At Home. How are they different?
Xiquet is something that you plan for. It’s a destination restaurant. Some of our guests come into town just to dine here, and maybe a few other places. It’s nice to hear that people flew in from Boston or L.A., or Arizona to dine with us. Slate opened in 2012 as a neighborhood place for small bites, but that’s not pandemic-friendly. So we created a prix-fixe menu. Slate’s great for, “Hey, Xiquet’s not available for dinner tonight, or why don’t we try something new.” So you don’t have to plan so far in advance. Chef Danny at Home started as a way to offer virtual paella classes and our to-go business during the pandemic. We wanted a separate brand for takeout because we don’t want people to think about it as coming from a specific restaurant. So it’s not a prix-fixe experience like Slate or a tasting menu experience like Xiquet. It’s its own unique experience.

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