After 2 Years, Whino Opens in Ballston
Restaurant Features Lowbrow Art, Shareable Plates
Whino, a 6,200-square-foot store, gallery and restaurant opened in the Ballston Quarter mall, 4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, on Friday.
After announcing plans in 2018, Whino finally opened on June 18. The modern open concept from owner and designer Shane Pomajambo features large-scale mural installations along with craft cocktails, beer, wine and globally inspired social plates – think somewhere between a small plate and entrée. There is also a retail area where Pomajambo will release limited-edition sculptures each month, many created in small, 100-piece batches. The pop-art collectables are from artists around the world and priced from $50-$300.
“The menu is designed to encourage exploration as small plates afford guests the opportunity to experience more flavor profiles,” Pomajambo said. “In the coming months, we also plan to offer curated beverage tasting events, monthly art shows and collectible art releases, with items available for purchase at Whino. To keep things fresh, exhibits will change monthly, and the large murals will rotate, as they will be painted over yearly.”
The 143-seat Whino, which was designed by Pomajambo’s firm Moderne Design Inc. of Great Falls, houses six areas including a 20-seat open kitchen bar, a 51-foot craft cocktail bar that seats 28 and an 11-seat beverage tasting bar, along with an art gallery, store and 84-seat main dining room. To define the spaces and allow diners to flow between them, artists were chosen to create full immersion murals. The works of art give each area its own distinctive character and will be changed annually.
The murals focus on the lowbrow/pop surrealist art movement that encompasses more than 12 genres. Although it spans multiple disciplines, the collections share the theme of pop culture or a reaction to the current state of affairs better known by the name pop surrealism. The movement arose in Los Angeles in the mid-90s from the skate culture with references to underground comix, punk music and hot-rod cultures of the street. Most lowbrow artworks are paintings, but there are also toys, digital art and sculpture.
Current murals include a giant panda munching bamboo and post-apocalyptic robots from Los Angeles artist Woes, Brooklyn-based Dragon 76, Hong Kong artist Caratoes and local painter Rodrigo Pradel.
In addition to the four murals and rotating art, the interior features exposed black steel high ceilings and concrete floors with blue velvet chairs in the main dining room and orange velvet stools at the bars and high-top tables in the lounge area.
International shareable plates
Executive chef Eleftherios (Terry) Natas joined the project in January 2019. New Jersey-born Natas is a Greek American with more than 25 years of culinary experience. He has worked in hotel and casino restaurants in the Bahamas and Atlantic City and most recently as regional chef at Richard Sandoval Hospitality’s El Centro D.F. where he developed menus. He also worked at Alicart’s Carmine’s and Virgil’s BBQ, both in New York city, and Mike Isabella’s Graffiato in D.C.
Natas’ opening menu focuses on a mix of modern dishes that meld American and international flavors and ingredients. The restaurant’s seasonal, globally driven menu spotlights distinctive dishes that vary with season such as smoked octopus with harissa chickpea purée and smoked salt; prime dry aged beef with polenta fries, charred endive and salsa verde; house-made ricotta gnocchi with seasonal vegetables, saffron vegetable brodo, grana Padano and toasted hazelnuts; and scallop aguachile with Cape May day boat scallops, tomatillo salsa, serrano, cucumber, black radish, finger lime and micro cilantro.
He is taking great pains to make sure that the food is every bit as special as the setting. For example, Telly’s Gyro, named for his family’s nickname for him, features a house blend of wagyu beef and lamb with Greek spices wrapped in homemade phyllo dough. It is served with whipped feta and leek yogurt, tomato and cucumber relish and pickled red onion. Instead of paella, Netas is serving crispy rice, his favorite part of paella, cooked in saffron lobster broth and topped with seafood. And porchetta made from scratch with a fennel and rosemary-rubbed pork loin wrapped in crispy skin pork belly that is served either with potatoes and broccoli rabe or on grilled ciabatta sliders with shaved fennel and orange slaw and Pomajambo’s take on Peruvian aji sauce.
While main menu item will change twice a year – spring and summer, fall and winter – Natas said some items in the dishes, such as softshell crabs or fresh asparagus, will change more often. “I want it as fresh as I can get it, as soon as I can get it.” He is also scouring the Ballston Farmers Market for their end-of-season produce that he can pickle and use during the winter when fresh local produce isn’t available.
Desserts are standouts, too, including a foamed take on crème brûlée; a snow cone flavored with burnt orange, chile and mezcal syrup; and diples, a Greek Christmas pastry filled with semolina cream.
In the future, the restaurant will add Sunday suppers during which Natas will cook homestyle meals from around the world. “There are a lot of young professionals in the area away from home,” he said. “So we’re going to a different prix fixe menu served family style every Sunday.”
Tap takeovers and tastings
Sommelier Cesar Varela is leading the beverage program, which includes wine and signature cocktails. Beers are available in bottles and cans, as well as on draft.
Wine dinners will likely be among the many events to take place at Whino. The tasting bar will host two-week takeovers when local breweries can use six taps to show off their new releases. Eventually, the takeovers will expand to national breweries as well. The bar will also feature tastings Monday through Wednesday with each day dedicated to sampling hard seltzers, spirits, beer or wine.