Laid off from his chef’s position at Bethesda’s Barrel and Crow restaurant when it closed temporarily in March 2020, Gaithersburg resident John Wood turned his pasta-making passion into a business and launched Open Hand Pasta & Provisions (originally named Impasta Artisans—no relation to Impasta in Damacus). Wood sells homemade pastas and sauces and other items (Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, extra virgin olive oil, homemade granola and homemade dog treats) at various farmers markets in the D.C. area. In Montgomery County, Open Hand has market stands in Potomac Village (Thursday), Pike & Rose (Saturday), Rockville City Center (Saturday), and Olney (Sunday).
Wood, 36, graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine cooking school in Gaithersburg (now closed) in 2005. While there, he did his externship at Chevy Chase’s Persimmon restaurant, then went on to work in D.C. for such notable chefs as Frank Ruta and Bob Kinkead. He was the chef at TapaBar (now closed) in Bethesda and took the helm at Barrel and Crow in 2017. Soon after the COVID shutdown began, the restaurant’s owner, Laura Houlihan, laid off the staff but let Wood use her kitchen to start his pasta business. When Barrel and Crow reopened, Wood shifted his operation to a shared catering kitchen. In late July, he opened his own commissary kitchen with a tiny brick-and-mortar storefront in the old town section of Gaithersburg.
The name Open Hand refers to the way Italians hold the rolling pin—hands open with palms resting on top—when flattening fresh pasta dough. Wood brings about eight pastas ($10 to $15 for 8 oz.) to farmers markets, some stuffed (black truffle ravioli or duck and foie gras-stuffed cappelletti, for example) and some not (such as tagliatelle, pappardelle and rigatoni). Three sauces are always available—tomato basil, pesto Genovese, and black truffle white wine cream—plus a meat sauce, such as Bolognese. Sauces range from $5 for 4 oz. to $10 for 8 oz. Wood uses raw items (such as vegetables and herbs) sourced from other farmers market vendors as ingredients in his own line of products.
On Thursdays, Wood delivers meal kits in the Metro region. Orders must be placed by Monday. A starter, two pastas, grated parmigiano cheese and a dessert for two costs $50 to $60. The kit I ordered, which was ample enough for two meals for two, included vegetable minestrone; campanelle (cone-shaped pasta with a ruffled edge) with peas, pancetta, mint and lemon verbena; mushroom-stuffed cappelletti atop sauteed spinach; and coffee cream tarts. Directions were simple and precise and the quality excellent. As the store and kitchen gain their footing, Wood plans to expand Open Hand’s offerings. “We have a deck oven,” he says. “Bread is the next logical step. And pizza pop-ups.”
Open Hand Pasta & Provisions, 220 Girard St., Suite B, Gaithersburg, 240-330-7004, openhandpasta.com
Victor Albisu gained a reputation in Washington as a fine-dining chef, having worked at such upscale establishments as BLT Steak, Marcel’s and two of his own restaurants—Del Campo and Poca Madre (both now closed), but perhaps his greatest success is in the fast-casual realm. He opened Taco Bamba in Falls Church, Virginia, in 2013, showcasing traditional tacos (such as al pastor, barbacoa and carnitas), inventive tacos (“tacos nuestros” on the menu) and other Mexican street foods, such as tortas (sandwiches), nachos and enchiladas.
Taco Bamba was an instant hit. In June, Albisu opened his sixth outlet—and first Maryland location—in Rockville’s Congressional Plaza. “I love Rockville. I had a lot of friends and family there in my youth and it’s always been a destination for me,” says the 46-year-old chef, who grew up and lives in Northern Virginia. “I love the restaurants and ethnic diversity there. Mykonos Grill, La Limeña, Bob’s Shanghai, Il Pizzico—these are places I made special trips to. I love that area and have always wanted to be a part of that market.”
What sets Taco Bamba apart from other fast-casual places is its creativity, Albisu says. “Our locations’ menus are all different, our bar programs are all different. That we are a fast-casual place with a bar program is already different.” There are 11 traditional tacos ($3.50) and 13 craft tacos ($4.50) at Taco Bamba Rockville. Among its custom tacos are the MoCo Crab (a crab melt with spicy mayo, vinegar slaw and potato sticks), the Mrs. Hogan (pork, gochujang, kimchi bacon fried rice, cucumbers and radishes) and the Fredneck (BBQ pork carnitas and slaw). Other intriguing menu items are the Sidney Frumkin torta ($14) stuffed with pastrami, chihuahua cheese, pickled onions and Thousand Island slaw; a Middle Eastern-spiced fried chicken nugget taco; guacamole made with grilled avocadoes ($5.50); and a cocktail made with tequila, juiced roasted pineapples, orange and lime ($7).
The 2,766-square-foot restaurant, which seats 52, plus 18 at its cocktail bar and 16 on a front patio, was designed by Maggie O’Neill of Swatchroom. The industrial chic space features an open kitchen, cherry-red metal stools and stunning murals—one of an avocado half, another with the chainlet’s trademark rooster.
Taco Bamba, 1627 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-822-2334, tacobamba.com
Comings & goings
This fall, José Molina, the owner of Breads Unlimited bakery in Bethesda’s Bradley Shopping Center, will open Edith’s Pizza in the same Arlington Road shopping center.
Also slated to open this fall: Roaming Roosters, a fried chicken chain coming to Pike & Rose in North Bethesda, and Chaia, a vegetarian taco spot in downtown Bethesda.
New York City-based hamburger chain Shake Shack will open locations in Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall in late 2021, in the Kentlands in Gaithersburg in 2022, and in Rockville at an as yet undetermined time.
Falls Church restaurant Firepan Korean BBQ will open a second location, in Silver Spring, at the end of 2021.
Common Plate Hospitality, a restaurant group based in Alexandria, Virginia, will open The Heights at Wisconsin Place food hall in Chevy Chase in spring 2022.
In North Bethesda, Flor de Luna closed in July. Two spots that closed temporarily early in the pandemic announced permanent closures: Car Wash Coffee in Kensington and The Daily Grill in the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda. Bangkok Garden closed its Bethesda location in August after a 37-year run. Its Rockville location remains open.