Rob Rubba didn’t plan on becoming a chef—it was all happenstance, when the fine arts student needed to pay the bills of his art studio.
From there, Rubba assumed a role in the pastry department at the Mohegan Sun resort and casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, where his uncle happened to be the executive chef. After making a birthday cake for actor Dan Aykroyd—complete with a white chocolate conehead, no doubt—Rubba enrolled in culinary school.
Rubba soon added a number of top restaurants to his resumé: Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel in New York City, Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, L20 in Chicago and George Perrier’s Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia.
Finally settling down in Washington, D.C., Rubba and his wife soon found his home within the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, running the kitchen at the now-closed Tallula in nearby Arlington, Virginia, while coming up with his own restaurant concept.
Rubba opened Hazel restaurant in June of 2016 in D.C.’s busy Shaw neighborhood, calling it, “an ode to his personal experimentation with international cuisines.” The space features a 38-seat dining room, 16-seat bar, 38-seat year-round patio, and an array of handmade goods from local and domestic artisans, like the custom light fixtures and stove-top range.
Moving away from the small-plates genre, Rubba showcases his food via “medium-sized” dishes—larger than an appetizer, yet smaller than an entrée. Menu items include roasted sunchokes with lacinato kale, Calabrian chiles and smoked tofu, as well as sea scallop cakes with snow pea leaves, fragrant herbs, crispy shallots and yuzu dressing. Rubba also tips his toque to his late grandmother, serving up her own recipe of zucchini bread that is topped with foie gras mousse, chamomile gelée and bee pollen. It's dishes like these that landed Hazel on the Bib Gourmand list for the 2018 MICHELIN Guide Washington, D.C.
Diners can also choose the “Ducked Up!” tasting menu alternative, where things like roasted Rohan duck breast, crispy wings and kimchi-confit fried rice is served family-style by way of lazy Susans made of reclaimed wood.
A dim sum brunch is offered on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and Rubba’s whimsical fusion can be found in items like breakfast donburi with pulled pork, fried egg, Fire Panda mayonnaise and pickles, and the kimchi scramble with garlic aïoli and crispy shallots.
Pair any of these dishes with a selection from the beer, wine and cocktail list, all selected and created to complement the global influence of ingredients used. The wine list features some under-the-radar grapes—think Gamza from Bulgaria and Blaufränkisch from Austria.
Rubba’s personal favorite is a dish that he feels best represents him—BBQ carrots, grains and sprouts, pickled Fresno and hazelnut Caesar. “The dish really highlights the diversity of a carrot, with many layers, textures and heartiness—and the surprise of it being vegan,” states Rubba. “The dish also represents how I enjoy making something humble a lot of fun.”
All photos courtesy of Rey Lopez.