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Arlington chef is bringing an all-American restaurant to McLean

McLean’s Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen will serve American cuisine, such as a wood-fired double cut pork chop (photo by Johnny Autry)

(Updated at 2:30 p.m. on 7/18/2023) A restaurant with a name inspired by New Orleans street medians is coming to McLean.

Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen from Arlington chef David Guas is set to open early next year at 6641 Old Dominion Drive, moving into the former Assaggi Osteria & Pizzeria space.

In business for more than a decade, that upscale Italian restaurant closed in December 2021 after lease negotiations with McLean Square Shopping Center’s landlord failed.

A native of New Orleans, Guas has lived in Northern Virginia for over 20 years and owned Bayou Bakery in Arlington for almost 13 years. He says he has been “waiting for the right space” for a restaurant in McLean.

“I’ve been listening to McLean friends and family for a long time, who ask me why won’t you open a restaurant here?” Guas said. “Their increased desire for a place to fill a void in downtown McLean, catapulted me to take a vested interest this year and move forward.”

Neutral Ground will be the first full-service restaurant by Arlington chef David Guas (photo by Scott Suchman)

As first reported by Arlington Magazine, Neutral Ground will serve American cuisine intended to celebrate “small farmers, heritage growers, and fisherman” from the mid-Atlantic region and Gulf Coast.

Planned dishes include a wood-fired, double-cut pork chop; fire-roasted, half-shell oysters with garlic butter, parmesan and bread; and a burger featuring a smashed double patty, American cheese, shaved sweet onions, ketchup, mustard and crispy fries.

In a nod to Guas’s Big Easy ties, the restaurant takes its name from “neutral grounds,” the New Orleans term for green street medians where community residents can gather for parades and other events.

The phrase can be traced back to an 1806 military agreement between the U.S. and Spanish colonials in Mexico that turned a disputed territory into officially neutral space, according to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ 64 Parishes project.

Neutral grounds later became associated with the sometimes uneasy relationship between Creole municipalities within New Orleans, evolving to refer specifically to street medians after a newspaper article griped about rains soaking the one on Canal Street.

Located in between jurisdictions, neutral grounds offered “pastoral” spaces where people from different neighborhoods and cultures mixed — an ideal that will be reflected in the new restaurant’s philosophy and design, which is being developed by //3877 and Guas’s wife, Simone Rathlé, according to a press release.

The tranquil, spacious dining room is meant to feel like a shared, comfortable space with a fresh, casual appeal. Enhancing the approachable ambiance is a backdrop of saw palmetto, striped wall coverings made of grass cloth, fanning across the room in mossy accents. Above are decorative floating, rattan textured shades, transforming the industrial ceiling into an art form. Warm whites, sandy beach tints, light-colored woods will be hues that define the landscape of tables and chairs, with pops of color – from warm oranges to garden greens. Anchoring the rear of the restaurant is the inviting bar – spanning the back section. It’s designed with a mixture of light brown tones, warm textures, and natural materials. The aesthetic is balanced by cocktails grounded in American classics and a curated list of wine and beer, focused on regional favorites. Open air dining will sprawl the exterior with an expanded patio, naturally enclosed by foliage in boxed planters – as colorful umbrellas paint a bright, cheerful sweep across the entire front.

In addition to Bayou Bakery, which serves Louisiana-inspired coffee and pastries, Guas has appeared regularly on TV news and food shows, including a stint as a guest judge on “Chopped.” He’s also known for philanthropic efforts, such as a collaboration with World Central Kitchen last year to support Ukrainian refugees.

Neutral Ground will be his first full-service restaurant. Initially, it will only be open for dinner on Tuesdays through Saturdays.

“I am incredibly excited to be opening in McLean and have my newest venture only 15 minutes away from my Arlington gathering spot, a community I take pride in being a part of daily,” Guas said.

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