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New King Street Restaurants Coincide with Opening of Theater

Lower King Street may still have vacant buildings, but further up the street, new restaurants are opening their doors for business.

As the Old Town Theater is re-opening their doors at 815 1/2 King Street, so are new restaurants opening for business in the immediate area. Try one of these new places for a pre or apres-theater dinner and then come back and try them again for lunch or dinner another time.

Bistro Europa

Although the sign still says Cate's Bistro, the name belies the changes that are going on inside the restaurant at 715 King Street. Owner and chef Klaus Keckeisen has big plans for his new venture, not the least of which is the name change to Bistro Europa once the City of Alexandria approves the new signage.

German-born and bred, Keckeisen is a product of a three-year apprenticeship with a small hotel in Germany. Making his way to the United States in 1984, he opened the dining room at the JW Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was there for over five years, and it was there that he met his wife, Kristen, who was working as a waitress. They married and currently leave in Waynewood with their two sons, Nick and Alex.

From the JW Marriott, Keckeisen made his way to the Crystal Gateway Marriott where as Executive Chef, he oversaw a banquet room serving thousands, two restaurants, a busy lounge, and during the last two years, the dining facilities at the Crystal City Marriott.

When down-sizing found Keckeisen without a job, he decided to venture out on his own. "This is the right time to do it," said Keckeisen. After spending months looking at spaces in Old Town, he found what the space at 715 King Street. "I felt this was the right size for one person," he said.

Keckeisen said that he plans to feature mostly continental cuisine with French, German and Italian items. He has already made significant changes to the menu, in particular to the lunch menu. Instead of the heavier meals offered previously, diners now have several sandwiches to select from. The latest offering is a Tuna "Club" Europa — it's made with marinated tuna steak over spinach salad with tomatoes and bacon on Swiss farmer bread. Bistro Europa also offers The Liguria — grilled eggplant, squash, roasted red bell peppers and brie cheese; The Sicilian — hot Italian Cappicola ham with melted mozzarella cheese, peppers and onions on ciabatta; Chicken Sandwich — grilled chicken breast topped with pesto and buffalo mozzarella on ciabatta; Black Forest — Black Forest ham sandwich and melted smoked Gouda on a pretzel stick; and Bratwurst – served with warm German potato salad and a pretzel stick. Bistro Burgers are available with several different toppings as well.

"It is a constantly fluid process with the menu that will develop more as time goes on," he said.

The dining area has intimate and cozy seating for 65. A large space above the dining area is available for private parties. Complete with bar, pool table and television, Bistro Europa can accommodate parties up to 60 people for lunch or dinner.

To take advantage of the new theater, Keckeisen is offering a pre-theater menu on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5-7 p.m. A complete meal includes a house salad; a selection of Sea bass with Orange & Tomato Sauce; Chicken Rosemary; or Lasagna; and Tiramisu — all for $20 per person.

Bistro Europa is located at 715 King St. and can be reached at 703-549-0533.

Café Salsa

Café Salsa also plans to serve theater specials. They opened New Year's Eve and they've been busy ever since. Managing partner Isabel Mosquera has been in the restaurant business for years and seems unconcerned about filling the large space formerly occupied by King Peppers.

Café Salsa must be doing something right because diners keep coming. Perhaps it's the unusual drinks they offer, like Puerto Rican Colada; Caipirinha; Mango Margarita; Caribbean Rum Cooler; Cuban Mojito; Cuba libre; Café Salsa Margarita; or Latinopolitan. Add to that imported beers, Café Salsa Sangria and wines from Argentina, Chile, Spain and Portugal, and it's a pretty extensive list of drinks to choose from.

Perhaps it's the bright fresh look of the restaurant with pastel colored walls, exotic paintings and a new multi-tone wood inlay floor that makes people feel at home.

Maybe it's the music, a little bit of salsa to get the crowd going. Mosquera said that they have a big bar crowd on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Yet, despite all this, it's probably the food that keeps people coming back. Mosquera said, "The chef is Puerto Rican and Cuban — I work with him on the menu." With this background, he's able to prepare some unusual offerings. Mosquera said that the favorite appetizers are Puerto Rican Alcapurrias — green bananas stuffed with ground beef sautéed with cilantro and Latin style sofrito and served with jalapeno salsa; and Tostones Rellenos — plantains stuffed with marinated ground pork and beef, oven baked and served with Puerto Rican criolla sauce. Arepas are popular sandwiches — they are prepared with grilled corn meal stuffed with ropa vieja and fresh cheese, served with papas frita and roasted corn salad.

For dinner, Mosqueros suggests the Lomo Saltado — Argentine style beef sautéed with roma tomatoes, bell peppers, aji Amaarillo which comes with organic cilantro and fried potatoes served with Latin style white rice. Or try the Bistec a La Gaucho — a 12 oz. grilled N.Y. steak topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms and served with white rice and Cuban black beans.

Café Salsa is located at 808 King St. and can be reached at 703-684-4100. They are open Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Fri. & Sat., 11:30-2 a.m.; and Sunday until 10 p.m.

Chipotle

After almost a year of waiting, Chipotle opened their doors at 601 King Street, the former location of Chesapeake Bagel Bakery.

While Chipotle is a new concept to most people in Alexandria, people used to enjoying Chipotle in other locations were excited to see the place open. A woman from Denver came in on opening day and said that she had enjoyed the food at one of the Denver locations; Denver is where founder and chief executive, Steve Ells, opened the first restaurant. There are now 180 restaurants in 11 states. Ells hit the East Coast two years ago when they opened in Bethesda, Maryland. Alexandria joins the list of 11 other area locations, including four in Washington, D.C.; four in Maryland; one in Crystal City; and one in Rosslyn.

At Chipotle, what you see is what you get. Diners queue up in line, which at first glance looks like it will take a long time. Yet, it goes very quickly. Diners only have to decide between one of the three products that Chipotle offers — burritos, tacos or barbacoa. Barbacoa is made with shredded beef braised with chipotle peppers, cumin, cloves and garlic, served in a giant flour tortilla with pinto beans, cilantro-lime rice, sour cream and hot tomatillo-green chili salsa. Burritos come with rice, while Fajita Burritos come with sautéed bell peppers and sweet red onion.

Diners ordering either type of burrito elect to have chicken, steak, carnitas (free-range pork) or vegetarian. They then move down the line selecting pinto or black beans; hot, medium or mild salsa; cheese and/or sour cream; guacamole and lettuce. Tacos come in threes, so that a diner could order a combination of chicken, steak and vegetarian. Tacos don't incorporate the rice and beans, but give people all the other options.

And that's it. The only other decision is what size drink to order so that they can dispense the correct cup for use at a drink fountain in the middle of the restaurant. Bags of chips, salsa and guacamole are available for sale as well.

Director Bob Blessing mentioned that the chips are made fresh several times a day with rock salt and lime juice for flavor. The guacamole is also made fresh from Haas avocados several times a day.

Blessing was on hand for opening days when Chipotle invited local merchants and neighbors for a free lunch. He said "We do this because the people working need to know what to do. The nice thing is that people can tailor what they want."

Friday night, they hosted a fund-raiser for SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) and gave everybody free burritos, tacos and soft drinks — the entire $5 admission contribution went to SCAN. Last Saturday, they held a Free Burrito Day, offering free burritos to everybody from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.

This past Sunday, they opened their doors for business.

Chipotle is located at 601 King St., and is open seven days a week from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. They can be reached at 703-548-5169. Orders can be faxed to 703-549-5167.