Dennis Friedman never imagined he would be creating culinary delights for a hometown crowd, but the new executive chef of Bezu is thrilled.
"It is a one-in-a-million opportunity," said Friedman. He and co-owners Lydia and Eddie Benaim are opening a new restaurant in the Potomac Promenade shopping center.
‘Bezu’ — fashioned from the French word ‘bisous,’ meaning kiss — is expected to open at the beginning of November. Its contemporary design — with blond and dark wood, iridescent glass tiles, pendant lights and mango-colored walls — sets the mood for a modern dining experience and a modern style of cuisine called French-Asian.
"We want to serve five-star food, without the pretension," Friedman said. He wants guests to walk in with jeans and be casual.
Friedman sat at the cozy lounge at the front of the restaurant with the Benaims. The three talked about their new business adventure and their partnership, which Friedman called "a match made in heaven."
Friedman was born and raised near Potomac Village. Initially a law student, Friedman chose the career he always wanted. He began cooking in 1997 and went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in 2003.
He trained in New York City under the award-winning French chef and restaurateur, Daniel Boulud, who was named chef of the year by "Bon Appétit" magazine in 1999. Friedman also trained under another award-winning chef, Alan Wong, in Honolulu. Wong was a pioneer of Hawaii regional cuisine, also known as Asian-Fusion, and was ranked sixth in Gourmet Magazine’s list of ‘America’s Best Fifty Restaurants.’
FRIEDMAN MERGED Boulud’s classical French technique with elements from Wong’s Pacific Rim cuisine to create his own style, he said. He is planning to use fresh ingredients from local farmers, but also bring in fine ingredients from places like Hawaii, which are not available locally.
"The restaurant movement is coming to D.C.," Friedman said. After his culinary training, Friedman worked at several Washington restaurants, including Kinkead's, Citronelle and Indebleu. But he was not satisfied. He wanted to open his own restaurant. It all came together when a mutual friend introduced him to the Benaims.
The Benaims and Eddie’s brother, David, were the original owners of Tel-Aviv Café in Bethesda when it opened 13 years ago. The restaurant still serves Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, but became known for its nightlife. "It was the hottest hangout for many years," Eddie Benaim said.
Pete Panagiotopoulos was the general manager. He and Benaim ran the restaurant together for nine years. "Eddie is a good person to work for, he knows what he is doing," Panagiotopoulos said. When the Benaims were ready to move on, Panagiotopoulos took the opportunity and bought the restaurant. That was two years ago.
The Benaims took a break from the restaurant business, but got the urge again. "We wanted to create something different. We like to create what the community lacks and wants to see," Eddie Benaim said.
"Bezu is [a] little different than Tel-Aviv Café, it is more like fine dining," Panagiotopoulos said. "I think it will be great."
With the renovation completed, the owners are waiting for final inspections. People walking by Bezu are curious and often take a peek inside.
Bezu can accommodate 56 diners, 10 guests at the bar and 10 at the lounge. The lounge has two flat-panel screens where guests can watch Friedman and his team preparing dishes in the kitchen. A chef’s table is located in the back, under a chandelier, which a small group can reserve for a special menu and personal attention from the executive chef.