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Balducci's Reverses Course, Farrah Olivia to Stay Open

Posted on Apr 29,2009
Filed Under Restaurants , Local Tastes,
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Photo by Mike Geissinger/Local Kicks
Morou Outtara, 40, is arguably one of the top chefs in America, an "Iron Chef"
competitor with a celebrated restaurant he named after his daughter, Farrah Olivia.
He has graced the covers of countless food magazines and has appeared on network
TV morning shows. He has described his cooking as similar to his speaking voice,
“American with an accent."

The New York-based landlord of Farrah Olivia restaurant in Old Town reversed course this week, telling  acclaimed chef Morou that he can remain in his Old Town location indefinitely.

The distressed debt firm which holds the restaurant's lease told Morou on Saturday that he can remain open for now, and the company is exploring the possibility of allowing Farrah Olivia to continue as an anchor tenant at 600 S. Washington Street, next to the gourmet market Balducci's, which the New York investment firm Angelo, Gordon & Co. now holds.

Photo by Mike Geissinger/Local Kicks
"Alexandria has been so good to me," Morou says.

"We're very pleased that the new owners of Balducci's are exploring the option of renewing our lease," Morou told Local Kicks on Tuesday. "For the time being, they have sent us a one month extension while we are discussing our short and long term goals. We are not sure of the fate of our Alexandria location but our fans can be certain that we will be opening an Italian restaurant in Crystal City."

Chef Morou said he's pressing forward with plans to open Kora, a more casual restaurant in Crystal City, along with his brother Amadou Outtara, in early summer. The restaurateur worked with Papadopoulos Properties to secure a location for Kora in the space formerly occupied by Roberto Donna’s Bebo Restaurant.

Last week the blogosphere lit up with comments from disappointed diners after a story appeared in Local Kicks, "Morou, the Iron Chef, Muscled out of Old Town by Balducci's." Some Morou fans weighed in with invective against the decision by Balducci's new owners to discontinue his lease after only two years.

"That's a shame. Way to go Balducci's!' read one posting on a comment board of Local Kicks. Read another: "What a terrible decision on the part of new owners. Not a very good way of reaching out to the local community. In fact, dismissive of the local community. I was just starting to shop at Balduccis more. Guess it's to other options."

On Thursday evening, far past dinnertime, Farrah Olivia was packed with longtime diners, as many expressed disappointment that it might be their last at the location. "I'm heartsick over this," said Robert V. Williams, of Old Town, as he sat eating dinner at the bar. "I live around the corner and I come in here 2-3 times a week for a really world-class meal. Morou never disappoints."

Morou Outtara, 40, is arguably one of the top chefs in America, an "Iron Chef" competitor with a celebrated  restaurant he named after his daughter, Farrah Olivia. He has graced the covers of countless food magazines, The New York Times "Dining Out" section and has appeared on network TV morning shows, spinning his unique brand of modern tribal cuisine.  He has described his cooking as similar to his speaking voice, “American with an accent."

A longtime, Alexandria resident, he is also the face of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association's national advertising campaign, beckoning millions of tourists each year to come and experience the city's cuisine from glossy tourist magazines and from the backs of Metrobuses.

"Alexandria has been so good to me," he says softly.

Photo by Mike Geissinger/Local Kicks
At Farrah Olivia, Morou spins his unique brand
of modern tribal cuisine.

Originally from the Ivory Coast, Morou came to the United States in 1988 to study computer programming. Influenced by his mother’s skill at combining African, French and Middle Eastern cuisine, Morou developed a unique sense of flavor and a bold approach to ingredients. He worked his way up through the ranks from dishwasher to food preparation, ending up as Chef at the now defunct Signatures.
 
Morou signed a lease in 2007 to open Farrah Olivia in the location previously used by Blue Point Grill, at 600 South Franklin Street. The restaurant closed in 2006 after 13 years of operation, having not been profitable in many years.

Farrah Olivia was designed by Griz Dwight of Grizform Designs, who also designed the decor of Proof, PS7's, Sonoma and other celebrated eateries.  Morou pegged the cost of interior design and build-out of his restaurant at just under $1 million, a sunk cost which would be lost entirely if he were asked to move permanently.
 
Balducci's currently owns the lease on the space occupied by Farrah Olivia, and does not plan to close its Old Town location, a corporate announcement said.  The store in the District on New Mexico Avenue near American University is one of four locations which includes Ridgefield, Conn., and New York City  which are scheduled to close in a reorganization. Balducci's locations in Bethesda and McLean will also remain open, along with stores in Greenwich and Westport, Conn., and Scarsdale, N.Y.

Morou said he plans to move forward on opening a new Italian-styled restaurant in Crystal City with his wife Heather and his brother Amadou, formerly of I'Ricchi restaurant downtown.  The three are opening a new Italian restaurant, bar and lounge in the bustling 23rd Street corridor. The new venture will be named after Morou's youngest daughter, Kora and may open early this summer.

"We are finalizing details with Vornado/Charles E. Smith this week," Morou said Tuesday.  "So, my advice is, if you are a fan of Farrah Olivia restaurant please try to come in before the end of May because it may be your last chance to try this restaurant for quite some time.  If we can not come to an agreement with the new Balducci's than I don't see us re-opening for at least a year."

Contact the writer at jarundel@localkicks.com.



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