By Grant Wishard
Amid Brambleton’s newly unboxed shopping centers and manicured suburban neighborhoods is a new restaurant that is luring DC foodies off their city perch.
AhSo is the creation of Chef Jason Maddens, who describes his first restaurantas a “modern American bistro” where he can flex his muscles as a sommelier, pairing fine wines with a dynamic, locally sourced menu. Maddens cooked for many years alongside DC legends Jon Krinn and Michel Richard, but he’s stepping out on his own with AhSo. He remembers considering opening in Reston, and DC might have seemed to be the obvious choice, “but nothing had the allure for me that Loudoun County did.” First and perhaps foremost, Maddens was born and raised in Loudoun. He and his wife, Tiffany, decided years ago that it was the perfect place to raise their two kids, now 4 and 6.
Loudoun has changed a lot since Maddens was growing up here. Most of the restaurants he loved as a kid have since shut down, including his nostalgic favorite, the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House. Maddens has changed, too. Food was important in his Italian home, where “life revolved around the kitchen,” but he never considered cooking a career path. Going to school for engineering at West Virginia University, he took a year-long break to earn in-state tuition and, meanwhile, worked at a restaurant.
At the time, in the early 2000s, the Food Network was in its heyday. “You had Emeril (Lagassé) and you had Mario (Batali) and you had all these chefs and it was just entertaining, and I just got sucked into the whole restaurant thing,” he said. He decided to ditch three years of training as an engineer and stick with the restaurant industry.
He and Tiffany chose to open AhSo in their own backyard after recognizing a need for it in the Ashburn area. “There’s very few independently owned, chef-driven restaurants that have a dynamic, changing menu,” Maddens said. They wanted to put that experience in arms reach of their neighbors.
The dinner menu offers two routes—a traditional first course, second course, dessert menu, or micro wine dinners that serve the full table. You might enjoy braised Spanish octopus, which is prepared with Spanish chorizo, white beans, and tomato for your first course, eggplant tikka masala for your second, peach crisp for dessert. The menu changes daily—at one point ranging from a low-country boil, to Antarctic salmon, to a half-fried chicken from Lovettsville.
The Maddens are surely onto something. Since opening in December, the restaurant’s fresh, creative menu has drawn hungry patrons from throughout Loudoun and beyond its borders. It’s quickly become known as the go-to spot for Wednesday nights, when AhSo ladles out ramen. Maddens and his team go a step beyond many of the best ramen kitchens by making their own noodles.
A lot of the restaurant is that way—a step beyond. One of the first thing customers notice is AhSo’s bar, a proud display of liquor on bright copper shelfing, plus two solid walls of wine, displayed medieval weapon-style on black racks, gleaming, and ready to be deployed.
“We’re all about the wine,” the sommelier says with a grin. With wines from all over the world, most restauranteurs won’t recognize the names and labels, but that’s where Maddens comes in. In addition to changing the menu every week, he has taken on the task of pairing each dish with a carefully selected wine.
As much as the former engineer-turned chef and sommelier enjoys crafting the perfect dish, he revels in serving just the right wine with it.
“When you nail a pairing—say you serve this lamb pasta dish with this great Australian shiraz and it works perfectly and you put that on the menu and someone orders it and then I go by and say ‘how was everything tonight?’ and they say ‘oh my god I’ve never had this happen with wine and food!’—for me that’s the most satisfying thing,” he said.
So what’s next for AhSo? They’re going to keep innovating and improving, promising “the menu will change as often as our creativity and the supply from land and sea allow.” Currently, AhSo is only open for dinner and Sunday brunch, but next month they plan to tackle lunch as the school year starts in earnest.
Find AhSo at 22855 Brambleton Plaza, Suite 108. Learn more at ahsoresto.com.