Editors' pick

Primi Piatti

$$$$ ($25-$34)
Primi Piatti photo
Sean McCormick
The portions are sized for the American palate, but the accent is Italian.
Mon-Thu 11:30 am-2:30 pm
5:30-10:30 pm; Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm
5:30-10:30 pm; Sat 5:30-10:30 pm
Foggy Bottom-GWU (Blue and Orange lines)
75 decibels (Must speak with raised voice)

Editorial Review

2010 Spring Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Part of the great rush of posh Italian restaurants in the late '80s (and the spawn of the original Galileo), this stalwart has since been overshadowed by youngsters including Tosca and Spezie; I have to admit that I hadn't eaten at the downtown restaurant since, um, the first Bush administration. But when I returned twice recently, everything felt familiar and true, from the warm welcome by owner Savino Recine to the respectable margherita pizza issued from the wood-fired oven. Does Recine ever take a day off? Whether at lunch or dinner, and despite owning other restaurants, he seems to be making things happen: straightening a table setting, dishing up risotto from the surface of a big wheel of Parmesan or entertaining a guest with a magic or mind trick. The portions are American (read: enormous), but the accent is Italian. Primi Piatti's lamb shank is fit for a Flintstone; it's also heady with the flavors of wine, tomato and meat juices. Chicken baked beneath a brick in the oven is super-juicy from its soak in herbs and wine, and it's partnered on its plate with pleasing diced potatoes and a nest of spinach. The menu is long and mostly satisfying. Experience steers me to spinach-stuffed agnolotti draped with pistachio sauce or shrimp arranged on cannellini beans, rather than veal Milanese (overcooked to a shade of espresso) or ordinary panna cotta (chocolate-hazelnut cake is better). Recine says his staff has a nickname for that risotto -- "Oh, my God!" -- based on customers' common reaction to the creamy signature. The faded china looks as if it was around 25 years ago, when Primi Piatti opened, and so do the Tuscan yellow walls and striped columns. But thanks to Recine, there's still some magic in the air. Upon request, he'll entertain adults at the table. "I'm the hottest chef in town," he might say, "and I've collected the hottest recipes in this book" -- which he then opens to a burst of flames.