You’ve seen the list, now see who missed
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The results of my 13th annual Fall Dining Guide are out, and as in years past, many were called but few were chosen: Forty restaurants made the cut to be on my list of favorite places to eat around Washington. You may wonder why a particular establishment didn’t rate last week. Some of the contenders slipped in quality. Some were in transition. Other candidates piqued my interest but weren’t as convincing as some of their peers -- the restaurants I ultimately served up. Here’s a taste from some of the many auditions:
When the kitchen is on, which is frequently, the food at Bibiana rocks. Tender cavatelli tossed with crisp kale and bits of loose sausage, then finished with a dusting of snowy pecorino, is a pasta for the memory book, and squid stuffed with mashed potatoes and salami bits, a filling lightened with lemon zest, is cephalopod heaven. Fried artichokes knocked back with a glass of Gavi bring Italy closer to me, too. Bibiana is not the place to splurge on pizza, which is earth-bound, or steak with salsa verde, also ordinary. Yet little else on the Italian menu created by chef Nicholas Stefanelli is commonplace; that pleasing cavatelli, made with burned wheat, is black as coal and smoky in flavor. The good times roll through dessert. Tender crepes wrapped around chocolate cream and staged with thin chocolate waffles and walnut gelato is, like this suave dining room downtown, both familiar and surprising.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
Praline Bakery & Bistro
2011 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Obelisk is great for special occasions, and Ristorante Tosca is where you want to seal a deal. More often than not, though, Bibiana near McPherson Square is where I go for my personal communion with pasta. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli's squid ink spaghetti scattered with sweet crab and warm with red chili is a bundle of pleasure, and his risotto tracks the days like a calendar (celebrating a forest of mushrooms in winter and green and yellow beans in summer). The kitchen excels beyond noodles. Poached branzino on a raft of roesti is a delightful interplay of fresh fish and crisp potatoes; lean venison crackles with candied hazelnuts; and what looks from a distance like burnt pizza turns out to be a pie tinted black with squid ink and dappled with intense tomato sauce and slices of octopus. Excellent service makes it all taste better. My favorite perch is the friendly bar, set off with colorful tiles and photographs of street scenes of Italy. Through the gaps in the wall, diners can spy on the cooks - and they on us.