Pi Pizzeria and Wine Bar

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Pi: Tasty Pizza, Any Way You Slice It

By Julia Beizer
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 13, 2009

At a glance: Imagine what you'd get if a 1970s disco-lounge exploded in the tiny square footage of an Adams Morgan rowhouse. That's kind of what Pi is like.

The pizzeria, which opened in the neighborhood in September, pairs the cozy exposed brick we've come to expect in Adams Morgan with leathery white booths, gleaming granite-like tables and gold beaded window dressings. On the restaurant's main floor, a geometric metal grate zigs and zags across the ceiling. The basement level isn't always open to customers, but it's even more elaborate. Sculpted metal pieces, orange lighting and blue-and-black patterned wallpaper set a sultry tone.

With all the drama going on in very cramped quarters, Pi can feel claustrophobic. But the dim lighting lends an intimate, even exciting feel to dinner on the town. The curved booth in the main level's bay window seats up to nine and seems to scream, "Birthday dinner for a 20-something!"

On the menu: Thin-crust pies are the star of the show here. The spicy Malafemmena pizza perks up the palate with tingly hot sausage and olives. Salty prosciutto enlivens fontina and smoked mozzarella atop the Pulcinella pie. Toppings are used sparingly. Instead of layers of cheese, expect mostly melted balls of mozzarella to dot the landscape of your crust. For a cheesier experience, opt for a calzone. The kitchen will make any of its pizzas into a savory turnover that's big enough for two and comes with a marinara dipping sauce.

Add basic toppings (pepperoni, mushrooms, basil, etc.) for $1.50 each. More exotic ones such as ricotta, pineapple and fennel sausage are $2.50 each. Those toppings can also be added to a bowl of linguine or farfalle with marinara or white sauce. The hearty pasta portion is a steal at $5.

Order a selection of appetizers to share. The grilled vegetable plate (basically a mound of olive-oil-coated veggies) is simple but surprisingly good. Lemon-tinged red peppers and artichokes offset the smoky eggplant and still-crunchy broccolini. Walnuts, pear slices and an acidic balsamic dressing complement the buttery lettuce in the Boston salad. The Caprese salad makes an obligatory appearance on the starter menu, but my dates and I gravitated toward the lemony arugula mix. The tangy bitter blend came garnished with a few grapes wrapped in goat cheese and covered with crushed pistachio. The fancy topping was a thoughtful touch.

The servers are all proud of the house-made desserts, extolling the joys of tiramisu before you even get through your appetizers. Pi's take on the Italian layered treat isn't much different from others in town, but it's good enough to justify eating a few more calories and is large enough for two or three people.

At your service: Service is informal and friendly. On slow nights, expect to engage in a lot of conversation with chatty staffers. They're an efficient group, though. My tables have always been stocked with crisp herb-crusted flatbread, and I've never been left waiting for an order.

What to avoid: An appetizer billed as a selection of cured meats is more akin to cold cuts than to a plate of charcuterie. It seems that every food joint in Adams Morgan must offer chicken wings, and Pi is no exception. Skip the appetizer here; without the addition of hot sauce, the wings just aren't tasty.

Wet your whistle: The wine list is surprisingly long, given the restaurant's price points. "I want somebody to be able to spend a moderate amount of money and have a great bottle of wine that they've never had before," says Heather Hajaligholi, one of the owners, who also says she's still tinkering with the wine offerings. The most expensive bottle on the Italian-accented list is more than $80, but most of the options are in the $20-$35 range. The restaurant also has a full cocktail bar and a handful of beers on tap.

Bottom line: The ambiance is out there all right, but Pi is a welcome addition to Adams Morgan. It's perfect for a group looking for an inexpensive dinner before a night on the town -- and certainly a better bet than all the greasy jumbo-slice places down the street.