First Bite of Bob Kinkead’s Ancora

March 20, 2013

Bob Kinkead says he’s dabbling in meat again.

That’s no small news coming from the former chef-owner of the seafood-steeped Kinkead’s, which closed just before Christmas after a run of nearly two decades in Foggy Bottom. Just weeks afterward, the chef resurfaced at 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, where he took over the shuttered Rivers at the Watergate and relabeled the dining room Ancora.

Kinkead is calling his new place (Italian for “more” or “again”) a pop-up, because it’s expected to stay open until November, then close for three months of renovation. My inner interior designer can’t wait. The 130-seat Ancora is one of the homeliest restaurants around, dressed like a cheap soap-opera set with generic seating and paintings that you couldn’t give away at a rummage sale.

Architectural Digest would not be amused.

The newcomer’s looks aren’t keeping diners away. The Kennedy Center looms right across the street, after all, which means the best chance to dine for someone who isn’t attending a performance is at 7:30, the most difficult time to score at most restaurants. Plus, the food, executed by former Kinkead’s veteran Jeff Gaetjen, adds something fresh to a neighborhood that could use more restaurants.

“If it was at Kinkead’s and it’s Italian, it’s here,” says the bigger of the two fish. Cue the grilled squid on polenta. Otherwise, there aren’t many memories from Kinkead’s at Ancora, where the starters include a golden fritto misto and generous toasted bread topped with seafood or vegetables, and the pastas run to a simple and winning plate of steamed clams and bucatini.

As Kinkead suggests, main courses embrace plenty of flesh. One of the heartiest plates brings together braised pork butt, sliced roasted pork and cubed pork belly flanked with broccoli rabe and house-made gnocchi. Fragrant with garlic, rosemary and onions, the meaty feast is what you should probably try when you can enjoy it at a leisurely pace — and not when you know you’ll soon be seated thisclose in a theater.

600 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-333-1600. Dinner entrees, $21 to $36.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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