Lupo Verde adds to the Italian on 14th Street


Chef Domenico Apollaro, left, and managing parter Antonio Matarazzo prepare a plate of meats and cheeses in the first-floor cheese shop at Lupo Verde, at 14th and T streets NW. (Jared Soares/For The Washington Post)

The owner of Ulah Bistro, Station 4 and Tunnicliff’s Tavern has added another flavor to his portfolio. Lupo Verde, from veteran Washington operator Med Lahlou, squeezed into crowded 14th Street NW in February — never mind that the area already has four other Italian establishments.

“Why not an extra one?” Lahlou responds when asked about the competition. Anyway, he says, his business is different. Lupo Verde is the only one of the bunch to stock its own cheese shop, on the ground floor.

So, si, there’s an opportunity to nibble on taleggio or Gorgonzola, as well as charcuterie, including bresaola and house-made pancetta, with a glass of Falanghina or Nero d’Avola. Whatever your order, it’s preceded by a plate of focaccia that is trumpeted as house-baked but smacks of day-old bread (on all three visits, I should add).

To the rescue: a steel cup of smoky mezcal, aperol, grapefruit juice and prickly pear puree, otherwise known as
’A Malafemmina. Smoky on the nose and biting on the tongue, the cocktail is one of a slate created by local limoncello maker Francesco Amodeo.

A native of southern Italy, Domenico Apollaro, 34, serves as top chef of the two-story restaurant, made cozy by exposed brick and dark wood floors. Many of his antipasti look to the sea. Both the loose cake of mussels sauteed with onion, tomato and garlic and the chopped raw swordfish tossed in lemon vinaigrette with toasted fennel seed make pleasant openers. Threads of zucchini and bell pepper, fried with capers, are a fun addition to any meal (and they salvaged a dinner of dry baby chicken one night).

Apollaro’s plate-size pizzas are pretty and pillowy. But the nearby Etto and Ghibellina have nothing to fear, judging by the strangely sweet combination of cheeses, porchetta, crushed hazelnuts and arugula I sampled. Better are the chef’s own pastas. Noodles in a bowl with lamb ragu, tiny beef meatballs and a flag of fried basil made a nice to foil to the polar vortex outside the door; spaghetti comes with welcome (al dente) resistance and a wash of sauce, briny with dried mullet roe. Sliced leeks lend color and crispness to the dish.

A look inside, at the dashing men behind the marble bar, helps explain Lupo Verde’s early popularity. The crew members may be slow to distribute menus, but they are quick to dole out smiles. I haven’t observed that much flirting since I last saw an eHarmony commercial.

This is not a menu where you can point your finger anywhere on it and pull up a winner. Lupo Verde requires you to make a few visits to find its charms, which, if not abundant, are present.

1401 T St. NW. 202-827-4752. Pastas and entrees, $14 to $29.

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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