M Cafe Bar brings contemporary Italian to 14th Street


MCafe Bar, which opened on 14th Street NW in August, offers a respectable veal tonnato. The 100-seat restaurant serves contemporary Italian food and a weekend Bellini Brunch. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
October 1, 2013

The smartest thing the owner of the new MCafe Bar did was wrap the restaurant’s exterior in a big blue awning that commands the attention of everyone who passes it. The fabric acts like a neon sign on a street where competition for diners is fresh and fierce. “Contemporary Italian Cuisine,” the letters on the facade practically scream.

On a fine fall day, the sidewalk tables are quick to fill. Cool temperatures draw customers inside, where white chandeliers, amber walls and outsize murals of celebrities — Sophia Loren is understandable, Marilyn Monroe less so — dress the 100-seat dining room. Instead of flowers, the tables sport breadsticks. Ours taste as though they’ve been there since August, when MCafe Bar opened.

Is there an Italian kitchen Nico Amroune hasn’t tossed pasta in? The chef’s résumé lists Teatro Goldoni, Tosca, the late Spezie and Galileo and an earlier M Cafe Bar in Chevy Chase (closed in 2011).

This reincarnation serves a resectable vitello tonnato: cold sliced veal topped with a creamy tuna sauce, plus rye crisps for welcome contrast. The pizza won’t pull pie lovers away from Etto or Ghibellina, among the newbie’s neighbors on 14th Street, but it’s decent. On a brisk night, I could see myself returning for a bowl of mushroom broth floating house-made tortellini, or minty tagliatelle draped with lamb ragu. Branzino comes to the table as a whole grilled fish, minus its bones, with sauteed cauliflower and carrots. Nice.

Launched by Iraklis Karabassis, who owns Sette Osteria in Dupont Circle, MCafe Bar recently added a Bellini Brunch to its schedule. For $15, diners get free-flowing prosecco with peach nectar, which they can sip Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

1634 14th St NW. 202-290-1178. www.mcafebar.com. Entrees, $11 to $38.

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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