Wednesday, July 13, 2005
ITALIAN LESSONS: Dean Gold says he wants his sunny new restaurant in Cleveland Park -- the eponymous Dino (3435 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-686-2966) -- to be "the kind of restaurant my wife and I enjoy in Italy."
To underscore that ambition, Gold, a former buyer for Whole Foods Market, took his executive chef, Johnny Nielsen , late of Aria , and his service director, Justin Guthrie , previously with Lavandou and Palena , on a 12-day tour of Arona, Venice and Montalcino before Dino's launch this month. They ate, they drank, and they saw the caves where one vendor ages and tempers some 400 kinds of cheese.
The menu at Dino, which replaces the Asian-themed Yanyu , has grazers in mind. The choices start with crostini -- crisped bread topped with whipped cod, roasted vegetables or chicken pate -- and move on to cicchetti , the little snacks so beloved by Venetians in their wine bars. Then follow (trend alert!) plates of sausages and cheese, pastas that can be ordered in two sizes and a handful of entrees.
Grilled baby octopus tastes of red wine and comes to the table atop lemon-kissed chickpeas. It's very pleasing. Whole-wheat pasta mixed with "anchovy, onions, capers, garlic" and herbs is weighed down by a field of soft onions and not enough of the other flavors. It's underwhelming.
The Italian-leaning wine list, though, is an unqualified treat. Dino is selling bottles for "the retail price plus $10," says its owner, and it also pours 18 labels by the three-ounce sample and the eight-ounce glass. While Gold preaches the gospel of Italian tradition, he lets his kitchen have some fun, too. The chef's refreshing twist on tiramisu, for instance, finds ladyfingers soaked in potent limoncello.
Good news for patrons who hate smoke: Dino doesn't allow anyone to light up, anywhere. And people had better set their cell phones on vibrate or shut them off because "ringing cell phones will be cooked on our girarrosto," the menu amusingly warns. That's the rotisserie spit.
Appetizers $1.75-$7, entrees $12-$18.