Nicaro, Designed to Put the Focus on the Food
The butternut squash soup at Nicaro (8229 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-588-2867) is no typical vegetable puree. The shade of a desert sunset, the contents of the bowl fairly pulse with ginger, lemon grass and kaffir lime: assertive notes tempered with the sweetness of coconut. Just as pleasing in this new restaurant is an entree of tagliatelle, house-made pasta topped with a fine lamb Bolognese and lashings of pecorino cheese.
A few bites into dinner, it's easy to imagine you're eating at the Tabard Inn in Washington, and here's why: The man behind these and other dishes at Nicaro, Pedro Matamoros, spent seven years at the creative American restaurant in Dupont Circle before leaving last spring. The Nicaraguan-born chef, 38, says he was ready for a challenge after such a long run in one place. His new roost also places him just 10 minutes from home.
Design-wise, the sleek restaurant is a world removed from the cozy-as-a-quilt Tabard Inn. Divided into a bar with low leather couches and a 50-plus-seat dining room with a banquette that runs the length of the space, Nicaro relies on a few choice bits of art to dress itself up. The dining room's endless right wall is the beneficiary of what look like undulating, outsize red and orange ribbons, a visual treat reflected in votive-lit mirrors hung on the opposite side. There are strategically placed light boxes, too, crafted by an artist who is expected to join the restaurant staff soon as a server.
Otherwise, the room is spare. "We want the focus to be on Pedro's food," says general manager Andy Boles. The opening menu, which also lists a warm fig tart with goat cheese and arugula, and seared scallops served with a pomegranate butter sauce, makes a good read. And, like a growing number of restaurants in high-traffic areas, this one plans to fill the post-lunch, pre-dinner void with small plates -- terrines, cheese and charcuterie -- to reel in its neighbors, including workers at Discovery Communications.
Lunch entrees $10-$15; dinner entrees $18-$28.