Wednesday, December 3, 2008

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, THERE'S FLAVOR: The executive chef at Teatro Goldoni (1909 K St. NW; 202-955-9494) enjoys a good cigar. Enzo Fargione says he also sees things "a bit differently" these days when it comes to cooking.

Combine the two inclinations and what his customers get is one of the most entertaining appetizers now playing in Washington: a carpaccio of branzino presented in a wooden cigar box that, when opened at the table, unleashes a brief but powerful cloud of smoke.

The magic act starts with raw, hand-cut fish, which Fargione decorates with citrus dressing, garlic chips, mushrooms, corn shoots and scallions. The carpaccio is then placed in a cigar box, followed by a little dish of lit apple wood chips, their fire extinguished before the lid is closed. Three or four minutes pass before the container leaves the kitchen, time enough for the garnishes to pick up some of the woodsy scent. The puff of smoke released in the dining room lingers in the air for a few moments, tickling but not torturing nearby noses.

Diners' reactions to the $16.95 dish have been, well, glowing. The carpaccio, originally created for the chef's tasting menu, is one of Teatro Goldoni's best sellers.

"I like to shock," says the 39-year-old chef, a protege of Roberto Donna. But Fargione also understands that flavor has to trump any gimmick. As he puts it, "the taste has to make you forget the presentation." And that it does.

-- Tom Sietsema

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