The Michelin-starred Masseria used to offer guided tasting menus with four to six courses in its dining room near Union Market. Now, the “Masseria a Casa” takeout menu offers one multicourse meal for two each day. Diners can check the restaurant website on Monday to see a week’s worth of dinners and plan ahead. The reduced number of options is the result of both a leaner team in the kitchen and the challenges of getting ingredients. “We used to get deliveries from the West Coast every day, or overnight from Italy,” chef Nick Stefanelli says. Now, “some deliver once a week, some every other day.” But the intent is still there: “We’re trying to stay within what Masseria’s experience was — being able to bring happiness through food,” he says.
Creating a restaurant-like experience is also on the mind of Michael Rafidi, the chef at Albi near the Navy Yard. His weekly three-course menu features a limited number of courses, he says, to remove guesswork for customers. Albi’s staff has been trained to guide diners through the menu and answer questions about flavors and serving sizes, which just isn’t possible for people reading a menu from a screen. “When you’re ordering a la carte, you’re not getting the best of what we do here,” Rafidi says.
However, just because you’re ordering a meal from a renowned chef doesn’t mean that their kitchen is doing all the work. A recent takeout dinner for two from the Michelin-starred Rose’s Luxury arrived in a fleet of 18 different plastic containers with a sheet of paper providing “a couple of tips” for each of the four courses, including advice to heat sausage in the microwave for 30 seconds before mixing it into the restaurant’s famous litchi salad.
“There was a big learning curve” with packaging food to go, says Masseria’s Stefanelli, whose menu also arrives with detailed instructions. “We put a three-course meal in a bag but didn’t label each of the sauces. We’d get phone calls, ‘What’s in this bag?’ ‘What do I do with this?’” since sauces and toppings are packaged separately from other items. Another common question: What to do with leftovers, so “we’re adding reheating instructions,” Stefanelli says.
While doing the work yourself takes away from the illusion of dining out, pacing multiple courses lends itself to savoring the food, not rushing. You have to get up after each course, possibly reheat, and definitely replate, while someone gets to enjoy another glass of wine. (All these restaurants offer optional wine and cocktails, usually pairings created with their sommeliers.)
The upside, of course, is the price: In different times, spending $45 at Rose’s Luxury might get you two small plates and a cocktail. Here, it gets you four courses, with leftovers.
And while what’s on your plate is the focus, some restaurants go beyond the food to create an experience. On Friday nights, Erik Bruner-Yang’s ABC Pony offers a rotating menu of Philippine dishes, and diners are encouraged to tune in to the restaurant’s Instagram Live, where Les Talusan, a native of Manila and regular DJ at local clubs Showtime and Marx Cafe, provides a jumping soundtrack of vintage Philippine pop and disco, spun live on vinyl. For a couple of hours, as you feast on pork belly and groove to Bong Penera, you can close your eyes and imagine that you’re somewhere other than your dining room table.
ABC Pony: A few weeks before the shutdown began, ABC Pony launched a new promotion: a Monday-night “Prime Rib Party” with dinner and wine for two for $50. “That one night a week was pretty successful,” says co-owner Erik Bruner-Yang, and so when the restaurant near Nationals Park went takeout-only, it made sense to offer similar nightly deals. While most of the week rotates — check Instagram for the latest selections — Fridays have become known for its Philippine menu, which contains three courses, such as including lumpia and bistek, with jasmine rice and a cocktail.
Chef Paolo Dungca is a native of the Philippines, and previously cooked at Bad Saint and Kaliwa. Bruner-Yang says some members of the Filipino community “were coming in and teasing [Dungca] that there wasn’t enough Filipino on the menu.” At the same time, DJ Les Talusan had brought up “hosting an actual Filipino disco night” at ABC Pony, and Bruner-Yang says it made sense to combine the two. An added attraction is that Friday is focused toward vegetarians, with meat — such as last week’s crispy pork belly — available as an add-on.
2 I St. SE. Dinner-to-go menu available after 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. $50. abcpony.com.
Albi: “Every Monday, we come in and update the menu based on what’s going on on the farm,” says Albi chef Michael Rafidi. In the back of his mind when putting together the three-course menu, which features a trio of options for the starter and main: “How can we support other artisans?” and “If a farmer has a lot of Shepherd’s Delight cheese, what can I do with that?”
Albi offers a three-course dinner for $40 per person, or the “all-out” family-style meal for two or three, which comes with a trio of small plates, a large main course and sides, and dessert to finish, for an all-inclusive $95. Either way, recommended wine pairings start at a reasonable $33. (For those who want a smaller taste, a la carte options and shawarma lunch specials are also available.)
1346 Fourth St. SE. Dinner available from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. $40-$95. albidc.com.
Bresca: Chef Ryan Ratino’s Michelin-starred 14th Street NW restaurant launched its four-course “#BeeHome” tasting menu on April 10. Choices rotate weekly, but the latest, with starring roles for Wagyu beef brisket, a pineapple and carrot salad, and duck leg and thigh “au vin” over rice, gives a good indication of what to expect. Cocktails for two, such as the signature Bee’s Knees with gin, honey and chamomile, are $20 each; wine is also available.
Anyone craving a simulated steakhouse experience can splurge on the Steak House Classic, a $195 dinner for two with a 32-ounce prime dry-aged rib-eye that’s triple-seared over charcoal, and all the accoutrements: shrimp cocktail, wedge salad and sides.
1906 14th St. NW. Available from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. $45-$195. brescadc.com.
Centrolina: These days, the City Center restaurant is as well known for its gourmet market, packed with charcuterie, cheese, spices and dairy products, as for its housemade pastas.
While an a la carte menu is available for carryout or delivery, it’s easier to just let chef Amy Brandwein do the hard work, with three “dinner sets” that come with everything you need for two people: antipasti; focaccia or a baguette; a pasta course; a choice of Mediterranean sea bass, rib eye or charred chicken with sides; cookies or a daily pastry; and a bottle of wine.
974 Palmer Alley NW. Available daily from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. $115. centrolinadc.com.
Masseria: Masseria is a dinner worth planning for. Each night features a different three-course feast as part of the Northeast restaurant’s Masseria a Casa menu, which might include duck confit with farro and spring vegetables, or linguine with spicy XO sauce, scallops and shrimp. In addition to the food, which costs $85 for two, “People order bottles of wine and cocktails as if they were having a restaurant experience at home,” says chef/owner Stefanelli. A bottle of wine bumps the price or $135, or $225 with a “vintage” selection, but then again, a four-course prix fixe menu with wine pairing cost $173 to dine in, pre-coronavirus.
Masseria will deliver “anywhere inside the Beltway,” Stefanelli says, and a steady flow of business has allow him to hire back some employees who were laid off when the restaurant initially closed.
1340 Fourth St. NE. Available between 4 and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. $85-$225. masseria-dc.com.
Rose’s Luxury: The weekly “Treat Yo’ Self” menu from Rose’s Luxury offers four courses for $45, though customers only choose two of those: Everyone starts with that famous litchi salad, topped with pork or vegetarian sausage, and everyone finishes with a dessert, which is currently flourless chocolate cake. In between, there’s salad (marinated beets ricotta) or pasta (rigatoni with spicy sausage), and kung pao tofu or barbecue chicken with slaw and cornbread.
As noted above, the bags of food come with many containers and easy-to-follow instructions on how to prepare the food at home. Make sure to grab a bottle of wine for an extra $45, picked by the house sommelier.
717 Eighth St. SE. Available for takeout between 5 and 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. $45. rosesluxury.com.
Sfoglina: Forget pasta, olive oil and loaves of fresh bread: Fabio Trabocchi’s Van Ness eatery has become a market where home chefs can find flour, rolling pins, parchment paper and toilet paper. The Chef’s Menu for two offers a choice of three-course Italian meals — rigatoni with lamb ragu or spaghetti primavera, salad and dessert — for $85.
Toss in a bottle of wine, such as the $15 Pinot Grigio da Fabio Trabocchi from Italy’s Cantina La Vis, or one of the at-home cocktail kits for two, and you’re set.
4445 Connecticut Ave. NW. Takeout and delivery available from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Same-day orders must be placed by 5 p.m. $85. sfoglinapasta.com.