The Washington Post

Dino’s Grotto: In move to Shaw, a refreshing change of pace

At the new Dino’s Grotto in Shaw, owner Dean Gold, above, says customers’ favorites are “things we think are fun to do,” including pork-and-potato croquettes and goat stew. (J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

Dean Gold says one of the big differences between his clientele in Cleveland Park, where he ran Dino for almost eight years, and his new customers in Shaw, at Dino’s Grotto, boils down to chicken: The audience in Shaw doesn’t demand that there be a bird on the menu.

In his new roost, a onetime hookah lounge, “the ordering pattern is very different,” says Gold. Top-selling dishes “are things we think are fun to do,” including panko-breaded Trotter Tots and goat stew. Shaw residents aren’t just more adventurous, he adds: They tend to dine later.

Yellow walls with a few paintings picked up in Italy pretty much make up the decor of the place. “I just closed a restaurant. I’m not flush with cash,” says Gold, who owns the property with his wife, Kay Zimmerman. “I put the money into the food.”

A menu category called “Dino Regulars” recalls customer favorites from the Cleveland Park menu: linguine with clams, duck schmaltz matzoh ball soup and “local sirloin.” I’m glad to find the last in Shaw. The Virginia skirt steak, succulent from its marinade of olive oil and rosemary, is accompanied by a racy anchovy salsa verde. What look like breakfast potatoes round out the dish.

One of a handful of pastas, fusilli al forno, brings a barge of carbs dotted with one-note lamb meatballs and a stiff web of smoked mozzarella. The combination resembles reheated leftovers. Cheesecake proves similarly unimpressive.

Gold holds the title of executive chef; Lenins Salinas is his No. 2 in the kitchen. Whoever whipped up soft-shell crabs, draped with a tomato sauce based on last summer’s harvest, deserves a pat on the back for his light approach to the seasonal special.

Beneath the dining room is a spare bar that helps explain the restaurant’s name and is the source of well-balanced Aviations and Manhattans. (Both go great with an order of deviled eggs gussied up with bright orange roe and aioli ignited with Sriracha.)

To pull in serious wine drinkers, Gold continues his habit, started at the original Dino, of offering 33 percent off bottles priced at $50 and up on Monday nights.

To fill seats early in the evening, he expands the deal to Sundays through Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m.: incentive, perhaps, for late-partying Shaw to rethink its dinner hour.

1914 Ninth St. NW. 202-686-2966. Main courses, $19 to $59.

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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