The Washington Post

Fiola Mare: So much to sea

Fabio Trabocchi’s new seafood restaurant in Georgetown, Fiola Mare, offers ideal river views. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Stop the presses! There’s a swell new restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront and luck, or good timing, can land you a table with a postcard view of both the Potomac River and the Kennedy Center.

The menu and the vista can be caught at the 7,500-square-foot Fiola Mare, the long-awaited Mediterranean seafood destination and the third local restaurant from chef Fabio Trabocchi, who has blessed the Washington scene with Fiola in Penn Quarter and Casa Luca downtown.

Fiola Mare sports the sleek good looks of an ocean cruiser and beckons with some of the most rococo dishes now playing. Ask for the peekytoe crab salad, decorated with pansies and nasturtiums, and you’ll see what I mean. The sweet star of the plate hails from Maine, and it comes with accents that ricochet from tangy (roasted tomatoes) to herbal (sorrel cream) to sparkling (lemon zest) from bite to bite. Risotto stained with squid ink, a frequent special, merits regular play. Scattered across the surface of the dark grains are tasty bites of fried salt cod tripe (actually bladder) and gelatinous fish throat that lend intriguing textural contrasts.

The staff of the fresh face appears to have been recruited from the pages of Italian Vogue, but the servers are no mere well-dressed models. They know the food as if they made it themselves, and they follow every diner request with a “Right away!” or “Excellent choice!”

Honestly, though, the rating becomes grating after a while. Fiola Mare is yet another opportunity for me to stand on my soap box and complain about restaurants that force diners to sit through passion plays. When I tell my waiter that my companions and I are ready to order, he flashes a faux frown and replies, “Aren’t you going to let me give you my presentation?” Reluctantly, we relent — and quickly become sorry: For the next 10 minutes, we’re held hostage as he more or less reads the entire menu to us.

My annoyance ends with the arrival of Oysters & Caviar, a first course presented in a parfait glass with a savory froth of champagne zabaglione. The indulgence has few equals. Pristine bay scallops with a shimmer of Sicilian olive oil and shavings of earthy black truffles also help erase the suffering. If offered, sardines make a nice catch, too.

Given all the distractions at Fiola Mare, which has quickly become a social hub for One Percenters (and their plastic surgeons), my inclination is to order something simple from the market counter near the visible kitchen. Whole grilled dorade is deftly filleted at the table and trailed by a fleet of seasonings, among them black olive salt and fennel aioli. The best way to eat the Mediterranean pleasure is with a side of bright and lemony sauteed spinach.

Fiola is a grand party boat that ends with a flourish of one-bite sweets that prove as delicious as they are beautiful. Just remember not to take the waiter’s bait and subject yourself to the equivalent of books on tape. Food this good can sell itself.

3050 K St. NW, 202-628-0065. Dinner pastas and main courses, $18 to $50.

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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