Washington has long had good cheap eats and grand dining gestures in its corner. But only in its recent history has the city been able to claim a substantial inventory of solid neighborhood restaurants. Strolls through Logan Circle and Shaw in particular, but also Petworth and H Street NE, turn up lots of places for locals to refuel on a routine basis.
The most recent evidence of this happy development is Mola in Mount Pleasant, from the folks who improved Woodridge with Nido two years ago, Karlos Leopold and Erin Lingle. Like Nido, Mola is small, just 45 seats including some stools at the bar. Also like its sibling, which translates to “the nest,” the newcomer sports a Spanish name. Mola is slang for “cool” or “it rocks.”
Lingle says the setting, formerly Radius Pizza, called to her: “I like small sizes.” The restaurateur is also partial to Spain, where she travels a couple times a year and likes to rock climb when she’s not checking out regional foodstuffs. Lingle wrote the menu for Mola, which emphasizes small plates and plays up vegetables and seafood.
The interior benefits from the carpentry skills of Leopold, who built the smooth white oak tables, the benches and a portion of the bar himself. Spare as the dining room is, it’s also charming. Brick painted a ghostly white, concrete tiles and rattan lights shaped like beehives reveal a sly sense of style.
Mola relies on a kitchen manager, Nido’s Marlon Ramirez, rather than a dedicated chef. (Lingle likes to refer to the arrangement as “collaborative.”) The cooking is, for the most part, easy to like. Sure, the smoked eggplant dip served with warm pita proves strangely sweet, but much of the rest of the script is more than satisfying.
Crumbled spiced lamb scattered on pureed chickpeas? Yes, please. Fried goat cheese lashed with honey and sprinkled with beet chips should also find its way to your table. Of the big plates, saffron-fragrant paella with tendrils of spinach, glossy red peppers, soft chickpeas and coins of morcilla (blood sausage) leads the pack early on. Then again, a grill of mixed lamb parts arranged on a green canvas of peas, artichokes, fava beans and fresh mint adds up to a memorable spring fling.
3155 Mount Pleasant St. NW. 202-849-3247. moladc.com. Entrees, $17 to $36.