Nido could be poised to help bring some attention to the Woodridge neighborhood in Northeast. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

GOOD

Minimalist, arty and ambitious, Nido feels like it could be nestled among the Shaw or 14th Street hotshots that generate untold gigabytes of online attention, sometimes based on little more than their proximity to far greater talent. But this savvy newcomer has taken a flyer on Woodridge, an eastern D.C. neighborhood that’s primed to become, well, the next Shaw or 14th Street.

Credit Karlos Leopold and Erin Lingle — the co-owner and former manager, respectively, of Boundary Road on H Street NE — for investing in a neighborhood hungry for something not wrapped up for carryout. The lack of full-service restaurants in Woodridge is so glaring that I assumed Nido’s motto (“A place to sit down”) was a playful, tongue-in-cheek reference to the neighborhood’s woes.

Buzzzzz. Wrong answer.

Lingle, the creative mind behind the place, says the motto comes from the etymology of “nido” (pronounced NEE-dough), the Spanish and Italian word that translates into “nest” in English. The Proto-Indo-European root of the word, however, has a literal, semi-awkward translation, something like where a bird sits down.

Okay, so Nido’s motto may be as wonky as a think tank, but its cooking draws on the relaxed, ingredient-focused fare of the western Mediterranean, with an emphasis on Spanish and Italian cuisines. Aaron Wright, a kitchen refu­gee from the once embattled Tabard Inn and more recently the executive chef at Pesce in Dupont Circle, is not a stickler for tradition. He’s more interpreter than historical reenactor.


House-made whole milk ricotta with olive oil, cracked pepper and salt. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Roasted chicken thigh with pickled lemon and green olives. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

The Nido team essentially strips the menu of obvious clues to the restaurant’s aims. Sure, there are a handful of options under a pasta heading, but such terms as “mezze,” “antipasti” or “tapas” are jettisoned in favor of more generic categories like snacks, small and large plates. The approach offers Wright adequate space for customization without the nattering nabobs of negativism — not just paid mouths like me, but pretty much anyone with a smartphone and a Yelp account — whining about authenticity.

For the most part, Wright uses the space judiciously. He substitutes gigante beans for potatoes in a small plate of grilled octopus and chorizo, adding a creamy, slightly waxy element to the classic dish. Wright’s take on beef carpaccio is a Times Square Snapchat of color; atop the ruby-red slices of dry-aged beef, he adds shaved shiitake mushrooms, capers and chives, all dressed with balsamic vinegar. The chef tucks figs into his harira soup, which introduces concentrated bursts of sweetness that Moroccans typically add at the dinner table by pairing the soup with dates.

The problem is, Wright’s approach can sometimes border on busyness, blurring the focus of a particular dish and, more important, undermining the ingredient-driven directness of much Mediterranean cooking. That carpaccio? The shiitakes threaten a hostile takeover with their wooden personality. A small plate of roasted cauliflower double dips on sauces, pairing the florets with both a lemon-caper aioli and a romesco. The sauce overload lends the dish, as delicious as it may be, a kind of pub-grub character.

Nido impresses in places you least expect it. The snack section is packed with clean, uncomplicated bites that do far more than fill stomach space until the main attractions arrive. The whole-milk ricotta, light as cappuccino foam, conceals small, sharp shocks of black pepper, lemon and sea salt, which underscore the milkiness of the cheese. The light dusting of rosemary on the skin-on marcona almonds manages to speak clearly through the chokehold of cayenne, espelette and black peppers. And the warmed house-marinated mixed olives play down the plodding brine for more bracing lemon-peel-and-balsamic accents.


Tuscan-style bone-in rib-eye with sea salt and whole roasted garlic. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

For a kitchen that displays a light touch on snacks, it can also turn on a dime and produce a mammoth hunk of meat that rivals anything charbroiled under infrared heat at your local steakhouse. Seared in a pan and roasted to a radiant medium-rare, the 28-ounce, bone-in rib-eye is served Tuscan-style, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with herbs and sea salt. Impressive and succulent on its own, the rib-eye is a cut above when wolfed down with its accompanying roasted garlic, whose sweetness interlocks with the caramelization of the meat.

If Nido struggles in any areas, it’s with consistency in the kitchen and training among the floor staff. The same cooks who produce an on-point plate of braised pork shoulder — the juicy meat is ignited with red chili flakes, then smothered under a thick blanket of Mahon cheese — can also send out an uneasy-on-the-eye bowl of lobster-and-ricotta agnolotti whose saffron, ginger and fennel flavors prove too unruly to organize. The desserts, also created by Wright, can be equally hit-or-miss: a pistachio pot de creme whose silken custard is lost under a drift of whipped cream or a saffron-poached pear whose flesh is elegantly paired with creme fraiche and toasted pine nuts.

Should you need guidance on a wine list populated with lesser-known Spanish and Italian labels, you can’t always rely on your server for assistance. Our waitress was not familiar with the $60 bottle of Spanish Priorat that we were considering, nor could she offer a sample since it was not available by the glass. So we rolled the dice and discovered that the Clos Severi was a bottle with big, port-like flavors, better for after-dinner sipping than pairing with, say, squid ink tagliarini draped in uni butter.


Squid ink tagliarini with uni butter, picked chilis and squid. (Deb Lindsey /For The Washington Post)

Neglect is not limited to wine knowledge, either. One evening I waited, and waited, for a pasta that eventually appeared with profuse apologies from the bartender. The kitchen, she told me, had “lost the ticket.” That may be true, but she was lost in conversation with other patrons at the bar, failing to notice my entree-less condition in a mostly empty room.

One oasis at Nido, where you’re free from the vagaries of cooks and servers, is the cocktail list. Lingle, the former beverage manager at Boundary Road, has composed a tight, vermouth-heavy menu that makes for easy drinking. Nido’s breezy, whitewashed space only fuels this sense that you’re supping within feet of the azul waters of a Sardinia beach. Frankly, I could knock back a line of Lingle’s creations, starting with her rum-based Canasta, with its bittering splash of Atxa vermouth, and graduating to her tequila-based Rosita with its gymnast-like balance of sweet, bitter and smoky elements. I guess you could complain about the melty ice — but only if you drink too slowly.

Neighbors, Lingle says, have been delighted with Nido’s decision to open in Woodridge. I suspect their joy is derived not only from the fact that residents now have a solid place to sit down for supper but also because the restaurateurs have put down roots. Leopold and Lingle bought the building that houses their business. This bodes well for the future as Nido continues to feather its own nest.

Tom Sietsema is on vacation.

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the scoop

Location: 2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE. 202-627-2815. nido-dc.com.

Open: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Snacks and small plates
$4 to $16, pastas and large plates $12 to $48.

Sound check: 68 decibels / Conversation is easy.