The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.
Aside from booking well in advance, the best advice I can give you about this tribute to the country houses of Puglia is to put your meal in the hands of chef Nicholas Stefanelli and ask for “La Cucina.” The six or so courses comprise highlights from the standing menu but also dishes the chef is working on and ingredients procured just for the dinner. It would be easy to make a meal of the bread course, but restrain yourself; on the horizon might be burrata arranged with a perfect oyster and beluga caviar, tortellini stuffed with chicken and blanketed with sheared matsutake mushrooms, perhaps some of the most sumptuous meat around (30-day, dry-aged beef deckle, or cap, on my visit). Voyeurs should request the chef’s counter, a see-their-tats-close-up look at a dozen cooks applying dots of sauce, shaving truffles and stirring risotto in a wild ballet. There’s just one disadvantage: your back to one of the dreamiest interiors in the city.
Masseria: 1340 Fourth St. NE. 202-608-1330. masseria-dc.com.
Prices: Prix fixe $92-$135.
Sound check: 75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
The trick to getting a seat at one of the most alluring restaurants in the city is to show up when the door opens and head straight for a stool at the inside/outside bar. The full menu is available there, and, depending on where you sit, you get a nice shot of the chic courtyard lounge or the open kitchen, starring chef Nicholas Stefanelli. Start with a drink (the white Thai Me Up Douglas is the liquid equivalent of diving into a pristine snowbank in a pine forest) while enjoying the bread plate; savory bombolini with centers of molten cheese are a particular weakness. From there, I move on to a pasta, then a meat. Look for dark, ear-shaped orecchiette in a cloak of duck ragu and squab cooked beneath a brick, served with seasonal fruit and drizzled with red wine sauce. The bill brings tiny gratis sweets, including one-bite, ricotta-stuffed, rosewater-scented cannoli. From first sip to last bite, Masseria is rich.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Spring Dining Guide as No. 5 on a list of the year’s 10 best new restaurants.
Dinner at the tucked-away Masseria near Union Market places patrons in an Italian fashion show. First there’s the stroll from luxe gravel courtyard to stone-and-wood dining room, followed by cocktails that demand your undivided attention even as a server sets down a plate of snacks, including impossibly thin sesame grissini tinted with squid ink. The food is described in the barest of terms on the menu, which lets guests pick from three to six courses, depending on the night. Ask for the “spring vegetable salad,” and out comes a garland of Instagram-ready vegetables and flowers set off with dots of sauces in pink (chioggia beet) and two shades of green (pea and artichoke). Request the “capretto,” or goat, and what follows is an arrestingly roseate rack of meat plus confit poised against verdant spinach and mellow yellow garlic puree. Now bite. The food lives up to its looks. The guy behind the style is Nicholas Stefanelli, adding dash to the District.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide.
A banner year of cooking in Washington has been matched by one of transporting interiors. Consider Masseria, modeled after the country houses in Puglia, Italy, and the first stand-alone restaurant amid the warehouses outside Union Market.
Masseria feels like a secret. A plain wood wall keeps its charms out of sight until you enter a courtyard of ornamental grasses and pools of gravel leading to a dining room that blends rusticity (concrete floors, industrial ceiling) with refinement (leather seats with mohair backs, Frette napkins). It’s a far cry from Nick Stefanelli’s previous post, the a la carte Bibiana downtown. These days, the chef is offering tasting menus of three or five courses; tripe paired with lobster and squab with Italian plums should make the cut.
If you don’t want to commit to a full dinner, the bar menu lets you sample the chef’s range with fried whole prawns tossed in a house-made XO sauce and calamari tossed with radicchio in saffron mayonnaise. They’re snacks best consumed at the inside-outside bar with drinks that send the message that Washington’s mixologists are second to none. That’s your cue to order Hennessy Jed, a snifter of cognac and bitters to which a server adds plum-infused glycerin smoke. The animated elixir is unlike any you’re apt to find in the Italian countryside, although the scenery channels just that fantasy.