This review appears in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide.
I’ve long thought that good service can overcome fair food, but not the reverse: If a diner feels neglected, even the finest cooking will have a tough time winning you over. Then I had another dinner in this intimate and understated dining room with an Italian-leaning menu from Andrea Pace. His herbed grissini have to be the best table decoration in town, and his signature rye ravioli with fresh spinach and mountain cheese is such a comfort, I order it even though five other pastas compete for time. Rabbit-stuffed quail on lemony risotto alongside pureed carrot is vivid and delicious. Unfortunately, the head waiter seems determined to rain on our parade. When we ask what kind of mushrooms are in a flan, he tells us they’re “just regular,” and when we ask if there’s pork in that quail, he all but rolls his eyes when he shakes his head. (When I insist that he double-check, turns out that those mushrooms are the prized porcini, and there is indeed “a bit” of pig in the quail dish.) Clearly, he flunked charm school. In contrast, his teammate, eager and helpful, could have graduated at the top of the class. I give Villa Mozart the benefit of the doubt, because the seared calamari with creamy white beans, tangy tomatoes and olives is luscious. Because you can hold a conversation here without leaning in, and the desserts (including flaky apple strudel) are as interesting as the savory courses. Finally, because years of dinners here prove that Pace is a pro, and one bad apple shouldn’t mar the chef’s bunch of successes.
Villa Mozart: 4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax, Va. 703-691-4747. www.villamozartrestaurant.com.
Open: Lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Monday through Saturday.
Prices: Lunch entrees $10 to $21 or $20 prix fixe, dinner entrees $19 to $35 or prix fixe $39 or $49.
Sound check: 65 decibels / Conversation is easy.