Recap: Restaurant Week Dinner at Fiola
Summer’s DC Restaurant week (DCRW), held August 13-19, 2012 (not including the many extensions), has officially come to a conclusion. Regardless of whether you’re a diner or a restaurant industry worker, it is a very busy time for many DC area restaurants –well, now it is. Thanks to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), creator of the bi-annual promotion, (next will be held January 2013), many area restaurants report an increase of business in an otherwise very slow time of year. Now after its 21st session, Washingtonian foodies look forward to the chance to dine out at some of DC’s top restaurants for a greater value, including yours truly. In addition, many DC area restaurateurs depend on the surge of business during that week in the middle of the summer. For DCRW, it’s a win-win for everyone!
During DCRW Dining in DC contributors Sean O’Brien and Lindsay Hovermale, as well as, our new friend Jennifer Farley of WashingtonEats.com joined us for dinner at the new Fiola (601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW). It was one of my Top 20 Picks for DC Restaurant Week due to it’s recent RAMMY award for Best New Restaurant 2012 by the RAMW. I had been hearing about Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s return to DC to open his trattoria moderna, located downtown in Yannick Cam’s former Le Paradou space for months. I had heard nothing but good things and even the hardest to please foodies were dazzled. Fiola offers traditional Italian dishes with a contemporary interpretation, for which Chef Trabocchi is well-known. So needless to say my expectations were very high.
It was our first time dining for all four of us, so there was a bit of excitement at our table all around. You’d think when you have four foodies all together for dinner it would be purely a leisurely fun meal, and oh it was, but we approached it like it was a pie to slice. We thoroughly analyzed their 3-course dinner menu and then held a discussion about who would order which first, second, and third course based on preference (no exaggeration).
I sampled nearly everything on their DCRW 3-course dinner menu. Between the four of us, we covered all of our bases. As an amuse bouche and gift from the chef (Thank you!) we enjoyed the Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho (see photo above on left). Tomato gazpacho is by far one of my favorite ways to enjoy the delicious flavor of the season. The soup was creamy, smooth, and very refreshing. It was absolutely delicious and the presentation was vibrant; I was impressed that the bowl was served on crushed ice.
For the first course, I started with the Fiola Meatballs, with Pecorino Romano cheese and Foglie di Noce (Walnut leaves). The meatballs, made with a mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork were fabulously tender, moist, and the tomato sauce was tangy and had bold flavor (see photo on right). Chef shared his recipe recently on Fox News, in case you dare to try and recreate this masterpiece in your own kitchen. I obviously chose … wisely as everyone at the table said the meatballs were their favorite appetizer, with the steak tartar coming in a close second.
While I’m not a fan usually of tartare anything, I enjoyed the steak tartare, which was garnished with a beautiful organic sunny side up egg, parmigiano crema, and diced green onion.
As a self-proclaimed “egg slut”, Anthony Bourdain would have loved this dish (as per the segment, “Three Little Pigs” at the Silver Palm restaurant in Chicago). The photo doesn’t do the tartare justice. It had a vibrant deep pink hue which reminded me of cutting into a rare steak nearly blue. It was served with grilled slices of Italian bread. Served by breaking the egg yolk and mixing it with the steak tartare and then topping the grilled bread with it is how I hope the chef intended. I may digress but, I can imagine that this could also work well as a brunch dish. Kind of like a play on steak and eggs.
Saving room for the Secondi, I was prepared to taste all of the various dishes that we ordered, two of which, including mine, were pasta. Since I was at Fiola, I figured, when in Rome, right? I ordered the Risotto with scallops, summer pesto of basil Genovese (sweet basil), and pine nuts. I’d admit that perhaps for this course, I chose … poorly. The pesto just completely overpowered the entire dish. You couldn’t really taste the flavor of the scallops or anything else for that matter; was almost like a soup with a pesto broth. The other dishes that I sampled, the Ricotta Cavatelli with pancetta, roasted tomato, Pecorino Romano cheese, and Matriciana (a traditional Italian pasta sauce based on guanciale (dried pork cheek) was better in flavor; however, I didn’t love the texture of the pasta. Cavatelli look like small pasta shells or miniature hot dog buns. The cavatelli were stuffed with ricotta, so it was just too soft in texture for my preference. In my defense, I don’t even eat ripe bananas. The other three at the table obviously enjoyed the dish. In fact, it was Jennifer’s favorites.
I enjoyed the Black Cod and the Grilled Artic Char. Sean and Lindsay really enjoyed the dishes as well. We took turns trading plates back and forth between the four of us. I think overall the Ricotta Cavatelli was the favorite of the second courses, along with the Black Cod. Everyone basically agreed about the risotto and the over-powering pesto.
For Dolci, I ordered the house-made gelato which came as a duo with Chocolate Chip Gelato and Raspberry Sorbetto with tart Amarena Cherries. The gelato was sweet, creamy, and delicious and offset the tartness of the raspberry sorbetto well. I enjoyed it but was feeling full from our previous courses. I tried the Dark Chocolate Mousse which reminded me of Michel Richard’s kitkat bar at Central Michel Richard. It was very rich and decadent.
Overall, I enjoyed the meal, especially the Fiola meatballs, but I wasn’t entirely blown away, especially because I had such high expectations. The first courses, the gazpacho, tartare, and meatballs left the greatest impression besides the service, which was very friendly and knowledgeable. I left feeling satisfied and am inclined to give Fiola another try when it’s not DC Restaurant Week. In my years of DCRW experience, I understand that many restaurants have difficulty offering the same quality of dishes as they normally would considering the cost. With that being said, I’m excited to return. I’m convinced that I will love Fiola.