It's restaurant week in D.C. and here is an excellent summation from opentable.com~
Join us this January when over 200 of metropolitan Washington, DC's finest restaurants offer awe-inspiring, multi-course meals prepared especially for this gourmet event.
Destination DC and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington are proud to present the 17th annual Washington, DC Restaurant Week from January 17-23, 2011.
Lunch: $20.11 for a three-course fixed-price meal
Dinner: $35.11 for a three-course fixed-price meal
Beverages, gratuity and tax are not included.
For me and Mr. Hubby this roughly translates into two words - Date Night. This also poses its own challenges - what on earth am I going to wear? and where on earth are we going to eat? Since my closet or my life for that matter, in no way resembles any of the women in Sex & the City, challenge # 1 is easily resolved which leaves me with challenge # 2.
I have for some time wanted to eat at one of Ashok Bajaj's restaurants. For those of you are familiar with the dining scene in the nation's capital may be well aware that he is a James Beard award-winning Restaurateur and has a 'stellar collection of elegant dining rooms'.
BIBIANA happens to be one of his latest additions and upon opening in September 2009, Bibiana instantly became one of Washington’s most popular hot spots.
Executive Chef Nick Stefanelli's cuisine has helped earn Bibiana a glowing review and two-and-a-half stars from food critic Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post, and four stars from DC Modern Luxury critics. It also secured a place on Washingtonian’s list of the top one hundred restaurants in the nation’s capital. In June 2010 Bibiana was a finalist for “Best New Restaurant” and Nick Stefanelli won the “Rising Star Chef” from The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Bibiana was named to Esquire’s exclusive list of 20 “Best New Restaurants 2010.”
Naturally, I eager to partake of his culinary genius. So with a few clicks at opentable.com, Mr Hubby and I had reservations at Bibiana on a night that also called for snow and a wintery mix.
A little snow and sleet however was not going to stand in the way of what I hoped would be great food & date night with Mr. Hubby. After all, it's not every day that a girl gets Mr. Sparkle on a week night.
The building in the heart of downtown which nestles BIBIANA excudes the faceless look of any other downtown office building and but for the potted plant on the sidewalk and the sign once you look up, we would have driven right past.
Mr. Hubby however brought his trustee Emily along (a.k.a his GPS receiver) and stopped straight in front of the building even though I was still trying to catch my bearings what with the alphabets running one way and numbers running the other, not to mention all the one way streets which forms 'the grid' of D.C. streets.
Entering the restaurant hastily because of the night chill brrr... after handing our vehicle to the valet guy we were pleasantly greeted by a coat room - this appealed to me instantly because it was only recently that we had been to a restaurant with one forlorn coat rack in the corner and the experience of finding ones heavy winter coat buried underneath another 100 heavy winter coats belonging to 100 strangers in the restaurant was neither easy nor delightful - for all I could think of was, is some one going to yell at me if I drop their coat? Thankfully, this task was performed gingerly and without incident.
We are greeted with beaming faces behind the welcome desk (for lack of a better term) set against a trendy bar. I was rather taken aback by the unexpected warm welcome because more often than not I expect a empty plastered smile that seems to be much more common in such instances.
As we wove our way through the bar seating & waiting area which takes up a good portion of the place, I couldn't help feeling a sense of deja vu. I realised that this place reminded me of so many trendy restaurants in so many big cities now like Tao in Las Vegas & Sushi Roku, W Hotel in Scottsdale which have all been designed with that ultra-modern look and feel of a part restaurant, part night club. The low and dim lighting and the flickering candle light votives on the tables only enhances that experience.
We are emptied into the belly of the restaurant where the tables are placed quite close to each other and being a crowded night, the place has a nice buzz to it. We are handed off to our server Jennifer who immediately surfaces to take our drink orders which commenced with water with a squeeze of lemon.
The Sicilian white wine from the Donnafugata estate came later. A special Restaurant week menu was placed before us and I was happy to see that for each of the three courses - a choice of close to nine items was placed before us.
We looked around the restaurant which had a nice mix of age group and gender of what seemed to be a mostly upper cross-section of society. It was also hard to miss the distinctive murals & chandelier globes bearing down on us.
Somewhere before a second helping our firsts appeared.
Braised Meat Ball in Sugo Finto, Arson Mills White Polenta, Gremolada
My first bite - the polenta which was incredibly creamy and the flavor of lemon which infuses it I thought was genius. The 'Sugo Finto'is ‘meatless ragù,’ a tomato sauce cooked for nearly as long as a traditional meat sauce and though intensely flavored is not overpowering with the delicate flavored polenta. The braised meatball though moist and flavorful does not prove to be a punctuation mark and reminds me of just that - a well prepared meatball.
Squid, soppressatta, potato, lemon, squid ink vinaigrette
What a stellar presentation! The squid is perfectly cooked and infused with what we thought was wood smoke but turned out to organic hay smoke. The filling with lemon and mashed potato and morsels of dry Italian cured salami (soppressatta) though works well with the squid, left me wanting. Perhaps it was the fact that I expected the squid to be a vessel of some treasure and the simple mashed potato filling was a bit of a let down. I cannot however walk away from this dish without calling it memorable and was definitely a favorite of the evening.
Roasted Shenandoah leg of lamb, grilled romaine, olive-tomato tapenade
One word - fantastic! Perfectly cooked lamb with a wonderful & unexpected surprise from the olive-tomato tapenade. The flavor of the tapenade that reminded me very much of old-world pickles works beautifully with the rare lamb. The grilled romaine, just seared to a wilt is just the right counter-balance and palete cleanser.
Braised beef cheeks, white polenta, onion compote
I consider this comfort food at its best. It reminded me of good home cooked pot roast which though is lovely was unexpected as one of the main offerings. The polenta continued to delight and was a perfect accompaniment to the meat and soft onions.
For the final offerings of the evening, with our espressos we chose these -
Delizia Al Limone
Amalfi coast sponge cake filled with lemon cream
We gravitated towards this as soon as we read this on the menu but alas! it turned out to be a disappointment. The texture of the sponge cake was wrong and there was a after taste that was part egg and part something else. Fortunately, we were saved by this -
Vanilla panna cotta, pistachio streusel, sour cherry compote
Now here is a dessert that brings out the poet in me (though there is none) and enough cannot be said about its creamy texture, the wonderful pistachio streusel which was very similar to a really good short bread and the compote that punctuated every bite with part sweet, part tang. Marvelous dessert that I could very well have turned into a whole meal!
Total damages running at $109 including tax and 2 glasses of wine. Not including gratuities of course.
~Here's how I see it~
All in all - solid good food, excellent service, pricey wines.
But here is my litmus test - what I look for in a restaurant is very simple: you're either my Mecca restaurant list material or not. And what I mean by that is that there are a handful of restaurants around the world, if we're any where within a flying or 6 hour driving distance, we'll revisit again and again for that one dish or that one experience.
In short, neither distance nor time will wane the memory.
Bouchon-Las Vegas, Lupa-NYC , Pizzeria Bianco-Phoenix all fall in that category.
You get my drift?
Those my friends are my Mecca restaurants.
And though the food here was good with hints of genius, I cannot say that I am prepared to include BIBIANA in my list of Mecca restaurants - just yet. Chef Stefanelli is no doubt a rising star.
And I for one am prepared to wait.