|Panzanella with heirloom tomatoes and anchovies|
Dinner at Fiola comes with expectations set so high it would be a miracle for the restaurant to meet them. The Italian trattoria, which opened last year in Penn Quarter, has received the kind of first-year reception restaurants dream of: heady buzz, a three-star review from the Washington Post and a James Beard award nomination for best new restaurant.
As it settles into its second year, Fiola has clearly hit its stride. Our recent dinner there was exceptional, marked by both good food and good service.
The restaurant is perched at the eastern edge of Penn Quarter, the bustling centerpiece of downtown D.C. However, Fiola tucked away on the relatively quiet Indiana Avenue (although due to a developer's trick it has a Pennsylvania Avenue address), offering a respite from the onslaught of 7th Street. Its outdoor patio is the perfect place to quietly enjoy good food and conversation.
Our expert server did an excellent job of reading our interests in food and wine, steering us toward elegant pasta entrees and balancing our preference for bold red wines with the more delicate flavors of the dishes we chose. Ricotta and mascarpone tortellini come bathed in a rich sauce of morel mushrooms and barolo wine reduction. Thank goodness we had those buttery rolls to sop it up. The lobster ravioli, which I heard a server tell another table is a signature dish, puts the emphasis on the lobster. In addition to stuffing the pasta, there are generous pieces served on the side.
Heirloom tomato panzanella is one of my summer staples, so when I saw it on the menu, I had to see how Chef Fabio Trabocchi interprets it. Rather well actually, with Texas-raised tomatoes that, if they are hot-house, disguise themselves expertly as grown outdoors. The meaty anchovies on the salad are quite tasty, a far cry from the overly salty ones at the grocery store. I also loved the combination of mint and prosciutto in a starter served with sugar snap peas and creamy stracchino cheese.
An extensive wine list with numerous Italian and American choices compliments the menu well, as does the list of cocktails, which includes creative libations such as the "Fiola," basically a vodka Collins made with rhubarb syrup, and the Milan Mule, made with amaro.
The dessert menu has some the usual suspects (a panna cotta, for example, although thankfully no tired ol' tiramisu). The Zuppa Inglese comes laced with blackberries and topped with a zesty lemon granita. The custard is a refreshing summer-appropriate way to finish a great meal.