Bebo in Crystal City--first impressions
Had dinner at Roberto Donna's new place in Crystal City, Bebo, on Saturday night. It just opened last Thursday.
I had understood that it was going to be more casual and down-home than Galileo, but the space was pretty large and more formal-looking than I had expected. Prices, though, were very reasonable--under $20, often well under, for most main courses, salads in the single digits, side dishes for $3.
There were a few glitches in the service, not unexpected for the third night, but the food was superb. I had the Ceasar salad and fried rabbit with artichokes and scallions. Both were absolutely delicious--great anchovy flavor and parmesan with the salad, and the rabbit and veg were perfectly fried and not at all greasy. I was skeptical of the orange mayonnaise that came on the side, but it was terrific. A side order of polenta was excellent. My husband had a salad of roasted tomatoes and mozzarella, which was also delicious, and pasta with a ragu made of pork ribs, great hearty long-cooked flavor. There are good wines by the glass, also very reasonable. I had a very tasty Barbera for $7/glass; the waiter had recommended it and it was perfect for my meal.
For dessert we shared a hazelnut cake with hazelnut ice cream and caramel sauce. The presentation was not great as the cake was very crumbly, almost like a shortbread, but we didn't care because it tasted so good.
Chowhounds in the vicinity should definitely check this out.
My wife and I tried Bebo on Saturday night. We liked some of the food a lot; other items were fine but a little disappointing. Ambiance (the Oyamel space) is nice, though sort of a mismatch for the homey food. Prices are a tremendous value.
Service, I'm afraid, was really, really bad, as in long waits to be acknowledged both at the bar and at our table; pretty much every drink order initially forgotten; bartender acknowledged putting a wrong wine on the ticket but said the price was the same when actually it was a 50-cent overcharge; at the table my initial wine choice (chosen for appetizer) arrived not only after the appetizer arrived but also after the main course arrived (it took forever to begin with and then was the wrong wine -- IGT white instead of IGT red, and when corrected the waiter denied knowing IGT made a red, never mind the menu); no olive oil or butter was offered for the bread; my "well, substitute y if x is unavailable" response to an "I'm not sure there's any x left" from the waiter resulted in a runner's bringing y -- never a confirmation from the waiter.
As bad as all that sounds, we're generally forgiving anyway and we know that the place is new -- and of course we knew it was a Saturday night.
For appetizers, I had veal carpaccio (this was the y when the x -- octopus special -- did not appear). It was ... fine. I wouldn't order it again. JD had a lovely-sounding polenta with soft cheese and pancetta. All was fine, though JD left the too-pungent-for-her cheese (an ordering mistake, though the menu might have been a little more specific).
She got the spaghetti carbonara. Like so many restaurant carbonaras, it uses cream, which is not part of a classic carbonara. In this case it was apparently a whipping cream that somehow left the dish with an almost dessert-like bright vanilla note -- I wish I were expert enough to pinpoint exactly what was going on (a tiny pinch of nutmeg, maybe?), but it was a characteristic I've never noticed in a carbonara before. I wish restaurants would just make the dish the right way, but perhaps the cream offers a stability factor that makes it safer and easier -- and, in this case, it wasn't an altogether unpleasant difference.
I opted for a pasta with pork-rib ragu that I had heard good things about. My experience wasn't so great. The pasta, I forget the name, was basically large shells cut up. The sauce was meaty and ... fine, but atop that oddly dissheveled pasta I couldn't help think of some frozen entrees I've had over the years. To be fair, it was a bad first impression that improved a little as I got to the chunks of meat at the bottom of the place. I'm looking forward to trying the regular old bolognese and the all'amatriciana.
That IGT rosso, by the way, was really, really nice. The bar-menu descriptions of the by-the-glass wines are pretty odd across the board, and for this wine is stressed the youngness. Again, I'm not an expert, but for me it stood up quite well to the meaty pasta dish. The second glass, a chianti, was not nearly as good. (I ordered this from a distinguished-looking woman who came around to see how everyone was doing -- is there a Mrs. Donna who does this? -- during one of the waiter's long absences. Yes, yes, we should have said something, but we're generally averse to that and, as I said, the place needs a chance to get settled.) There are a lot of by-the-glass choices, some as cheap as $5.
The desserts were a highlight. JD got panna cotta with berry sauce; I got the poached pear with red-wine sauce and cinnamon bavarian cream. A knife would have been nice for the latter, but ... mmm.
The tab for two appetizers, two pasta entrees, two desserts, a large bottle of San Pellegrino plus one club soda, and two glasses of wine: in the low $60s. That's just a great price point that we just don't see often in this area, and so we're going to be back in search of some more reliable pasta choices and, with luck, better service.
(Also: We didn't try any of the bar-only snacks -- we would have been there all night, if our other dealings with the bartender were any indication -- but many of them sounded better than the real menu's appetizer choices, and most of them were exceedingly inexpensive.)
Here are links to their dinner, bar and dessert menus. Their pricing is evolving. Currently desserts are $6. Pasta portions lend themselves to leftovers (based on my two visits, YMMV).
Well, I'm pleased to say that I look forward to returning to Bebo without hesitation. I liked the high ceilinged space, and I was amazed to find that my hard-of-hearing father in law had no trouble communicating, which often determines where we dine with him.
Service seems to have been smoothed out, and we experienced none of the traumas that the "early adapters" have reported here and on other food boards. Waiters and runners alike were polite, attentive, and any requests, such as for silverware, were swiftly met.
Even though the appetizers are not really designed for sharing with as many people as we had, I managed to taste several.
I just had to try the triumvarate of Lardo, Salsiccia e Carne Cruda, and while I liked the beef tartare with the olive oil and cured lard, I didn't much care for the sausage, something in the flavor seemed odd. I'm not really a seafood eater, but I did get a taste of the Calimari, and as one of my dining companions said, it tasted "of the sea" with it's light breading. The Fried Mozzarella didn't impress me either, too many calories that you could indulge otherwise.
At the urging of our companions, a few of us ordered the Caesar Salad. Who knew what fun a salad could be, with it's vertical arrangement, like a potted plant? And delicious to boot!
On to the entrees! I had the risotto, and it was the celebrated Gorgonzola and Pistachio version. I finished the entire bowl!
Brother in Law had the Deep Fried Rabbit which was a lovely golden brown and satisfied him very well. Mom in law had the Sea Bass, filleted at the table. Even my totally non-fish eating spouse said it was good! Dad in law enjoyed his Spagetti alla Carbonara, which was not at all like the usual gloppy, creamy stuff you get in most restaurants. Our lovely niece polished off the Polpette (meatballs), while her mom had the Lasagnette, which I intend to have on my next visit! The only low point was the Bucatini all' Amatriciana, that my spouse ordered and reported to be somewhat blander than expected.
Dessert followed. I had the Affogato al Caffe, and while I am guilty of eating all that did not melt, the only thing that prevented me from spooning up the melted part mixed with espresso was the distinct, and unwelcome (for me) hazelnut flavor that they need to mention in the menu. Other desserts ordered were the Tiramisu (wish I had ordered that!), Poached Pears, and Panna Cotta. No complaints about those!
Now the amazing part: all this food, several bottles of still water, and four bottles of wine (three different reds and a white) came to just over $400 with tip!
The reinvention of Crystal City as a dining and entertainment destination is considerably boosted by the addition of Bebo, and I have to wonder if Roberto Donna will ever bother to reopen Galileo, now that the era of expense account restaurants is drawing to a close. I'm planning my next visit!
My wife and I tried the "small plates" at the bar at Bebo on Sunday night and the food was very good and amazingly cheap, and the wines were excellent values at $5-$7 a glass. The bartenders were still learning the menu (and open about it), but they were highly entertaining -- one of them could be a stand-up comedian. We had a great time and we'll definitely be back.
We ate at the bar Friday night and I think it is the way to go unless you are looking for a more formal dining experince. The small plate menu and the main menu are avalable at the bar. At a table, only the main menu is available. We ordered from both at the bar. I especially recommend the calamari from the small plate menu and the cannellini beans from the main menu [it is a side dish and amazingly good].