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Brief review of Dino

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Had an early reservation on a rainy night. At first, our server could only be described as snotty. Didn't tell us about off menu specials (we heard the other server tell her tables about them) and didn't seem interested in our experience at all. Once we asked for our bottle of wine, server seemed to be more interested...but it didn't last...

We had the roman grilled vegetables (I think that's the right descrptions) plus the roasted garlic, and then 1/2 orders of the lamb pasta and boar pasta. The food was very good. The roasted vegetables were very oily, but otherwise I can't complain about the food. What I can complain about was the service...

We had to ask for water refills. We heard other servers explain in great gustatory details aspects of the menu (written and unwritten) that we did not hear. At one point, a hawaiian shirted man (Dean, himself?) was so busy in conversation with a table near us that my progress to my own table (after going to the bathroom) was impeded. Throughout the evening, we witnessed othter tables getting much more attention, receiving much more information and generally having a better experience than us. The place was nearly empty. Perhaps most of the seated tables were regulars, and we were not...but I can say that we will not become regulars.

A restaurant's reputation is not just built on food or wine. And a patron's experience is not just based on what happens at his/her table. It's based on his/her observations of the entire experience. I can say that I will not hurry back to Dino. I like the food and I love the concept, but the execution was very poor.

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  1. Did you say anything to your server, or ask for a manager?

    Seems like a loss to YOU if you won't return to the place, when you admit that you enjoyed the food, and didn't give management a chance to correct the errors of a single server that you observed not being up to the example of the rest of the servers.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DanielK

      Well, I've never been to Dino, so my comments here are general rather than specific... but I can see dcandohio's point. One of my pet peeves are restaurants where the "special" people get attention from the owner and demonstrably better service than peons off the street. Even my favorite restaurants only get my patronage once or month or so... and that's not often enough to obtain the VIP treatment. I'd rather go to a place that gives considerate service to everyone.

      1. re: jmasek

        It's quite natural, and unexceptional to me, that regulars receive "special" attention at a restaurant. After all, they have (i) demonstrated a commitment to and enthusiasm for the restaurant, for which the place is naturally grateful; and (ii) developed a relationship with the staff.

        Which does *not* mean that bad or inattentive service is acceptable for non-regulars. Sounds as if you had a dud waiter. But don't asume that's representative of the restaurant. From what I can tell, Dean Gold, the proprietor, genuinely cares that all patrons have an enjoyable meal, and bends over backwards to try to make that happen. I've only been once, but he was very eager to help me find a (reasonably priced) bottle of very good wine, and we had a really great meal and very good service.

        You shouldn't have received lousy service -- but you probably should also bring it to the attention of the restaurant and see what happens.

    2. I have been to Dino a few times in recent months since moving up to Cleveland Park. I have never met the owner and haven't received any sort "special" treatment. That being said the service in my experience has always been friendly and competent, if not overly polished. Maybe you caught them on a bad night.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chickenlover

        Then perhaps I should be eating there with you!
        The two things that keep me from having a meal there are the service and the excessive olive oil on the vegetarian dishes I have orders, but I admit that might be a preference. I've found them over-oiled which I can deal with.

        However, the times I've eaten there, the wine guy has talked down to us, the wait staff has either completely ignored us or rushed us to, I suppose, encourage turn over.

        When these things happen once or twice, and the food is good, I usually give places a few more tries. I'd love to have had good service there - I can ignore the oil and the salt because that's personal preference.

        Could just be me that the wait staff treats poorly! lol

      2. We had a very enjoyable time at Dino's last night on the patio -- some appetizers which included the garlic and gorgonzola which was really excellent and a bean salad with chicken -- and then really good and unusual flavored sorbet (prosecco, basil/ginger and blueberry) for dessert along with a very good chocolate souffle cake. While our waiter was not as experienced as others in the past he did a good job -- it's some of the best, reasonably priced food in the area - so would encourage a return trip. sorry to hear you had such a bad experience - -

        1 Reply
        1. re: kaozer

          We were also on the patio last night, and also had an excellent meal. The highlights were the wild boar pasta, the linguini with pesto, the cheese plate, the fried calamari, the wine recommended by the waiter, and two desserts: the strawberry-and-rhubarb tort, and the crepes. We also enjoyed the olives. Only the plate of cured meats didn't do much for me. When the bill came, I couldn't believe how much a party of four had spent for such a meal.

          The service was fine.

          When I first went to Dino, in November 2005, the service was not fine; it was lacking. Our entrees took forever, and we could not have dessert, because we had to make a movie. Management knew about the problem, apologized (all we expected), and took 50% off the check (more than we expected). This is how to win fans!

        2. I have been to Dino maybe a half a dozen times since it opened. Most of the time I go with the DC Crü, a joke name from the group of wine buddies I hang out with. We usually are seated upstairs and yes, we usually get a bit more attention.

          It's too bad you had a bad experience there. If it is convenient for you to get there again, maybe give it another try if you find yourself with nothing else to do and are hungry. Otherwise, you are certainly entitled to not go back. We all make choices like that, myself included. But for me, I choose to go back to Dino. I like the food and concept and service I have received thus far.

          www.roguefood.com

          5 Replies
          1. re: Pool Boy

            I ate at Dino a couple weeks ago. We ate outside on a cool night, which was great. Overall our waitress was more than polite, and didn't seemed to mind our plans to eat a long, slow dinner that consisted entirely of appetizers and wine. The crepes were a personal favorite of mine.

            My only complaints was the overabundance of olive oil that seemed to be on every dish, and the fact that the prosciutto antipasto was nothing more than a plate of sliced meat. I guess I am just used to my uncle's famous antipasto (which includes romaine, olives, meats, cheeses, etc..) at family gatherings.

            All in all, I would definitely dine there again.

            1. re: dbound

              With your strong family tradition of specific ingredients in an antipasto platter, I certainly can see why you aren't thrilled by Dino's version, but you might be interested to learn that the meat-only version is a classic in Parma and Bologna.

              Last night, we got back from a trip to Italy that included time in Parma and Bologna (12 meals worth of time). I can tell you with certainty that in both Parma and Bologna, the list of antipasti is quite often limited to choices among platters of different types of cured meats. You could choose a plate of prosciutto or a plate of culatello or a plate of salumi. Some restaurants included a plattet of mixed meats, but your uncle's version was no where in sight. Eating lunch in Sorelle Picchi, a combination salumeria and trattoria in Parma, we had to order melon as a separate menu item in order to eat prosciutto and melon. I don't believe this single-minded focus on cured meats existed in Ravenna, in the eastern portion of Emilia-Romagna. But it definitely existed in the DOP ham territory around Parma and Bologna.

              1. re: Indy 67

                i went to Dino on saturday night and i got the antipasti della case, it had meats, cheese and veggies, maybe that is what you were looking for. Sadly though it didnt have any of the proscuttio on it.

                1. re: elegantelliot

                  Agreed, I realized my mistake clearly when I had another chance to look at the menu again once our food had arrived. Clearly my family experiences skewed my overall impression of what antipasto "should" be. (Not to say that any one way is correct). I simply stated the observation, because it took me (personally) by surprise. Next time I'll be sure to try the antipasto della case.

                  One other thing, I didn't mention, that I was very impressed with was the wine selection. I consider myself a novice when it comes to Italian wines, having considerably more experience with Bordeaux, so the descriptions and layout of the wine offerings was very helpful.

                  We also went their on a Wednesday night, in which they offer wine specials so it was fun to try their flights of wine.

                  1. re: dbound

                    Dean opened the restaurant mainly so he could indulge his passion for Italian wines. You should go on a Sunday night when all wines over $50 are one third off. With the fantastic prices already on his list, that deal is a steal. It also allows you to try some of the better wines that you might not be willing to pull the trigger on otherwise (even with the exceptionally reasonable prices)

          2. that's unfortunate to hear. ive been three times, so im most certainly not a regular, and each time ive had a different waiter. nonetheless the service has been competent and the food great. i think you had a poor "one-off" experience. I would give it another try and if you arent satisfied say something to the manager or either Dean himself

            1. I went to Dino for the first time when my brother was in town two weeks ago and had fantastic service and food. Our server was attentive and helpful and just what we would expect from a place like Dino.

              You must have had the server that was helping the table next to us though. My brother and I kept commenting on how her attitude with the customers was less than ideal. She actually argued with one of them after she had clearly made a mistake with his order. and it wasn't just that table, the others received sub-par service as well.

              When the adjoining table left, we spoke with them breifly. They said they were regular customers but that this was the worst service they had had. It wasn't going to stop them from returning though.

              I will definatly go back because we had such a good time with great food:
              The table bread was amazing
              Antipasti della Casa -- nice meats and vegs, a bit much oil
              Marinati -- refreshing raw seafood
              Boar Pasta -- good flavor but a bit heavy
              Crab Pasta -- buttery, garlicy crab goodness
              and a nice bottle of wine

              Management should give that other server a long talking to.

              7 Replies
              1. re: jrsmoltz

                I've been to Dino's twice so I'm not a regular. Service was fine, very unlike the experience of the OP. Food was excellent, esp incl the salumi. And they have barrata !!(sp?) which is almost impossible to find in the USA--the only other place I've seen it is at A 16 in SF. I love Dino's, and I rec'mend it to everyone.

                1. re: tartuffe

                  Cheesetique in Del Ray (Alexandria, just S. of Arlington) has burratta often. I'd call first, but she usually has it in. I would also call Cowgirl Creamery and Arrowine. It's not terribly elusive, fortunately.

                  1. re: monavano

                    Thanks, altho Arlington is a long drive from B'more where I live.

                    1. re: tartuffe

                      It would really surprise me that you wouldn't be able to find burratta in B'more, given it's Italian populace. My point was it's not rare to find it.

                      1. re: monavano

                        Never seen it here, even in the Li'l Italy delis. Baltimore actually has a rather small Italian pop, despite Nancy Pelosi. It's more of a central European town.

                        1. re: tartuffe

                          Central European town....I envy you for that! I'd love to have pierogies and kielbasa here.

                          1. re: tartuffe

                            I tend to agree. One place out on Liberty Road outside of the Baltimore Beltway (695) that is worthy of a provisions load-up is Olde World Deli. Great meats, cheeses, mustards sausages and more. They even have a 'Mama' that still makes fresh Fleischsalat!!

                            www.roguefood.com

                2. I have a suggestion: Eat at the bar where Chris will take wonderful care of you. We go there about once every 6 weeks (used to live in dupont and moved to the 'burbs) and always sit at the bar. There are olives & fava beans to munch on and Chris always gives us tastes of the newest and best new italian vinos he has. They will serve you anything from the menu at the bar and if you are like me and want to do some half glasses to go with your food, Chris will make recommendations and let you 'taste before you buy'. In fact, one time we came in and some bachelor party had reserved the whole bar (weird...) and we ended up sitting still in the bar area but at a high topped table with wait service. Chris felt so bad he bought us a quartino of wine and sent it over to us. The food is always decent (certainly not in the same class at Obelisk, but it isn't meant to be...) but it's the wine and personal service at the bar that we really go for. Once we found Dino, haven't been back to Bardeo (and their warm and marginal wine) since...but haven't been to Enology yet.....good to see the CP wine scene is getting even better!

                  1. The food at Dino is really, really good and the guy in the Hawaiin shirt was Dino, who is a really good guy. But i have found that the one flaw there is service, whether they know you or not. I'm not sure why, but i've found myself waiting there 10 or 15 minutes before a waiter coming over, and than he or she just disappears. It's worth it to me because the food is so good, but that is a flaw.

                    1. Guess we'd be called "regulars". We've been maybe 20 times or slightly more. The food is generally very good but not as exceptional as the wines, which others have pointed out is the real focus of the place. It's a great value--we really appreciate the effort Dean and Kay make to make the place more accessible to more people. Aside from Sundays, there are deals Wednesdays, certain special holidays and, every restaurant week runs a month for them. And, unlike many RW participants, Dino's entire menu is available (with a few understandable up charges on certain items).

                      If you order carefully, it's usually a very satisfying meal: we like the papardelle cinghale, , some of the other pastas. The steaks are generally locally sourced and very good--particularly the flat iron when they have it. Seafood can be hit or miss. We've enjoyed the Branzino. Cheeses and charcuterie are consistently very good and thoughtfully selected. A few items like the calamari and lasagnette are just okay. And, of course, that wine list is probably best in the city if you take into account it's thoughtfulness, the educational detail on the list itself, the immense selection and the affordability. Though there are other places we really enjoy for wine in the area, I think Dino would probably get the all-around award were there one.

                      Service is variable. Dcandohio's experience doesn't surprise me though generally we have a very good attention--though again, maybe we're being treated better than others. Cleveland Park is lucky to have Dino in the 'hood. I'll make a suggestion here to any who've been once or twice and felt burned by the service: give it another chance but, next time, phone to reserve the table and constructively tell them about the experience you had. Ask to be assigned a table with the best server working that night--can say you're working to become "regulars" if true. Give them a chance to get it right and I bet they'll treat you as you should be.

                      Finally, burrata's not that tough to find. Top Italian restaurants in most major US cities serve it. In Dino's case, it's flown in from Campania twice weekly. Delicious stuff but don't ever believe it can be made from cow's milk. It can, of course, but that's not the real deal.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: nwdchound

                        Put me down as a fan. 3 visits now. One for wine tasting, 2 for full dinner. If I keep on eating well in CP.

                        Our two diners have both been with a crowd so have sampled a lot of the menu. Favorites:

                        Burrata- so fresh
                        Prosciutto- best I have had
                        Zucchini flowers with fresh mozzarella- anchovy in it, yum!
                        Apricots wrapped in bacon- bacon, yum
                        Prosciutto with fresh peaches- OMG
                        Duck pasta- rich but not heavy, lots of rosemary
                        Whole fish- crisp and fresh
                        Roast baby pig- OMG
                        Roast chicken- simple
                        Fresh fruit sorbet- again, simple
                        Hazelnut & chocolate gelato- yum with chocolate all over it too!

                        All fresh, full of flavor, not too heavy and made with good ingreds. Great wines too. The owner recognized me on my second visit and picked out wines for my table both times I have been in. Really nice wines. Lagrine & dolcetto, not a lot of $$$.

                        1. re: newtoCP

                          That all sounds so good. We will have to give this place another try. We went once, quite a long time ago and remember the food and wine as being good but the service was "shambolic" (my husband's description, is it really a word?).

                          1. re: Suemelk

                            My experiences at Dino are very different. I love the atmosphere and the service has always been excellent. The wine choices can't be beat. My husband and I have eaten there 8-10 times since it has been open. However, the value has really gone downhill. The salads and first courses used to be very generous. Not so anymore. The entrees have gotten really small. On my last visit when they brought my entree, my jaw dropped. The entree consisted of a few slices of veal (some fatty), a really tiny serving of fennel and very small dish of a green puree (I can't remember what vegetable it was because the taste wasn't memorable). I was very disappointed. I think the entree was $24. I don't think I would have felt quite so ripped off if, at least, the fennel was a generous portion. Sorry, but we won't be back.

                            1. re: jeb

                              I've been off and on about 6 times over the years but I haven't been there in a year. I got tired of the uneven food quality--sometimes even with the same dish. One night the lasagnette would be fantastic, the next time it would be some dry, reheated leftover. Sometimes the boar pasta would be delectable; another night there would be hardly any boar in it. I would recommend the place to friends who would come back and say it wasn't that good. It has the ability to be great, but I've gotten burned enough times that I tend not to go anymore.

                      2. The food has gotten much more unpredictable. Portion sizes and quality.