Bebo - never mind the service, gimmie recs!
I'm off soon. Quick recs??
I can't speak for ChickleDC, but I have no connection with Cucina Vivace. Here's my write up from a meal there last night.
My husband and I approach Italian restaurants in the area with fear and trembling. We so love the food we eat in Italy that we find it hard to eat at Italian restaurants here. On the other hand, we so love the food we eat in Italy that we miss it between visits. So we keep searching! While we've yet to find an Italian restaurant in the DC area that reaches the heights of wonderful meals in Italy, we've eaten well at Tosca, Dino, and Bebo (if we completely overlook Bebo's service issues.)
When my husband an advertisement at work announcing the opening of Cucina Vivace, we got excited. The mission statement about the place sounded like a restaurant we'd like to investigate. Still, we gave the place a month of shake down, holding off until last night. We liked the offerings on the menu so we ordered a full Italian four-course meal, splitting some of the courses so we didn't eat obscene amounts of food.
The restaurant is in the strip of restaurants on 23rd Street on the west side of Rte. 1. There is good free parking in a large parking lot behind the restaurants, accessible from 22nd Street.
The decor is understated and appealing. The hammered tin ceiling is painted cream and the walls are dark taupe. There are sconces on the wall with bulbs that flicker to suggest candle light. Lights are atmospherically low. There are tables against each wall with a central aisle. The chairs are comfortable.
There's a front porch with outdoor furniture that looked very overstuffed and comfortable. I don't know about Arlington liquor laws, but, in good weather, this space would be a fantastic place to nibble on some of the appealing antipasti choices and drink a nice glass of wine.
We began our meal with an amuse of white beans on toast that was really delicious. The bean were simmered with lots of flavorful ingredients including lots of garlic. The beans definitely held their own against similar preparations we've eaten in Italy. A positive way to start our meal!
We were also served bread and a small container of olives. We selected chibatta and thought it had a lovely flavor.
We began with a Tuscan dish of a stuffed artichoke. The stuffing was a very tasty combination of Parmesan and bread crumbs. I can't remember the last time I've eaten whole stuffed artichokes, and this was a real treat. The stuffing was well seasoned, and someone in the kitchen took the time to stuff the artichoke so some of the mixture got inserted between each leaf. The artichoke arrived at our table split for easy sharing. Truly a delicious blast from our past. (There's a Roman preparation of deep fried artichokes on the menu as well.)
We next shared one of the black truffle capellini offered as part of the black truffle promotion. Very nice. Super quality pasta that was cooked to the right degree of doneness. The quantity of black truffles was large enough to suffuse the pasta with their flavor. The quantity of pasta served in the primi course is typical of a true Italian restaurant which is to say not large. Anyone expecting an American-sized bowl of pasta will be disappointed. If you want a huge pasta portion, ask for -- and pay for -- a secundi-sized portion. After the huge artichoke, we were relieved that the pasta course wasn't large. In addition, we saw the Italian-sizes as one more indication that the restaurant really was trying to be a true Italian place.
We selected one order of scallops with black truffles and one order of lamb chops to be shared as secondi. The lamb chops normally come medium, but we prefer medium-rare. The kitchen got the cooking right and we were happy. The lamb came as a pair of small double chops. Lovely charred marinated exterior and tasty, perfectly-cooked interiors. Worked for us! I'd order this again without hesitation. The scallop dish consisted of four huge scallops that were sliced in half horizontally, sauced with a garlic sauce and topped with a slice of black truffle. Extremely well prepared -- the scallops were moist and delicious. At $35, the price of the scallops was considerably more expensive than the non-truffle embellished dishes. While we enjoyed the our choice, we thought the excellence of the our lamb dish meant that good eating is available at many price points. (I think the least expensive dish on the menu was chicken livers. FWIW, I think of chicken livers as a very Tuscan topping for crostini, but not as a main dish. Calves liver, yes. That's a Venetian classic. But I'm prepared to be educated about chicken livers.)
Each secondi was served with two deep fried triangles of well-seasoned polenta. The frying was impeccable -- not a drop of excess oil. Dishes also included a small mound of mashed parsnips. I'm not a great fan of sweet with meat and these were quite sweet. For those who don't share my sweet with meat issues, the parsnips were quite yummy.
We finished the meal by sharing a light bread-pudding-like dish topped with a generous portion of mixed berries.
We didn't drink any wine last night since we were both on medicine. A quick glance at the wine list revealed a wide range of prices. I will add that the restaurant scored big time with me by serving San Benedetto sparking water rather than the ubiquitous San Pellegrino. SP's high sodium content makes it less refreshing than SB.
Our waitress was very pleasant and attentive. When a large party put heavy demands on the kitchen and brought everyone else's next course to a standstill, the waitress kept us informed. Food came out of the kitchen very briskly the moment the big party was dealt with. The good will the restaurant built up with its decor, yummy food, and thoughtful service made this delay a minor hiccup rather than a major issue.
This is clearly a restaurant that knows true Italian food and wants to create it for Americans. The over-all experience was much more pleasant than a meal at Bebo, Roberto Donna's pedigree notwithstanding.
I'm writing these words of praise with a bit of concern. I hope my positive report doesn't bring too overwhelming a deluge of business to the restaurant when it's still in the getting-it-together stage. However, I don't think the restaurant deserves to be associated with a write-up that does, frankly, sound too much like a PR plant.
re: Indy 67
Thank you for this write-up. The place sounds interesting, and I will have to give it a try, giving an appropriate length of time after returning at the end of the month from Central Italy. (I have found over the years that if I go to an Italian restaurant too soon after coming back, I'm bound to hate it. Even my own Tuscan cucina rustica is disappointing.)
As for your comment about chicken livers, I do think of them as a Tuscan secondo (singular; secondi is plural), lightly floured and sauteed with garlic and sage. I have had them in small, off-the-tourist-track trattorias (although not in someone's home). This is the same Tuscan preparation as for calves liver. The use of chicken livers in crostini arose as a way to use up the liver when cooking a chicken; one typically wouldn't have a large enough number of them at a time to have as a secondo. As people moved away from the country, chickens killed in larger quantities, the livers becaume available in quantity enough to serve as a secondo.
In Central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, and northern Lazio), pig liver also is eaten, typically wrapped in caul (net and fat from the intestinal lining), sometimes with bay, fennel, or sage, and grilled or roast. If that ever turns up on a restaurant menu here, I will think I am in heaven.