Underwhelmed with Dino's
I had my first meal at Dino's last week and, perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was solidly underwhelmed with the food. I had the farro tuscan bean salad and the tuscan crepe and my friend ordered the boar, which he also said was just ok. We shared the vanilla gelator with espresso on top -- again, nothing amazing.
Maybe we simply ordered the wrong things? Can anyone explain why Dino's is so great again?
We ate there a few months ago after seeing so many recommendations on this board for it, and like you, we were both underwhelmed. I thoroughly enjoyed the polenta w/pancetta I had as an app...and that was about it. By this point I can't remember much else...I do recall having some kind of pesto pasta that smelled so much like a fresh cut lawn and tasted like it too and every single veggie in it was green, absolutely no color. The gelato was OK. We also got that seat right next to the bathrooms at the top of the stairs, so people were constantly walking right by us, back and forth, and servers up and down the stairs the entire time, pretty distracting. Since Dino is kind of far away for us, I'm sure we probably won't return, too many other things to try yet!
Funny, but I ate there last night and had the same reaction. And I've eaten there twice before this year and both times completely enjoyed the meal. Especially the boar ragu and balsamic gelato. Their bread is also outstanding.
A for last night. We went for the 7 fishes dinner. Were quite looking forward do it and had made reservations weeks ago. The first table we were offered was a tiny two-top between the kitchen and bathroom doors. We asked for another table and were told that the only one available was a high-top at the bar. We took it,
First course was a baccala crostini. Very fishy and salty. I've had better. The bread was excellent as always.
Second course was a grilled shrimp and calamari citrus salad. Everything was fresh but the citrus overwhelmed the seafood. I couldn't really taste it. Not thrilled with this dish.
Third course was a seafood soup. Two mussels and some pieces of fin in a weak broth. Total disappointment.
Fourth course was olive oil poached halibut in a shellfish bisque sauce served over polenta. My halibut was overcooked and the polenta tasted off, stale actually. My friends was excellent. We did a taste test and there was a clear difference between her polenta and mine. I don't know what happened there.
The desserts were the highlight of the evening. I had panna cotta, which was excellent. My friend's baked chocolae dessert was excellent as well. We had the (cheap) wine pairning and enjoyed all of the wines.
After the soup course we mentioned to our waitress our disappointment. She got kind of defensive and we sought to assure her that we realized it was not her fault. She said she'd mention it to the kitchen later in the evening. Sort of beside the point. After our main course, we again noted our disappointment (at least in my dish). Later the owner came with the check and we told him of our experience. He really didn't say anything other than "the polenta was all made at the same time." But he did come back and reduce our bill by about $30, which was very appreciated. We really didn't want money off but we had figured they might just comp us a glass of wine. We were actually more interested in just letting them know that this dinner was not up to par. But after reading your post, perhaps there has been a fundamental change. There are too many other places in DC to spend time in a restaurant that does not deliver. i won't write them off but if I go back, it will be for the $24 three course menu. That's always been a deal.
Dino changed chefs recently, so perhaps this is leading to the disparity in reports. I have gone from liking a few dishes at Dino, to finding the food bad. My most recent visit featured: 1. Beet and watercress salad -- about 1/2 lb of tangled watercress (v. dififcult to eat) and four beet slices. 2. Lamb ragu with tube pasta -- terrible, terrible terrible. The pasta was hard in some places, soggy in others, like the dish had been sitting under the heat lamp for three hours. 3. Molten chocolate cake -- fine. Best part of the meal. But, I do not choose restaurants based on dessert. In other visits, I have also had: insanely salty Tuscan beans -- seriously, like a salt lick, crab pasta -- oily and again with that soggy/hard pasta problem (are they not cooking the pasta to order??). Dino may have been good once, but every time I drive by there, I think "Blech."
Dino is great because it's unlike other Italian restaurants in the area. Fine dining? Not really. Authentic Italian dishes? Absolutely. And, if you're a burrata fan (as I am), it's the place to get it, flown in from Italy on Thursdays. If you like a meal of cheeses, salumi and authentic Italian small plates, it's a great place to go.
I'm one of those folks who loves Dino. But my big thing is the wonderful and wonderfully priced wine list. I tend to limit my dining to the appetizers and the pastas. I love the gelato with the balsamic (not so much with the espresso) and in the winter, the pasta with mushrooms is to die for. But like I said, the best thing about Dino is Dean's wonderful wine list and the special nights (Sundays and Mondays and Wednesdays) that have wine deals.
I've been to Dino's twice and for me it's kind of it's a good place to go to if you want a decently priced bottle of wine and good pasta. To me it's not really a mind blowing place, but somewhere to go for some allright food.
The first time I went I had the boar pasta and the SO had the lamb ragu and gelato with balsamic vinegar. We found the food to be great. The second time we went I had the pasta with seafood and the SO had the lasgana. The lasgana was nice, but my pasta, I was a bit disappointed with it. The pasta itself was delish as was the sauce, but I only had maybe four pieces of overcooked shrimp and some crab meat in it. The amount of seafood in the dish made me feel like I was being overcharged. I didn't bring this to the attention of the management because I found the pasta to be great and I ate the entire thing. So, it's more of a make a note not to order it again and to warn people that you might not get as much seafood as you expect.
With those experiences taken into account I personally can't say that I can't wait to go to Dino's again, but if someone would suggest going there, I would not say no.