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Visiting DC--"Best" Italian?

My boss wants me to make a reservation for the "best Italian" restaurant in DC for a business trip in 3 weeks. It should have a decent wine list and be open on Monday evenings. Group of 8-9.

Any suggestions???

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  1. Prepare to be underwhelmed!

    How formal/casual does he want?

    4 Replies
    1. re: drewpbalzac

      Why underwhelmed? Most of the top restaurants that have opened in recent years in DC have been Italian.

      1. re: Elyssa

        I have eaten at all of the likely choices - Tosca, Fiola, Obelisk, ect. And the are all good restaurants and should fit the bill. However, as Just Visiting points out below, it depends on expectations of good Italian.

        If the the boss is looking for great Itallian restaurants restaurant that use good ingredients in Italian inspired cuisine all of the place mentioned will be acceptable.

        However, if they clients are expecting great Italian American classics - like you find in NYC, Providence, San Francisco, ect. . . . Prepare to be disappointed.

        DC is a great restaurant town, it is not a great Italian American town.

        1. re: drewpbalzac

          Unless you go to Graffiato---then it's excellent!

          1. re: Elyssa

            I'm there once a week - in good Italian American restaurant - an not a very traditional one at that does not make DCBDDavid a good town for "Itallian" . . .

    2. Fiola would be the obvious choice. I haven't been to Ristorante Tosca in a couple of years but I remember their food was good and their wine list had a decent selection of Italians.

      1. Tosca is supposed to be the best Italian restaurant in DC but it's been years since I've been there. I'm sure it's still wonderful.

        Personally I prefer Bibianna. I think the food and service there is outstanding and they have a nice wine list as well as cocktails. The other added bonus is in the main dining room there is a little side area with a cool beaded curtain (much classier than it sounds) where your table of 8 could sit all together.

        Fiola is also a wonderful choice.

        2 Replies
          1. re: Elyssa

            I know I recommended Fiola but I meant Elisir! I always confuse the two because they came out around the same time. Elisir is wonderful and would be good for highend Italian---of course it is not red sauce Italian.

          2. Dino is the best Italian I've had in DC. Ermagerd.

            1. It would be a good idea to know what his idea of Italian is. If he is interested in traditional Italian-American type of food, then the great places listed below are going to be a problem. Suggest you send him links to the menus and be sure this is the kind of thing he has in mind. I have friends who love Italian food but by that they mean pasta with bolognese sauce or maybe an alfredo sauce.

                1. re: Jay F

                  I know I'm in the minority here but I found Obelisk to be only good not great. And our service at the time was a little snarky. Considering the price I would rather go to Bibianna.

                  1. re: Elyssa

                    When I lived in DC, Bibianna, Fiola, Graffiato, Tosca, and Elisir had yet to exist. I loved Obelisk (they were the only restaurant at that time who made Lasagne in anything like a Bolognese manner, and that was a big deal for me), but it was pricy, so I'd eat at Pizza Paradiso or Il Radicchio more regularly, or else Luigi's for pizza.

                    Is Pesce still alive on P Street? I liked that a lot, too.

                    Also, what about Palena? That is at the top of my list to try the next time I'm in DC.

                    1. re: Jay F

                      Pesce changed hands. It's not the same place anymore.

                      Siroc also deserves to be mentioned on the short list of DC's best Italian.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        Il Radicchio is a blast from the past-- we used to love that place. I think that was Donna's first restaurant here (and the space is now Komi)?

                        I don't love Palena. (In Cleveland Park I'd rather go to Dino, which over-delivers on a less upscale meal.)

                        1. re: Doh

                          wow when Roberto Donna's synapses and pistons were all firing (and the FOH was in synch...) that was a reservation to hold.

                          I hold out no hope for any future effort. too many unfulfilled promises. sheesh even 'grill days' became iffy back on he ended up on 20th street NW.

                          1. re: Doh

                            Il Radichio was several down the list of Donna's restaurants well after Gallileo and at lest one or two others. (Either before, or the at the beginning, of when the troubles began)

                            There were several of them when he had them in full swing. They were good for a casual date, but by then Donna was so overextended all of his places began to suffer.

                            I miss his glory days.

                            1. re: drewpbalzac

                              Wasn't the original Galileo (P Street) his first restaurant? I had the most disappointing experience there. Right after it opened, it was virtually impossible to get a reservation, but I managed to get in at 5:30 on a weeknight, which was fine, except for the fact that THE WAITER REFUSED TO LET US ORDER DESSERT because they needed the table back. THEY KICKED US OUT. I never ate at another Donnateria until Il Radicchio opened directly across the street from my apartment.

                              1. re: Jay F

                                I don't think the P St. Store was a "Galileo" but I don't remember its name. I recall it as more "tratatoria" and less formal dining that Galileo which was on 21st St.

                                I only went to the P St. store once. The tables were too close together and the place was too loud, and you are right they rushed to turn the tables. . . .

                                The flagship store could be transcendent, but it also suffered from chef inattentiveness and the occasional service flaw. Once, at a business lunch a colleague found a piece of, what we were told, was the pasta rolling machine in his pasta course.

                                It was shrugged off by the staff and no effort was made to extend any like restitution. The metal could have easily broken a tooth or worse.

                                1. re: drewpbalzac

                                  When Galileo first opened it was on P Street -- had a fabulous meal there the first time I went and was underwhelmed the second time.

                      2. re: Jay F

                        OH YEAH. it's wonderful but more northern italian, not big red sauce or anything. Always great.

                        1. re: DCDOLL

                          Obelisk was always my favorite place to eat. Or take someone on their birthday. Or get taken to on my birthday.

                          1. re: Jay F

                            TOTALLY agree....was supposed to go recently and had a change of plan. Stopped to look at the menu the other night on the way over to Ezme in dupont and made me realize i totally need to reschedule...soon!!!

                            1. re: DCDOLL

                              It's one of the things I miss from DC.

                      3. By "best Italian" I'm sure he means high-end fine dining that will impress the clients we are taking out to dinner (I might appreciate hole-in-the-wall, big serving size, red-sauce joints, but that's not what usually impresses guests used to being wined and dined). LOL, last time I took out one of these guys, it was to a Michelin 1 star in Brugge Belgium! That was a mighty fine meal.

                        Of course if you know a more casual but still fine-dining restaurant that really is the best Italian in DC, I'd love to hear about it. I'd have no problem taking them to a place like Bibou or Blackfish in Philly, even if they are much more casual than Le Bec/Fountain, since the food speaks for itself (although I guess you guys probably don't know anything about the dining scene here).

                        Thanks for the suggestions, I'll read up on them.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: ftarazu

                          Then Fiola should be your top choice.

                          1. re: ftarazu

                            The best Italian in DC is probably Obelisk or Fiola.

                            Tosca is quiet, good food, but has gotten boring.

                            Dino is much more casual, somewhere between a wine-based osteria and a family-run trattoria, but has a much better wine list than anyplace else.

                            1. re: dinwiddie

                              I'm with dinwiddie on most of the previous post. I love Obelisk, but it's a very small place and I doubt they could accommodate a group of your size. Fiola would be perfect. I haven't been to Tosca. Dino has the best wine list in town; I love the place, but it is very casual. I would never describe it as "high end fine dining."

                              1. re: dinwiddie

                                I think Bibianna needs to be on that list, otherwise it is right on target. Dino for wine, definitely, and many of his dishes are excellent, too.

                              2. re: ftarazu

                                All good recommendations given so far.All have sites where you can peruse menus and wine lists and some with a photo tour.

                                "since the food speaks for itself",taken from your post brings me to add,your date,dates here are the HEIGHT OF TRUFFLE SEASON,if a wow factor is in order.Truffles aren't loved by all but I have yet to meet anyone to turn down a chance to try them.A truffle menu can be magnificent.A phone call to any or all about truffles I think is a worthy task.Truffles have a very real cachet.

                              3. Elisir's tasting menu is excellent. More consistent and more intriguing than Fiola.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Worldwide Diner

                                  I thought Fiola was very disappointing and in direct opposition of what Italian food should be about: overcomplicated, portions too large, simple aspects poorly executed and stuffy service.

                                  1. re: gregb

                                    I agree 100% with gregb. Fiola was just so-so and had super snobby service. The whole place was overpriced, but the wine list was egregious in it's pricing! It absolutely drives me crazy to pay ridiculous prices only to be treated like they are doing you a favor by having you in their restaurant.

                                    I preferred Bibiana and LOVE Dino's, which not only has the best wine list, he is extremely knowledgable about wines and finds some really uncommon Italian wines.

                                2. For a business meal scrap Italian and go to one of our power spots. Central, JG steakhouse, BLT steak, Charlie palmers . . .

                                  It sounds like you are going to be here over the lame duck - these places will be more "business dinner" vibe-ish.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: drewpbalzac

                                    The problem with the 4 mentioned is that the food is over the top rich and chef driven. If you want the food to speak for itself, you need to go elsewhere. I think a lot of top restaurants and even some not top restaurants just do too much to the food. I just read a quote from a bartender that making a great cocktail is like sculpture, you have to figure out what to remove leaving only the essential.

                                    1. re: wineo1957

                                      I offered them as examples of archetypical business meeting spots . . . and I don't think of BLT as being chef driven.

                                      In my opinions chef owned steak outlets tend to be the exact opposite.

                                      I think of them as being culinary cop outs where the absent - named chef - can teach his very good understudies to cook a damn good, high quality, piece of beef; then pair it with a well sourced raw bar, and then let the executive chef have a little free reign with the rest of the menu.

                                  2. I am going to also say Fiola. I really have enjoyed the food and found the service to be really good. I also like the beverage program too. Bibiana would be another good option.

                                    While I personally love Dino, I don't really think it's a business meeting type of place.

                                    1. Thanks for all the great advice! All things considered, I'm going to propose Fiola.

                                      But I'll probably make a weekend of it beforehand, so I may try one of the others, like Dino (since I'm a wine guy).


                                      16 Replies
                                      1. re: ftarazu

                                        You will get a great meal.I don't know your date,but Dean is the kind of Chef owner that will do special requests circumstances permitting.

                                        1. re: lcool

                                          Ask for his wine book. The incredible aged Italians will blow you away.

                                          1. re: KevinS

                                            including pairing to pre ordered bottles and it's truffle time

                                            hoping that the OP goes

                                          2. re: lcool

                                            Please guys please..explain to me why so many people like Dino. i have NEVER had any food there (except the free bar snacks which are great) that was even good let alone great...and i've been to italy several times so i don't believe it's even particularly authentic. I do like the wine list there, and have given it many tries but i just can't feel the love. Is there anyone else who agrees? And if you DO love it please tell me why and what...maybe i have just not ordered the right things??

                                            1. re: DCDOLL

                                              Why would someone have to explain why they like any restaurant? You don't like it and are seeming to ridicule others who do.

                                              As for the authenticity, it is one of the few places in the DC area that makes the simple foods that I love in small towns in Italy, not the fancy foods of the high end restaurants. So I may like Dino for the exact reason you don't.

                                              1. re: wineo1957

                                                Any suggestions for reasonably priced French with a value-priced wine list or corkage?


                                                1. re: WineCounselor

                                                  You might do better if you start another post.
                                                  French restaurant with a deep or value french wine list and corkage maybe attractive to an additional,different group.

                                                2. re: wineo1957

                                                  Uh...overreact much?? i WANTED you to tell me why you like it so i could possibly alter a future experience and order differently, etc. I admit how i started it might have come across a little harsh but honestly i wanted to understand what people like about it. I too have been to many small towns in Italy where the food was tremendous, and have not experienced that at Dino. That's all...no ridicule...just seeking info.

                                                  1. re: wineo1957

                                                    Wow, wineo. Nobody HAS to explain anything. This is a restaurant discussion board, and DCDOLL -- very courteously -- invited comment on a particular restaurant. You're the only one who read any ridicule in the posting.

                                                  2. re: DCDOLL

                                                    Dino Quality of ingredients,allowed to stand and shine.The wine list,large,deep and with fair pricing.The over all genuine willingness to work with allergies and other menu,recipe wrinkles when asked.If Dean can't,with wisdom and grace,says no.
                                                    About your Italy remark: I can't speak for any of your experiences.I can for mine.We have deep Italian ties and time there equaling 8 to 10 years in the past 50 plus.To Include a house and compo in Arce,25 years,son,DILand grandchildren,Montepulciano/Poliziano for 21 years and three generations of family ties encompassing 90% of the country.
                                                    I dare say ....your "I don't think it's even particularly authentic" is......The times we have taken guests,Italian,to Dino "was their taste of home" with out fail.

                                                    1. re: DCDOLL

                                                      DCDOLL -- I agree with you about Dino's. I know Dean is a great guy with lots of great ideas. But I don't think he can execute them, at least not consistently. I've never had a meal there -- and I eat there frequently because my husband likes the place -- that wasn't a disappointment. And it's not just the ambitious dishes that don't come off; the restaurant blunders with even simple things Last time I went, a beautiful-looking plate of lettuces that was spoiled by the most acrid, unpleasant vinaigrette I've ever tasted.

                                                      1. re: DCDOLL

                                                        I'm with you. I've had a couple of good meals there but mostly bad meals. Maybe it's a matter of quality control. I'm never going back.

                                                        1. re: DCDOLL

                                                          Have to agree that Dino is over rated. Typical of superficial trendiness if DC, where now "local" ingredients are the new rage. (I have to laugh that they where serving "local" fish from Brazil)

                                                          Large wine list, yes, but others have, too, and they don't always serve the wine correctly. It should be thought of as a good neighborhood restaurant, not a destination restaurant.

                                                          Ultimate truth is that DC doesn't have any knockout Italian restaurants.

                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                            As a point of reference, what do you consider to be a knockout Italian restaurant?

                                                            1. re: law_doc89

                                                              I dunno, but I tend to think Dino is aiming for "very good neighborhood restaurant" more than "destination" restaurant. He's certainly not priced liked Fiola or Tosca.

                                                              1. re: Doh

                                                                And "they don't always serve the wine correctly" is about as far from any experience at Dino that I've ever had.

                                                      2. Get a time machine and go back 30 years and vist A.V."s Ristorante. If that fails, go to Ledo's and get a pizza.

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: Alexvamike

                                                          AV's,husband proposed their,then,now,42 married years later.

                                                          1. re: lcool

                                                            I miss the AV. They made some good food. We used to go there after church back in the 60's. It never changed a lick until the day it closed.

                                                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                              You sound old enough to remember (?spelling) Arbaugh's ribs,on Connecticut Ave,west side a few doors north of Calvert,sort of underneath the "Sheraron Park" hotel.My foreign parents met in FDR's White House,dad proposed to mom there just before WWII,1938 or 39.

                                                              1. re: lcool

                                                                I ain't that old. I just look like it. We moved here in '63. We used to go to church at 12th and Mass, not far from the AV. There were 8 of us and that was one of the few places my dad would take us. It was a thrill. Fast forward about 40 years, the food was still quite decent. A side note: In the early 80's, a co-worker of mine set up a celebration dinner for 10 after we completed a huge job. His Italian girlfriend worked there, so they basically served us everything on the menu over a period of three hours. It was epic. As far as I know, she was the only female server that ever worked there.

                                                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                  I can vouch for that. Had several birthday parties for myself and my kids at AV because I was never sure how long that place would be around. We'd get the back room, the one with the Leaning Tower of Pisa statue, and dish after dish after dish just kept coming out: white and red pizzas, broccoli rabe in garlic and olive oil, mounds of pastas and sauces, bean dishes, all washed down with that cheap house red. Now it's gone, just like Gusti's. Famous Luigi's is still around serving a similar style of Italian American food, but it's a totally different vibe.

                                                          2. re: Alexvamike

                                                            I used to go to AV back in the '80s when I wanted an affordable place for a crowd. They always satisfied.

                                                          3. Any opinions on Cafe Milano (Prospect St NW)?

                                                            Our admin said that Fiola didn't return her call, and someone else suggested Cafe Milano.

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: ftarazu

                                                              You might see some celebrities there, but food wise you can do much, much better at the places previously mentioned.

                                                              1. re: ftarazu

                                                                Do not go to Cafe Milano. The food is mediocre and what you are paying for is a scene that really isn't all that impressive (unless I guess Secretary Clinton happens to be dining there the same day).

                                                                You can get much better food for the same price. Again, I say go to Bibianna!

                                                                1. re: ftarazu

                                                                  There have been some funny articles about the mismatch between the hype and the food at Cafe Milano. This is one-- http://www.tnr.com/blog/timothy-noah/...

                                                                  I think Tosca would be a good alternative to Fiola.

                                                                  1. re: ftarazu

                                                                    I would describe the food "at best middling" at Cafe Milano.

                                                                      1. re: ftarazu

                                                                        I am going to risk sounding preferential.While trying not to be.You still have a couple of good choices,so called top tier,left and the one almost all of us like best,Dino.All good and I wouldn't dismiss Dino.Obelisk and Dino are both worth a phone call,as is another call to Fiola,with perhaps a TERSE message regarding the second try and your wants.
                                                                        Here,DC we have a few top tier places that try to "choose" the time of your meal,even with a lot of lead time.This aside from our few that are only sold that way.My answer to that once after a friend had been trying,frustrated and fed up for a group B-day dinner,tossed it to me.Same thing a few sentences in,I HUNG UP,just not worth it.Low and behold the modern toy,CALLER ID,within 30 seconds I had a return call that could not have been more helpful.

                                                                        1. re: lcool

                                                                          Definitely not going to Milano!

                                                                          1. re: ftarazu

                                                                            Milano would never be on a list of mine.

                                                                  2. Well unfortunately the boss is insisting on Milano for the business dinner, but since I'm going down early for the weekend, I booked Fiola and Dino for me! Looking forward to visiting...

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: ftarazu

                                                                      A report back would be appreciated,perhaps by many.

                                                                      1. re: ftarazu

                                                                        You'll be able to cobble something together at Milano, it's not awful, just not great. Soak him on the wine order just for payback.

                                                                      2. Acqua Al 2. Other locations include Florence and San Diego. Open on Monday.

                                                                        1. OBELISK!! But reserve now!! wine list is great and reasonable, 5 course prix fixe for $75 PP and you will be licking the plates... :)

                                                                          2nd choice: Tosca. The food is great and service too AND a bonus: they have a $38 pre theater menu by 6:30 which is a great value. Let us know what you end up doing!!

                                                                          1. I understood your comment - even if the CBS team didn't - another over-reaction.. . . But hey maybe they will push another artificial thread onto us. . . So it will be OK.

                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                            1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                                              oh they understood I was kidding about that place in particular and on deletion sent a nice explanation (which I didn't expect). it prompted me to make a similar neutral explanation if anyone saw before it went down the memory-hole.

                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                Ah, the memory hole. Is that next to the donut hole?

                                                                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                  Worm hole please - after the last 18 months no more references to any smacking of a Medicare reference - even accidentally on a food site with a donut reference.. . .

                                                                                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                        I can hook you up to the photographer if you're interested. search my 'real' name on FB. he's still reproducing it.

                                                                            2. Fiola: Excellent food/wine/service (except front of house seemed a bit clueless), a bit expensive. Dish of the Night: Piemontese Beef Tenderloin Tartar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Guanciale, Sunny Side-Up Quail Egg. Wine of the Night: 2008 Jermann Vinnaioli Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT

                                                                              Dino: Good food, good service, great wine and Dean was very cool. Good value, especially the 33% off wine on Sunday/Monday. DOTN: Stuffed Dr Joe’s Duck Neck (aka Tuscan “scrapple”, which being from Philly made us laugh!). WOTN: Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino 2001

                                                                              Cafe Milano: Boss got sick and didn't show, so we decamped to Dino for a second visit!

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: ftarazu

                                                                                THANKS FOR THE REPORT

                                                                                glad to hear you ate and drank well