I took a calculated risk eating at Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca on Labor Day Monday. First off, it’s Monday, the notoriously worst day of the week to eat out. Second off, Bibiana only opened on Friday. Third off, it’s Labor Day. No Chef will be working. But (isn’t there always a but?) I had a friend in need of a totally new, fresh place for dinner, so crossing my fingers and holding my breath, I suggested Bibiana. Plus, I’m currently in the middle of reading former New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton’s memoir Eating My Words, where she argues, “As for reviewing an establishment too soon, my feeling is that as soon as a restaurant is open and full prices are being charged it is fair game.” Touche, Mimi. So with Mimi on my side, we struck out to discover Ashok Bajaj’s seventh restaurant in the DC area.
Was it able to stand up against all the forces it had going against it? You could have told me it was any Friday or Saturday night months from when it opened, you could have fooled me. Everything from the food to the service was absolutely on point.
‘Bibiana Interior 2′
courtesy of ‘needlessspaces’
Bibiana is located in the McPherson Square area on H Street in the 1100 New York Avenue building. A total power-lunch/dinner place (and you know I pretty much love those) Bajaj and Executive Chef Nicholas Stefanelli, most recently of Mio, have stressed that Bibiana is supposed to be uber authentic Italian. Bajaj and Stefanelli seem to think that the authenticity will make it stick out in the recent influx of new Italian restaurants to hit DC (Posto, Kora, Potenza). I’m not sure they are exactly right, as homemade breads and pastas are at those places as well, and I fail to see what else truly sets them apart but I have to say, regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
We started off with the Cod Fritters appetizer, which was recommended by our waiter. Fluffy with a great fish texture on the inside, and crispy on the outside, it was served in a creamy fish sauce. I wound up thinking the sauce was a bit salty on it’s own, but Rebecca made a good point that it’s not supposed to be served alone and she felt like the salt added a brightness to the fish. The bread was fresh, I especially loved the foccacia, and it was served with a very flavorful olive oil.
Our pastas were great – I had the veal filled pasta, which was served with crispy bits of pancetta. I found it a bit salty, again, that is my only standing major complaint about Bibiana, but veal and pancetta are typically salty. It wasn’t overwhelming or unpleasant, but not for the faint of salt heart. Rebecca had a lovely fresh basil and olive oil gnocchi. I don’t tend to care for gnocchi, but it’s been growing on me as of late. It had clean flavors and a nice texture.
The cheesecake was light, with nice crispy almonds. I didn’t care for the fig, nor the port sauce, but the cheesecake itself was nice, and fluffy since it’s from cows milk. I wound up with a tinge of food regret not getting the chocolate and carmel dessert that was on special, especially after I found out that Bibiana’s Pastry Chef, Douglas Hernandez, hails from Central, one of my favorite places for dessert in the city, famed for the Kit Kat bar.
Bibiana’s interior is downtown chic, you’ll need a collared shirt or high heels to fit in. Low lit, with candles on every table and some trendy cutlery, it would be a great business meeting place, or even a date place. A large black and white photograph of the Leaning Tower of Pisa as the focus of the dining room. The bar is chic, and the only place you can snag yourself a pizza during dinner service. Pizzas are on the lunch menu in the dining room, but only available at night by request or sitting at the bar. You can see the most recent dinner menu here (warning, link opens a Word Document). The list of cocktails looked fun, I didn’t get to try any. There was a birthday party going on in the lounge area, complete with a birthday cake and sparklers, which added a bit of fun to an otherwise understandably quiet Labor Day night.
To see more on Bibiana’s interior the lovely and adorable Jessica Sidman took a quick video of the interior for Washingtonian, which is a handy way to get to know Bibiana.