First Look: Lavagna

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Verdict: Great spirit and potential; a work in progress

Earlier this year when I heard Starfish was closing, I couldn’t have been happier. In its place is Lavagna, an Italian restaurant that takes its name from a fishing port city in Italy and also means blackboard in the romance language. I’m always a fan of the chalkboard theme, so plus for sure.

Walking in was interesting, you could almost see Starfish, but not. Gone was the bar to your right, replaced by a service bar further left. The exposed wall looked even better, adding to that rustic feel.

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Lavagna wins points for friendliness and service. Here you’ll find some familiar faces from Starfish. Food is still being worked on. Though Lavagna is barely one month old, they’ve already replaced the first executive chef. Owner Stephen Cheung tells me the restaurant and Executive Chef Lance Hanan parted ways (on good terms – just different views on kitchen management). Now, Executive Chef Thomas Abbott is running the kitchen, though Hanan is still listed on the website.

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Lavagna could be perfect for Barracks Row, catering more toward the family than other restaurants on 8th, so I’m rooting for it for sure. The highlights here are the small chalkboards, the service and the cocktail list. You have to try “The Lavagna” (a raspberry cosmo) or the Pineapple Pisco before leaving for the night.

On the other hand, the focaccia bread left much, much to be desired. It isn’t often that this carb fan will say skip the bread basket…skip the bread basket. Instead go for the calamari – it is done just right and not too breaded. It’s light as possible for the dish. Another good bet is the antipasti for two. Not the best you’ve ever had by far, but solid.

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Now, for a place trying to be known for pastas, I really hope the new chef makes it a mission to ensure everything comes out correctly. My friend’s Fettuccine Primavera not only didn’t look very good, it was also severely undercooked. However, instead of bringing it to someone’s attention he just let it sit there (Restaurant 101 – use your voice!).

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My pan seared scallops on the other hand were great and came with a tasty side of polenta. The spinach was cooked perfectly, and the sauce on top of the scallops added some nice color to the dish.

A lot of what made the experience good, instead of just okay (or worse), was the staff. Kudos to them. Can’t wait to see what the new chef has in store for us either.

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Something else to look forward to is brunch. It will definitely be nice to do some people watching on the patio during brunch now that it’s not too hot out.

Lavagna is located at 539 8th St. SE. The closest metro stop is Eastern Market (Blue/Orange Lines). For more information, please call 202-546-5006.

Tricia is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in Columbia Heights. She loves DC so much that she was only able to leave the city for one year after college and immediately came running back. Tricia works in PR during the day, and spends her nights trying out new restaurants in DC with friends or watching The Good Wife, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Tricia recently decided to eat her way though all of Zagat’s 2011 restaurants until she realized she would be old and broke by the time she finished. Follow her on Twitter and email her at Tricia (at)

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