Monday, August 2, 2010

Pursuing Pleasure: Bibiana

Our night was off to a rather good start, with a rare chance to see a movie, and even more rare, a good one. We then grabbed drinks at Cure (in the Metro Center Grand Hyatt). With a selection of vintages available by the 1/2 glass, glass, or quartino, Cure has a flexible happy hour menu (see the three selections for $12 part) that allows one to try without overindulging. I had two 1/2 glasses, a sparkling wine and a Virginia rose. C dug into a delectable charcuterie platter (garlic sausage, duck, prosciutto - all v. v. good), and I started my evening dining with a sweet and savory cheese course (white cheddar and apricot jam). Both were scrumptious. But enough with my post within a post, and on to our actual dinner reservation.

Our evening was already going well when we arrived, but the welcoming staff at Bibiana helped the trend along. No, we were not special enough to be glad-handed by owner Ashok Bajaj (also of Rasika/Bombay Club/701), who was in house at the time, but our server made us feel loved.  First off, I let her know that I wanted a refreshing vino, and she had the perfect recommendation with the Greco di Tufo (mmm, hints of grapefruit, perfect for the hottest day of the year). We then discussed with her rumors of an off-the-written-platform tasting menu. She let us know that a five-course menu (primi, antipasti, pasta, entree, and cheese course) was available for $65. We were intrigued by the premise, but wanted to try more pasta than protein, and I had already had my cheese course for the evening. We first asked if we could sub an additional pasta course for the entree; then, whether we could order different pastas each for those two courses; and finally, if we could sub dessert for the cheese course. Our server didn't bat an eye at our requests, and the chef customized our tasting menu to our palates and appetites - now that's some service!


Having gotten the ordering out of the way (I'm still shocked at how our tastes were accommodated without the slightest resistance), we were treated to complimentary arancini as our amuse bouche. These babies would have set the bar pretty high even without being encased in fried goodness. The saffron risotto was incredibly palate-pleasing. Our next course, primi, was chosen by the kitchen. Beautiful plates of burrata garnished with blue point oysters and shaved fennel graced our table. Service of this particular dish was ironic, because half of the course was the perfect choice for me, and half was the perfect choice. Our reason for skipping the burrata was C's distaste for cheese, particularly without being on pizza or a sandwich. I'm not a particular fan of raw oysters (there's just something about the texture I cannot get past). So, we negotiated a trade. C enjoyed the oysters (he noted that the flavor was excellent) and I had the cheese. The burrata, a firm outside layer stuffed with gooey mozzarella goodness, was a nice course, but the double portion was on the rich side; the fennel really balanced the dish though.

For antipasti, sardines were served. We had noted to our server that we really enjoy seafood, so I suspect that both the oysters and sardines were attempts to incorporate this theme, a fact that I truly appreciated. That said, sardines are not my cup of tea. I did, however, enjoy the accompaniment, a peperonata relish of caramelized bell peppers and onions.

Perhaps apparent from our inability to choose amongst the pastas, we were exceptionally excited for the noodles. We ordered four different pastas, two of which were the first I've tried in DC that evoke any memory of Batali - that means that they were really, really good. The other two, not so much. Top marks go to the Spaghetti al Nero and the Sclalatelli (say that five times fast!). The Spaghetti al Nero had a lovely squid ink flavor and was laced with fresh crab and olive oil. Though the oil was a bit heavy, it did not distract from the spot-on flavor of this dish. I think both C and I would vote for the Sclalatelli as our favorite dish of the evening. The fettuccine-like pasta was tender and fluffy. The lightly-seared bites of tuna were so rich and meaty, I had to question whether I was eating fish. Served with almost pureed olives, I'm still dreaming of this particular dish.

The collective least favorite pasta tasting of the night was the Cavatelli. We did not finish the dish, which is rare for us. The manager asked, and we explained why it wasn't our favorite. While the manager suspected that the flavor of the burnt wheat pasta was the culprit, that was the one part of the dish I enjoyed. What I did not like was the rapini, and especially, the fennel sausage. It just wasn't good. We are also unlikely to order the Marubini again. Actually, I liked the ravioli itself (stuffed with veal), but the heavily-salted flavors of veal, pancetta, brown butter, and parmigiano do not need extra seasoning. It seems that salt was added, so the dish was overpowered. 

To be honest, the meal as a whole was on over-seasoned side (kind of funny, because as C pointed out during dinner, our visit followed the contestant-judged Top Chef episode in which the "lacks salt" theme was paraded out again and again). That said, I would layer my tongue with a little extra salt in a minute in order to have another bite of the Sclalatelli. The menu reminds me of Sardinia and the flavors of Italy's Western coast, where salt-curing is popular, so perhaps a heavily-seasoned note is part of the authenticity of the dishes. It's just something I think fellow diners should know going in.

As to avoid rubbing the issue in salt (hehehehe), I'll move on to our delicious dessert.  We subbed the cheese course with dessert - a move we consider a win. Let me say bravo to the pastry chef for what I'll call Nutella, Nutella Everywhere. The Nutella ice cream, Nutella powder (think like malted milk, but with a hazelnut flavor), and Nutella glaze were all luscious. But, I should point out two more very important words - fried Nutella.  Not one morsel left on the plate. I would have outright licked clean if I could have gotten away with it. Now, that's a way to end a perfect evening.

1 comment:

Manimal said...

Dead on - the food evoked some feelings of great pasta, but didn't quite get there. Batali's pasta (the ones I've tried) is amazing. Enjoy Cibo Matto!