My husband and I are always on the search for a great Italian restaurant in the DC-area and this time the search lead us to Bibiana on the corner of H and 12th St NW. Lured by the promise of a twist on traditional, we met up with another couple to try this new restaurant which barely squeaked onto the Washingtonian top 100 for 2010.
We arrived first and while waiting for our friends took a peek at the bar selection. The wine options are vast, but as wine and I are not known to get along, I stuck to the cocktail menu. At the suggestion of the bartender, I tried the gin-based Pa Pa L’Americano. A refreshing choice, not too sweet and with just a hint of grapefruit. My husband opted for the Bibiana, which is their take on the Bellini. It was a peach party in the mouth and I would have gone for one myself if dinner didn’t end up being so filling in the end.
We were seated immediately after our friends arrived. For a Wednesday night the place was crowded, which I always take as a good sign of things to come. The downside to crowds, though, is the noise level. Even at our small table for 4 it was at times difficult to hear one another or even the server.
We started the meal with a few appetizers. My husband and I split the Ricotta, which was enormous. It was glazed with wild rose, honey, black pepper, chives, and roasted almonds. The combination was actually a nice balance of sweet and savory. The ricotta itself was light and airy. This dish was served alone, but I think crackers or bread might have been a helpful side because otherwise you have to justify eating a giant hunk of cheese. Bread somehow always makes that seem more manageable. We also split the Pinzimonio salad, which is made with seasonal vegetables and fennel cream. This salad was a small work of art that was also surprising to eat with at least five different flavors going on: I tasted basil and citrus in the same bite that worked with the fried and fresh vegetables. The dish combined textures as well as flavors from crunchy to mushy. Fairly unique and worth trying, though I am not 100% sure it truly qualifies as a salad.
For dinner I was all set to order a non-pasta dish and go with the scallops and calamari until I was informed that one of the specials for the night was handmade linguine with red sauce and lobster. Well I am a sucker for linguine first and foremost and lobster is impossible to turn down. In fact the dish was so tempting my husband went with it too. Our friends chose the Meluzzo, poached sea bass, and the Ossobuco Milanese, braised veal cheeks.
Bibiana is not the place to go if you are in a hurry. We were probably well into our first hour by the time our meal arrived. At the same time, nothing really felt like it was taking overly long and we were in good company. When our dishes arrived they were a very nice portion. A major complaint I have with many Italian restaurants is that you have so much food put in front of you that you couldn’t possibly eat it all and expect to walk out of there. The linguine was on the large side, likely due to the handmade nature, but it was delicious and al dente. A light red sauce complemented the lobster, bringing out the richness of the meat without causing it to be overwhelming. Taking the opportunity to taste my friend’s meals as well, I experienced a little food envy over the veal, which was melt-in-you-mouth good and had a unique sauce with hazelnuts. The poached fish was also, surprisingly, tasty. I say surprising because I wasn’t expecting the fish to have so much flavor when poached. Accompanied by latke, the dish was another example of balance between flavors and textures.
When you have already spent about two hours and enjoyed salad, appetizers, and pasta, you might as well go ahead with the dessert. Fullness aside, we opted to split the Tiramisu, which was the only option aside from the gelato that did not include nuts (my husband has an allergy). So despite my temptation for several of the other options, my stomach knew there was no need for us to each order separate desserts. The tiramisu was as much a visual as taste sensation. Little white chocolate chunks and chocolate sauce dots for presentation were actually my favorite part. The tiramisu was slightly different from other varieties I have had in the past – light and fluffy, it had a slight coffee flavor. Our friends opted for the cheese plate selection, which was also quite delicious with the perfect amount of cheese chunks with challah and apple butter to end your meal on.
Overall this was a great dining experience. The meal took us about three hours to complete which is definitely on the long side, especially as I am pretty sure I could win a speed eating competition against Takeru Kobayashi. But the service was excellent. Our server gave honest and helpful recommendations and was careful to explain any questions we had about the menu. All four of us were pleased with our menu selections, and given the selective nature of some of my dining companions (I shall not name names) that is quite a feat. The meal was on the expensive side, so it certainly won’t become my go-to Italian restaurant, but for a special occasion it definitely fills a void.