North Meets South–Italian style
At Lincoln Park, Capitol Hill welcomes Ninnella Ristorante Italiano, formerly Park Café. Under new ownership the revamped enterprise debuted in February. In their joint venture, northern Italian chef Emanuel Simeoni joined brothers Angelo and Alessandro Forte, who hail from southern Italy. Decor is classy, with handsome abstract paintings and saltillo floor tiles. A gas fireplace provides atmospheric warmth. Ninnella, by the way, is named after Angelo and Alessandro’s grandmother.
As we perused the menu, general manager Matthew Campanella brought us complimentary flutes of sparkling wine, warm bread, and olive oil/balsamic dip to “tide us over.” Appetizers like fried calamari and spinach salad looked tempting, but we decided to cut to the chase: lamb lasagna (it also comes with seafood) is a square of layered pasta replete with lamb and spicy tomato sauce. Peter chose crispy-skinned branzino (Mediterranean fish) flanked with zucchini and tomatoes. A grand finale was a decadent chocolate mousse.
In the works is a lineup of Italian wines, but Ninnella poured vintages from its New World predecessor. No problem. I enjoyed my Argentine malbec, while Peter sipped New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Located at 106 13th St. SE, Ninnella is open daily for dinner, but watch for changes. Ninnella seats 30 but eventually will expand to downstairs and outdoor seating. Call 202-543-0184. http://www.ambarrestaurant.com/
Germany Joins Texas
Cafe Berlin, which has dispensed Teutonic fare since 1985, has changed hands. New proprietors are Clytie (pronounced Cly-Tai, her grandmother’s name) Roberts and German-born husband Rico Glage. The couple met in the restaurant in 2007. Rico was cooking, Clytie was a server. “I had been a customer for years, and we met and fell in love here,” said Roberts. They were married two years later.
Rico was born in northern Germany; Clytie is from Killeen, Texas. Both come from “foodie” families. Rico’s mother was a chef, and young Rico learned from watching her. “When he was little, he wanted to become a chef because the kitchen was nice and warm and you could eat all the time,” said Clytie .
After two years in Texas, where they operated a catering firm, the couple received a call from Café Berlin co-owner Irene (Peggy) Khashan. Since she was retiring, she offered them the business. They took over on Feb. 17. They now live in Maryland. Who cooks at home? “Nobody.
”Goals? “We wanted to bring obscure German dishes to the menu,” Rico explained, naming flammkuchen, a flatbread appetizer topped with quark (sort of like ricotta), onions, leeks, and bacon. They also added rinderroulade (beef rollups) and catch-of-the-day. They cure corned beef in-house; soups and salad dressings are homemade. Menus will change seasonally. Rico, who heads the kitchen, employs three assistants; all together the Café has about a dozen workers.
We had to try it out. From the revamped luncheon menu we began with a cup of zesty goulashsuppe, a hearty beef and vegetable melange enlivened with Hungarian paprika. Sandwiches came with choice of the goulash ($2 extra) or the taggessuppe (daily), cream of mushroom. I chose a hefty turkey BLT piled on pumpernickel with the works, escorted by German potato salad and mushroom soup. Peter went for a bratwurst sandwich, topped with sauerkraut. Sandwiches are all under $10.
Besides the before-mentioned rinderoulade (top round enveloping bacon, onions, and carrots) the menu showcases German mainstays like sauerbraten (marinated beef) and Kassler rippchen (smoked pork loin). Top sellers? Jaegerschnitzel – breaded pork slathered with mushroom gravy and spaetzel (tiny dumplings). Beet salad is also popular.
Located at 322 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Café Berlin is open daily for lunch and dinner. Call 202-543-7656 or visit www.cafeberlindc.com.
We can no longer complain about the dearth of Vietnamese restaurants on the Hill. The Atlas District has the full-service Pho Bar & Grill, 1360 H St. NE, www.phobarandgrill.com. A modest addition is Vietnamese Corner, a reincarnation of Pacific Café, which closed four years ago. Owners are the same, Nga Thai and Hong Hon. Located at 1123 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Vietnamese Corner is mainly carryout with some seating, and shares its space with Pizza by the Slice.
Savory beef pho is ideal for a blustery early spring day. We loved the grilled shrimp with vermicelli, served room temperature with a piquant vinegar dipping sauce. Vegetarian dishes (bean curd) are available. Beverages: Vietnamese-style coffee and tea and jasmine hot tea. Open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Call 202-546-4653.
Along the “Avenue,” mounted on a folding chair on the sidewalk in front of Café Recess, was a pair of tee-shirts proclaiming “Pho” and “Banh mi.” I hurried inside to investigate, and met the eatery’s new proprietor, Valerie Nguyen. I returned with Peter and sampled the new items. We shared a “small” (but generous) bowl of pho, flavorful broth laced with chicken and served with Thai, basil, cilantro, and sprouts.
We also split banh mi, the harmonious marriage of a French baguette filled with pork, ham, or chicken. (Other sandwiches are also available.) Summer rolls (two to a serving) were gossamer thin wrappers plumped with shrimp and vermicelli noodles, escorted with peanut dipping sauce. Café Recess retains its popular hot and cold buffet.
Located at 209 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Café Recess is open six days a week for lunch, closed Sunday. Call 202-544-3049.
Winter has finally released its icy, sloppy grip and we are enjoying the Cherry Blossom Festival, which ends April 14. Representing Capitol Hill is Barracks Row’s Ambar, 523 Eighth St. SE, with a dessert concocted by Serbian-born pastry chef Danilo Bucan. Tagged at $5, his cherry and Valerona chocolate cake is made with cherry foam and served with micro basil. For reservations or more information call 202-813-3039 or visit www.ambarrestaurant.com
The matchboxfoodgroup, with its popular offshoot on Barracks Row (521 8th St. SE), continues to expand. Newest in the culinary family is a Matchbox in the rapidly developing Mosaic District, 2910 District Avenue, in Merrifield Virginia. Heading the kitchen is executive chef Jacob Hunter, who’s been with Matchbox since 2008. Matchbox Merrifield serves lunch and dinner daily, including weekend brunch. The menu retains favorites like mini burgers and wood fired pizzas, along with crispy half-chicken with collard greens and garlic mashed potatoes.
A welcome addition to Barracks Row’s lunch brigade is Tash, the Persian/Turkish charmer unveiled last winter at 524 8th St. SE. It recently added lunchtime service. (Upstairs, Nooshi was due to open this month.) The funky decor sets the stage for an enjoyable repast. Colorful Turkish tiles adorn one wall, across from a huge chalkboard. Customers are given chalk to scribble graffiti or write comments. (We did.)
Chef/co-owner Nariman Mondaniou (whose nephew Amir was our capable server) and his team were hard at work in the display kitchen, dominated by the giant charcoal grill which gives Tash (“fire” in Farsi) its name. Hot tea arrived in a beautiful silver and glass service set accompanied by sugar cubes in a dainty silver dish.
We started with a scrumptious dip made with olives, olive oil, walnuts, and spices, scooped up with warm flatbread. Peter ordered lemon/saffron chicken kebabs, while I chose spicy lamb kubideh. Entrees – flanked with grilled eggplant and zucchini – were beautifully presented in rectangular curvy white dishes, along with yogurt dip and taboulah. Lunch for two, with a glass of wine apiece, came to $51 before tip. Tash is open daily; call 202-733-1133.
By now you know Beucherts Saloon, 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, has opened. The newcomer serves dinner only but might eventually offer lunch and weekend brunch. http://www.beuchertssaloon.com/http://www.sonomadc.com/. Suna, 214 7th St. SE, the pricey, cutting-edge restaurant next to Acqua al 2, has closed. Il Capo (formerly Mi Vecindad), 1129 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, has reinstated Mexican items. Sonoma Wine Bar, 223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, now serves breakfast, Monday through Friday, from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org://www.sonomadc.com/. Congrats to Sapore Oil & Vinegar, 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, which celebrated its first anniversary last month. http://www.saporeoilandvinegar.com/, http://www.saporeoilandvinegar.com//biz_redir?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sizzl...
Congrats and best of luck to Capitol Hill nominees for the 2013 Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMMY) awards: Johnny’s Half Shell for Power Spot of the Year; Hank’s Oyster Bar for Hottest Bar Scene; Michael Nevarez (Bistro Bis/Vidalia/Woodward Table) for Manager of the Year; Matchbox Food Group owners for Restaurateur of the Year. Winners will be announced at the 31st annual RAMMY Awards Gala, June 23, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.