Monday, December 21, 2009

Dino: Decent or Delicious?

Dino is one those DC neighborhood staples that we have been meaning to try for a while. The issue is, it is in Cleveland Park, and not necessarily a convenient metro trip or cab ride. So with tickets to Zoolights on Friday, we decided that this would be the perfect time to check out this Florentine Italian restaurant.

We arrived about fifteen minutes before our reservation time and were cold and hungry. We were promptly greeted and seated in the first floor dining room. The space is comfortable, if a bit tight, with windows on two sides and a small bar area when you enter. The ambiance very much feels like a neighborhood spot with the owner walking around chatting up patrons with stories of Tuscany and the origins of menu items.

Once seated we were bombarded with what can only be described as an excess of menus. Not one but three different wine listings which were duplicative, the standard menu, and a separate placard on the seven fishes special (which was also listed in the regular menu). This was way too much paper for a small space and I would recommend some organization and consolidation.

We decided to order a bottle of Chianti (getting rid of three of the menus) and start with the buttermilk soaked, cornmeal crusted calamari with spicy marinara sauce and then decide from there about the rest of our food. Our server abruptly dropped the wine off at our table and said he would be back to open it. He then proceeded to take another table's order before uncorking our wine. This was a bit uncouth, but consonant with the casual vibe on the place. And from then on the service was on-point. The wine was robust and warmed us up instantly. The calamari was okay -- it should have been a bit crisper and certain pieces tended toward the soggy. The spicy marinara that it was served with however was quite good.

We then went for a salad of chicory (a winter green) with a sardine Parmesan dressing. Neither of us had tried chicory before and I won't again, whereas B loved this combination.

I found the chicory to be really bitter and the dressing weighed it down with an overly fishy flavor. B loved this unique combination.

The pasta entrees here were the standouts.

B had the free-form lasagna, which was a creamy plate of really delicate noodles with the flavors of pancetta, several types of cheese, and a light tomato sauce.

I opted for the cannelloni stuffed with duck and veal sausage whose earthy flavor was complimented by what tasted like a hint of orange or lemon zest in the cheese sauce.

When dessert came around I was really happy to see the option of a $5 glass of homemade grappa, limoncello, or muscato. I opted for the latter, B the grappa, and both were excellent and even more enjoyable to sit and linger over since what would become the DC snowpocalpyse had begun.

We also shared a piece of tiramisu. This was prepared in the traditional manner and was good, but not great. It was a bit too soggy and lacked a certain richness.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine, shared appetizer, shared salad, two pasta entrees, dessert drinks, and a shared dessert including tax and tip was $130.

Would we go back? It depends on whom you ask. I thought it was good, but nothing compared to
Tosca, whereas B is already planning our next trip.

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