Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Noelia Italian Kitchen Food Review

Filettino di Vitello e Raviolini

I earned my chops (so to speak) with fast casual food; but every now and then, I like to "jazz it up" a bit. That means fine dining, and all the bells & whistles that go along with it. Noelia Italian Kitchen has been on my radar since they opened last June, at 1319 F Street (formerly home to Finemondo.) Picture 6,000 square feet of palatial real estate, smack dab in the middle of downtown DC. All that space facilitates its weekend transformation to a late-night dancing destination; and while my dancing days may be far behind me, I couldn't resist the chance to have lunch there.

After stepping inside, I also couldn't help but liken Noelia to one of my favorite former haunts... since-closed Bambul√©, in Friendship Heights. There were obvious differences of course (Spanish cuisine vs. Italian, for starters) not to mention the fact that Noelia looks a lot better. Still, it's nice to be reminded of fond memories (and weekends filled with late-night dancing, back when I used to... dance.)

Beautiful Interior

Noelia is indeed, a large space; and owner Kaiser Gill has spared no expense in filling it with lavish, yet comfortable decor. Modern chairs, dressed in brown leather, opposite really soft leather booths and lacquered tables. Understated elegance leaps to mind, reinforced by a soothing musical soundtrack that includes The Chordettes' Mr. Sandman, Frank Sinatra and even Seth MacFarlane (yes, that Seth MacFarlane.) It's all very inviting.

So too is the service, beginning with Gill in the front, to star server Ivan, and down the line (even runners are top-notch.) It extends to other tables too, not just mine. I overheard another server offering two ladies a Chilean Sea Bass with Asparagus (off the menu) which screams, "attentive, considerate and smart." Ivan impressed from the word GO, taking pride in every imaginable detail and subsequently winning my trust to the point where I followed his recommendation for my main entree.

Complimentary Bread

Before I get to the one of the best veal dishes I've ever had, allow me to rattle on about delicious house bread (piping hot, and served with an addictive, incredible olive tapenade in place of butter or olive oil.) Famed British critic Giles Coren considers eating bread a cardinal sin; but I argue it's a true barometer of a restaurant's mustard (these food references are getting ridiculous, please forgive me.) My only complaint? I had to pass on seconds, especially with another Italian restaurant litmus test... the beloved meatball.

Referred to properly as Polpettone, Noelia's trio of beef meatballs arrive in a gondola-shaped vessel, drenched in a rich cherry tomato sauce (piping hot, of course.) Topped with basil (more please!) they're the perfect size, and loaded with flavor. Best of all, they come with two wedges of garlic bread... just enough to soak up the surplus sauce. At a mere $5 a plate, it could go down as one of DC's best food values.

Polpettone

Now that they had my attention, Ivan decided to go for the kill with his keen recommendation of Filettino di Vitello e Raviolini (pan-seared veal filet, veal raviolini in demi-glace and thyme sauce.) It's one of their pricier entrees ($34 at dinner) but sometimes you have to pay a little more to visit Heaven. Served MEDIUM-RARE, the veal is presented two ways... both as an out-of-this-world filling for ravioli, and alternating filets. Dressed simply with micro-greens, you might not think it's complex enough; but the beauty of Italian cooking is technique and good ingredients. The veal is expertly prepared, and once freshly ground pepper is applied (for the tiny bit of kick it requires) you may never eat beef again. OK, that's a bit extreme: Forgive me, I'm on a veal high at the moment. Needless to say, this simply has to become their signature dish (if it isn't already.)

Normally at this point of the meal, I'm full; but it would be a sin of the highest order to pass on dessert. That's because Noelia (unbeknownst to me) makes the best Classico Tiramisu in America. OK, OK... I'm being extreme again, but I was literally making audible noises with each bite: That's how delicious it was. Pillowy soft with a perfect raspberry on top, it was gone in half-a-dozen bites. Not so sure about the fork outline in chocolate, or the pretty flowers on the side; but if you're looking to seal the deal (business or otherwise) ORDER THIS DESSERT.

Classico Tiramisu

While I don't see myself abandoning fast casual food anytime soon, Noelia Italian Kitchen provides a welcome break from the mundane. Beautiful surroundings, exceptional service and clean, simple (and delicious) food. What's not to love? Perhaps I might even start dancing again (talk about extreme.)