Friday, May 1, 2015

Lupo Verde Food Review

Costine di Maiale

Guess where I went to last night? Southern Italy, by way of Lupo Verde. I made the trip in remarkable time "to boot" (pun intended) a 10-minute drive versus a 10-hour, $1,000 non-stop flight. No need to trade dollars for Euros either; but my dinner was as authentic, if not more so. And Lupo Verde doesn't stop at food either... There's hand-painted Italian tiles, a bar made of Carrara marble from Tuscany and even adorable staff t-shirts that read, "The Italians are here." If you're looking for DC's most rustic (not to mention charming) Italian restaurant, your search is over. It's Lupo Verde.

Location is perfect: A corner spot at 14th & T Streets, NW in the trendy-fabulous U Street Corridor. A beautiful hostess (yes, I notice) confirmed my reservation, and escorted me to a cozy table upstairs. I purposely chose an early dinner (5:30) because (1) Lupo Verde gets very crowded, very quickly and (2) great dinners take two hours, even when dining alone.


Service was enthusiastic and professional, yet delightfully void of any kind of stuffiness. In addition to fun t-shirts, the staff here prides itself on being friendly & kind (a dynamite combination, when paired with delicious food.) My server knew the menu inside & out; and efficiently/politely filled me in on a few seasonal changes, one of which resulted in a change of entrees (a most welcome switch, by the way.) Given its popularity and allotted space (it seats 100) it can be a tight fit for dinner; but since everyone's having a great time, you'd hardly notice. Great music too (i.e. Negrita's Ululallaluna) and of course... it's authentic Italian.

House Bread

I'd heard such great things (this was my first visit) I was determined to try a little of everything. That meant a meat plate, followed by soup, pasta and a main course (with complimentary house bread to start.) The bread was incredible... warm & flaky, served in a smart-looking basket with handles. There was even more bread to come, part of a beautiful Salumificio presentation (3 meats for $16) that also included housemade pickled vegetables, breadsticks, fresh fruit and the most fantastic pear marmalade I've ever had. Kudos for writing the names under each different meat, to avoid any confusion on what's what. The pickled veg was light on salt, yet addictive all the same. The bread, studded with dried fruits became downright decadent when slathered with the aforementioned marmalade... So much so, I'd go back for that combo alone (OK, toss in some pickles too. I'm a big fan.)

Minestrone col Farro

As for the sliced meats... goodness, they're fabulous. The Proscuitto di Parma was velvety soft and delicious; while the Salame Toscano packed tons (and tons) of flavor. Pancetta from Campania makes a fine third wheel; but there's over 25 different meats to choose from, including Duck Sausage from the good 'ol US of A. $16 gets you three, and another ten gets you two more.

LV's Minestrone col Farro ($9) was next... a lovely mix of vegetables and farro grains, topped off with fresh parmigiano cheese. Unlike most soups elsewhere, there's no need to worry about over-saltiness (or oiliness, for that matter.) I can't think of a better dish to serve before pasta and a main.

Striglie with Beef & Lamb Ragu

Speaking of pasta, you have lots of choices; but I heartily recommend the Striglie ($18) now served with both beef and lamb. It's filling (striglie is a hearty pasta) but the ragu is so tender and light (with lots of flavor) you won't know you're full, until after the fact. It's a relatively small plate of food; but be warned, it's truly filling (and sufficient for a main course.)

Luckily, I saved room for Costine di Maiale (roasted pork short ribs and dried apricots, $25.) Once again, LV's presentation makes a great dish even greater (it's served in the pan) but the polenta that lies underneath is so creamy, so succulent... it almost upstages the ribs, which are mighty good on their own. Look for a hint of citrus throughout (and great flavor/texture from assorted apricots.) There are six other entrees to choose from, including Tagliata di Manzo ($29) which has enough steak on the plate, to feed a small army. If not for the tempting pasta as well, I would have ordered that instead. Looking back however, I have zero regrets (not to mention a valid excuse to return.)

Return visits are the norm for most of Lupo Verde's clientele/extended family; and the reason is obvious. Shower your customers with charm, great atmosphere and rustic food; and odds are, they'll be back again and again. Lord knows, I will.