Sunday, August 31, 2008

DC Restaurant Week: Dining at Dino

by Erin

A few weeks ago, I went down to DC to participate in DC Restaurant Week with my dear friend Rachel. Now, I did not participate in Baltimore's RW this summer because I have not had the best experiences when I go out for RW. Yes, it's a great deal, and yes, it's an excuse to try restaurants you might not otherwise try. But for me, the limitations on the menu always make me feel like I've got my hands tied and I can't try what I want to try. In turn, I feel like I am not really experiencing what the restaurant has to offer on any other week of the year.

Knowing this philosophy of mine, Rachel picked out a restaurant in Cleveland Park called Dino, which boasts itself as having its full menu available for RW! Huzzah! Not only do we get the great deal ($35.08 for three courses), but we get the run of the place! Er, I mean, the menu.

I was very excited to see Rachel and try Dino's Italian fare, which Rachel highly recommended. We arrived and were seated in the sunny dining room overlooking the hustle and bustle of Connecticut Avenue. (I happened to be facing out to the street, and I managed to spot THREE different people I knew walking by! I don't even LIVE there and I'm people who know people.)

Salt and pepper grinders, PLUS fleur de sel on the table - they love their salt at Dino

We immediately ordered some Prosecco, noshed on the nice bread they brought, and began to peruse the menu.

Typically, the RW deal is that you get an appetizer, main course, and dessert for a particular price. At Dino, however, they allowed you to order two starters and a main as your three courses, in case you weren't into dessert. Rachel and I, geniuses that we are, decided to have one person get the traditional RW plan, while the other got two starters. This resulted in three yummy appetizers to share, two mains to share, and one dessert to share. And as you loyal readers know, I love sharing!

For our first course, the three antipasti we ordered were the Burrata, the Fiori di Zucca, and the Polenta ai tre Formaggi con Funghi. The burrata looked like a ball of fresh mozzarella, but it was actually fresh mozz on the outside, and then fresh curd and cream on the inside - very nice, indeed. It was rich and creamy but very tender, and it went great with the olive oil and three tapenades that came with it: red pepper, traditional olive, and oven-roasted tomato. A very nice start to the meal!

The menu says the burrate are air-freighted in from Campania twice a week! Not good for their carbon footprint, but delicious

Cross-section of the burrata

The fiori di zucca were fried squash blossoms, one of my new favorite things to order! The blossoms were filled with fresh mozzarella and a sliver of anchovy, and served with a spicy tomato sauce. Yum! These were obviously freshly made and had a lot of great flavor from the fried goodness, the cheese, and the slight hint of the anchovy. The tomato sauce was excellent as well.

My favorite of this course, however, was the polenta ai tre formaggi con funghi (translates to polenta with three cheeses and mushrooms). The chef used a white cornmeal to make the polenta, and added asiago, gorgonzola, and fontal (same as fontino, I wonder?) cheeses, then topped the whole thing with assorted roasted mushrooms. Absolutely fantastic! The polenta was very creamy and the mushrooms had a really intense flavor and added a nice contrast in texture. I wanted to eat this as my whole meal!

But, I couldn't! We had to move on to our main courses, which were technically primi (pasta), but we made them our secondi (main dish). Rachel ordered the Fusilli con Ragu d'Anatra "Bolonese", and I ordered the Pappardelle ai Cinghiale. Luckily, we were on the sharing plan, since the fusilli won hands down! The spiral-shaped pasta was covered in a ragu made of ground duck, pork, and veal that had been cooked with veggies, herbs, garlic, cream, white wine, nutmeg, and grana cheese. Holy crap this was amazing! We could not stop eating this dish, and we sort of gave the pappardelle the cold shoulder. Not that that it wasn't good, but the duck ragu was completely addictive.

Duck ragu - secret ingredient: crack

But let me quickly describe the pappardelle: I was interested in this dish because I had heard such great things about dishes involving cinghiale (wild boar) at restaurants like Babbo in NYC and Cinghiale (go figure) in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the pasta was sort of stuck together, like someone had forgotten to stir the pot, and the boar was in really large chunks, not really comfortable to eat in one easy bite. It had some rich flavors from the meat, tomato, onions, and garlic, but it was completely outshined by the duck ragu pasta.

Then it was time for dessert! We were very full from all of our many courses, so thankfully we were only on the hook to order one dessert. We ended up choosing the Gelato Affogato, which was their housemade vanilla gelato "drowned" in espresso. Who knew a dessert named after a form of homicide (or suicide, I suppose) would be so delicious? The gelato was sweet and went beautifully with the bitter and intense espresso. So good! Then again, these are my two favorite things: coffee and ice cream. What could be bad??

Drowning action shot

Another great thing about Dino was that our RW meal included a half-glass of either grappa, limoncello, or moscato with our dessert. Very classy of them. Rachel got limoncello and I got the moscato. Mine was sweet and delicious; hers was sweet and really strong.

Moscato with the limoncello in the background

What a great meal at Dino! The food was great, the service was wonderful (attentive but not overbearing), the atmosphere lively, and best of all, the full menu availability made me feel like it wasn't Restaurant Week at all! I highly recommend this place for a great, well-executed, delicious meal should you find yourself in the DC area.

And thanks to Rachel for picking it out and for being such lovely company! Love you, lady!



  1. So if you eat a cheese with high carbon footprint do you have to agree to bicycle to and from the restaurant?

    I love polenta - that looked awesome.

    Anything with long, slow cooked duck would be a winner for me.

  2. Looks incredible. Now I want italian food.

  3. It all sounds wonderful but the polenta especially so. I find myself suddenly hungry.


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