- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

D’Acqua — “from the water” in Italian — is a seafood restaurant, but this is not your Uncle Herbert’s seafood place.

Chefs Francesco Ricchi and Enzo Febbraro’s new downtown fish palace is molto Italiano, from the wine list to the dishes, and even to many of the waiters. If you don’t like fish, the menu is limited, but if you do, come on in, the cooking’s fine.

Mr. Ricchi, originally a Florentine, started the successful Ristorante I Ricchi on 19th Street Northwest, and later opened Cesco Trattoria in Bethesda; Mr. Febbraro, who hails from Naples, was executive chef at Cafe Milano and Filomena in Georgetown. Together they’re offering Washingtonians a taste of the Italian seacoast.

D’Acqua joins such fine dining restaurants as 701, the Capitol Grille and TenPenh in the strip of Pennsylvania Avenue in the Penn Quarter. It’s a bright, cheerful restaurant with a large bar area, a few small high tables with stools for drinking and eating, and a sparkling array of fresh fish on ice surrounded by jewel-like colorful vegetables displayed just outside the kitchen. Diners can choose the fish they would like to eat, either whole or in part, cooked to order from this market display, priced by the pound. Ask before choosing — fish can be expensive.

We couldn’t resist the plate of beautiful pink langoustines ($50 per pound) and ordered just one, grilled. It came to the table split in half like a lobster, sweet, buttery and sprinkled with fresh herbs. We shared the delectable morsel, and even that tiny bite was a bit of heaven (at $17).

The menu is ambitious: nine each of hot and cold appetizers, 11 pastas and eight main courses along with salads and the fish from the market display, which can be ordered grilled, roasted or salt-crusted. Side dishes are various vegetables and potatoes.

The wine list is primarily Italian with accent on the coastal areas. It’s comprehensive and includes several reasonable choices by the bottle or the glass. There are a few bottles from California.

Appetizers include traditional dishes such as baby clams with white wine and garlic — a combination that also appears as a pasta dish combining linguine with the same ingredients — or mussels in a spicy tomato sauce. More unusual are the Italian-style shrimp tempura, house-made pork and lamb sausage served with broccoli rabe Neapolitan style, or dried salted cod roasted with tomatoes, black olives and capers.

Three plump scallops are encased in prosciutto and seared. Unfortunately, the scallops arrived a little overcooked and were borderline tough. The prosciutto adds unwelcome saltiness and the garlic sauce served on the side tends to overpower the delicacy of the scallops.

A cold starter of a mound of lump crabmeat mixed with a dice of avocado and spring onions in a light, fresh dressing is pretty to look at, encased in a round of cucumber, and very good to eat. More unusual cold appetizers are a carpaccio of tuna, halibut, salmon and scallops; mixed seafood in a chilled fennel and saffron broth; cold poached shrimp, tomato, red onion and celery; and baby octopus and cuttlefish marinated in garlic and balsamic vinegar.

For a special treat, there are those wonderful langoustines.

For those who want to dine on something more than fish, the beef carpaccio is an excellent starter. The paper-thin slices are fresh and delicate, sprinkled with sliced trumpet mushrooms and slivers of black truffles, and topped with shaved pecorino cheese. Its very simplicity makes the carpaccio a delicious starter.

Any of the salads — be it beets and asparagus with frisee lettuce; arugula with Parmesan cheese; fennel, endive and radicchio; or a classic Caesar — can be a fish-less appetizer as well. We tried the Caesar (without the sprinkling of anchovies) and it was excellent: the romaine crisp and fresh, the dressing tart and tasty, with just a hint of anchovy.

The pasta dishes include: agnolotti with ricotta in a zucchini, pumpkin and artichoke sauce, and a thick noodle (scialatielli) with sausage, smoked mozzarella and basil pesto. The latter is a rich, somewhat heavy dish with lots of sausage and little sauce. The sausage is very good, lightly spiced, and the pasta nicely al dente, but the paucity of sauce meant the pesto and mozzarella imparted little flavor to the dish. More is more in this case.

Seafood ragout in a lobster and cream reduction; little gnocchi (gnochetti) with rock shrimp, mushrooms and asparagus; black tagliatelle with roasted squid, peas and sun-dried tomatoes; and baked pasta with mussels, clams and zucchini are some of the seafood pasta dishes.

Fish main courses make D’Acqua sparkle. A piece of sea bass is poached and served in a delicate broth with tiny vegetables. The fish is fresh as can be, wonderfully moist and light. Although the result did not quite live up to the menu description — there was no lobster and no saffron reduction sauce — it was a lovely dish.

Fish stew is always available, as are grilled tuna fillet, monkfish wrapped in pancetta, and a whole fish cooked in parchment with mussels and clams. Lobster, langoustines, flounder, snapper and other fish are available by the pound.

Meat main courses are limited to osso bucco, grilled Cornish hen and a porterhouse steak. (But who comes to a fish restaurant for hearty meat?)

Desserts include classic tiramisu, Italian sorbets and panna cotta, and an unusual apple strudel of chopped apples, nuts and raisins in a pastry more akin to a crisp cannoli shell than the Austro-Hungarian version. It’s delicious.

Most of the dinner menu is available at lunch at considerably reduced prices. The service is attentive and friendly, with waiters and management concerned and eager to please.

RESTAURANT: D’Acqua, 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202/783-7717

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 4 to 11 p.m. daily; late night bar service 11 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Appetizers $10 to $14 (lunch), $7 to $18 (dinner); pastas $12 to $16 (lunch), $16 to $28 (dinner); main courses $11 to $19 (lunch), $19 to $28 (dinner); desserts $8

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Some street parking; dinner valet parking $10

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Archives

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