- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

“Mio” is Spanish and Italian for “mine” and “my,” but Mio, the restaurant, is not what anyone would call “my kind of place.” Neither warm nor cozy, Mio is sleek, impersonal and bright on Vermont Avenue between L and M streets Northwest.

The wide bar is nice for a solo lunch or the 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour. Stefano Frigerio, who presides in the royal-blue open kitchen beyond the dining room, was sous chef at Maestro in Tysons Corner for the renowned Fabio Trabocchi, now at Fiamma in New York.

Born in Como, Italy, Mr. Frigerio cooked in several restaurants in Italy and London before coming to the United States in 2002 to join Mr. Trabocchi. He emphasizes fresh, local produce, and his cooking at Mio consists of American dishes with Mediterranean influences.

What comes to the table varies. Some dishes are superlative; others miss the mark. A starter of grilled scallops is superb. Slightly crusty on the outside, tender and fresh on the inside, the sea scallops are served with a small mound of fragrant quinoa and a buttery sauce tasting faintly of vanilla. Couldn’t be better.

Spicy shrimp are very good, too. The plump shrimp are pan seared and served with a few crisp spinach leaves and capers in a garlicky sauce. A roasted potato soup was virtually tasteless, even when salt was added. The little gnocchi in the soup were indecisive.

Mr. Frigerio prepares an interesting and tasty version of beef carpaccio. Each of three small towers has a slice of raw beef, slightly thicker than the usual carpaccio, wrapped around a small piece of tofu. Two towers are topped with a thin round of crisp Parmesan cheese and a minuscule duxelles of forest mushrooms; the third is capped with a poached quail egg. A balsamic reduction is a harmonious addition to the dish.

First courses range from cured salmon tartare to pan-seared sweetbreads with toasted hazelnuts. Rabbit terrine and a foie gras ballotine are offered as well. One of Mr. Frigerio’s specialties is a duo of hamachi: part of the fish served raw as ceviche, the other as a grilled hamachi chop.

Dinner salads are limited to roasted beets with goat cheese; a combination of fennel, radicchio and blood orange; and a simple salad of mixed greens with pecorino cheese, also available at lunch.

Among the main courses, the pan-seared quail is delicious, partially boned and served with bits of Serrano ham and a celery root puree with a white wine sauce. The presentation and cooking leave nothing to be desired. The quail was juicy, not gamy, and tender.

The menu lists one vegetarian dish: polenta with forest mushrooms. A diner-designed vegetable dish created from the menu side dishes did not fare well. The greens are bland and the okra was a disappointment. Although properly crusted with flour and cornmeal, the okra came out raw, not a happy dish. The best of the sides is the creamy polenta, especially with a little butter added.

Fish dishes include a grilled swordfish with carrot and lemon grass puree; pan-seared wild rockfish with vegetables stewed in littleneck clam broth; and roasted monkfish with butternut squash-quinoa risotto. A recent special of skate was presented as a many-layered tower alternating pieces of skate and sauteed spinach with a piece of crisp, battered and deep-fried spinach on top. On another occasion, the spinach tempura was barely room temperature and had an unpleasant oily aftertaste.

Meats include grilled venison served with cauliflower and anchovies; grilled duck breast; a double pork chop; a duo of roasted rack of lamb and leg of lamb with smoked potato; and slow-cooked beef short ribs. Alas, the short ribs were gone by 8 p.m. one evening.

Desserts include a pleasant, if unexciting, key lime pie; triple-chocolate pots de creme; profiteroles filled with chocolate ice cream; chocolate banana cake; and caramelized banana split. The excellent warm, crusty yeast rolls that arrive at the table along with drinks set a happy note.

The wines are primarily fine French, California and Spanish bottlings. Beginning at 4:30 p.m., a bar menu offers such dishes as artichoke and Parmesan phyllo bites, chicken skewers, and cornmeal-crusted crab cakes for $6 each.

RESTAURANT: Mio, 1110 Vermont Ave. NW, 202/955-0075

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Starters $8 to $15 (lunch), $10 to $15 (dinner); main courses $12 to $18 (lunch), $19.50 to $27.50 (dinner); desserts $8; five-course tasting menu for $70; daily three-course lunch special $22.50

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: Metered street parking; dinner valet parking $7

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible.

METRO: McPherson Square.

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