- - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Italian food has always been a Washington favorite, and there are many restaurants to choose from — from a simple pizza parlor to a sophisticated northern Italian white tablecloth establishment.

Here are a few old and not-so-old favorites — almost all serve octopus and calamari, pasta and branzino — but each prepares these dishes in a different way.

Ristorante Tosca (1112 F St. NW) is a formal, elegant northern Italian restaurant. It has been located in downtown Washington for more than 30 years, and continues to serve outstanding Italian fare. Tosca continues to be a favorite dining spot for politicians, lawyers, and movers and shakers in the capital.

Named not for the opera, but for the daughter of the original chef/owner, Tosca specializes in house-made pastas with creative, rich sauces. Chef Massimo Fabbri prepares pan-seared calamari with escarole and salsa verde, and seared octopus with cauliflower cream and pistachio pesto. It offers a three-course $45 lunch and pretheater menu from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. It’s expensive but never fails to please.

Another downtown restaurant, less formal but also first rate, is Bibiana Osteria Enoteca (1100 New York Ave. NW). Briefly closed to renovate and “modernize,” Bibana reopened at the beginning of the year with a new executive chef, Italian-born Loris Navone, and new additions to its menu.

Chef Navone has instituted a $12 “Seven Bowls” special served only in the bar section of the restaurant Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Bar patrons select a bowl filled with an Italian meal, such as veal and pork meat balls or braised short ribs with potato puree and spinach. For an additional $5 a soft drink or featured glass of Italian wine can be added, with espresso or sorbet of the day for $3. Branzino is prepared here Mediterranean style, and octopus is grilled with saffron and pickled potatoes.

Fabio Trabocchi is the chef-owner of several of Washington’s best and most expensive Italian restaurants, including Fiola and Fiola Mare. His latest venture is a more casual, cheerful bistro Sfoglina (4445 Connecticut Ave. NW), named for the Italian pasta-making matriarch of traditional methods. It specializes in pasta, priced at $23 or $26, the latter for seasonal dishes.

Along with pasta, Svoglina prepares a limited number of small plates and main courses. Octopus is prepared fisherman’s style, branzino is roasted with red pepper quinoa and olives, and spicy calamari is grilled. At lunch, there’s a $20 bar special of a soft drink and an entree.

Red Hen (1822 First St. NW) in the Bloomingdale neighborhood describes itself as an Italian-influenced American restaurant. Its decor is “farmhouse funky,” that is, exposed brick walls, wooden tables and a bright, casual atmosphere. Yet the restaurant prepares serious, first-rate Italian cuisine, including its popular rigatoni with fennel sausage rag, fried risotto balls with black pepper, pecorino and basil aioli. Main courses include a grilled chicken, roasted salmon and scallops with cauliflower cream and leeks. At Red Hen, the calamari comes on squid ink linguini with cannellini beans. The Red Hen is not open for lunch.

Lupo Verde (1401 T St. NW), which translates to Green Wolf, is located on trendy 14th Street where it intersects with T Street. The restaurant excels in rustic Italian fare, with a large selection of cheeses and salumi and an extensive Italian wine list. Pastas are all house-made. At Lupo Verde, branzino is grilled with caramelized onions and black trumpet mushrooms, baby octopus is fried and served with braised escarole, and calamari appears in a stew.

The new chef at La Tomate (1701 Connecticut Ave. NW), Domenico Apollaro, has broadened and updated the menu at this casual bistro, where the food is always good and reasonably priced. The Jared Kushners, who live a few blocks away, are sometime diners, as are many of the District’s politicians and neighborhood locals.

At La Tomate, the octopus is seared and prepared with sun-dried tomatoes, fingerling confit, baby sorrel and pickled artichoke aioli. Calamari is grilled with bread crumbs, accompanied by sweet potato cream and squid ink vinaigrette. Branzino is baked with a zucchini crust and served with truffled mashed potatoes and smoked pearl onions. The restaurant features a prosciutto bar serving many variations of Italian prosciutto and cheeses, including buffalo mozzarella and burrata.

Not to be forgotten is Naples’ gift to the world: pizza. There are countless pizza parlors throughout the city, but my favorite is 2Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria (3715 Macomb St. NW), where a true D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza is served, along with a large variety of excellent pies. (D.O.C. stands for denominazione di origine controllata, which means controlled designation of origin and applies to the tomatoes, cheese and oil used in preparing pizza.) The Margherita at 2Amys is a D.O.C. pizza, and it is delicious, with a lovely chewy, yeasty crust.

The menu at 2Amys is not limited to pizza and includes, among other small plates, meatballs, deviled eggs, potato and prosciutto croquettes, and several salads and desserts. There are also three stuffed pizzas, filled with ricotta, mozzarella, tomatoes, salami and/or prosciutto.

Buon appetito!

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