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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review: Fiola

The return of Fabio Trabocchi to the metro area is a cause for celebration among local foodies. But if his name is unfamiliar, ask a friend about the Fabio who worked as the executive chef at the very, very upscale and prestigious restaurant, Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Tysons Corner.

It was a very sad day for local gastronomes when he moved to New York City to run the now-closed Fiamma restaurant, which garnered many accolades for his precise cooking and traditional dishes — polished with an overlay of contemporary influences — and surely New Yorkers mourned his departure for a DC return.

Today, Trabocchi presides over and cooks for his rather fabulous Fiola da Fabio Trabocchi, located in Penn Quarter. Described on the website as a “modern trattoria,” its menu holds temptations for every price level and for every palate, as Trabocchi wants his Fiola to be a welcoming destination for everyone, whether all they want is a glass of wine with snacks, or a full-blown meal or regional and contemporary Italian cooking. Indeed, he has received such a warm welcome that even lunchtimes require reservations, as two of us discovered recently. Packed even at 1:30 in the afternoon, it seems DC folks would rather eat than do anything else.

Because Trabocchi is an ardent follower of the “freshest seasonal ingredients are the best” mantra, chances are the menu changes regularly. That means that in another season, you will not get to sample the utterly exquisite, delicate, almost-too-fragile-to-eat squash blossoms. Batter-dipped and gently fried, these are served with melting mozzarella fritters and the combination of flavors and textures make this the A-1 appetizer of the summer.

Before you plunge into the main course, pause for a secondary set of dishes. The heirloom tomatoes — another seasonal offering due to fade away come fall — consists of cubed tomatoes in a mild stracciatella, a broth that acts as a dressing. Add to that the grilled flatbread with prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella, and you may think you have dined sufficiently for one day. But wait, ask for a side of their grilled bread, perfect for dunking into the broth with the salad. Or into some golden olive oil.

At lunch, you may want to end the meal with an order of pasta, though the menu offers such meaty dishes as slow-cooked Kobe short ribs (sigh), grilled black Angus beef rib eye or assorted fish and seafood options. But at many Italian meals, pasta of some sort is always mandatory. Same here. Skip the meat and head to the pappardelle with wild mushrooms and Parmigiano. Yum. You can bask in the glories of this dish, and worry about the calories…after you have dessert.

Dessert, of course, must be the chocolate and hazelnut tart, the ideal ending to any meal for chocoholics. Other choices include gelati, a vanilla tart, and zuppa inglese. Chocolate wins, hands down.

If you don’t have the time to sit and lunch or dine leisurely, Trabocchi has solved that problem with a handy take-out selection of dishes. But then you would miss the charm of Fiola’s revamped interior. Once the home of various other restaurants over the years, Fiola now fits in nicely to the upswing of Penn Quarter, and joins in its parade of standout restaurants. If one could only eat all day long.

Fiola da Fabio Trabocchi | 601 Pa. Ave. NW (entr., 678 Ind. Ave.); (202) 628-2888. Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu. 5:30-10:30pm, Fri. to 11:30, Sat. 5-11:30pm,; closed Sun. Dinner entrée price range: $25-$39.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.