Coolest night in a long while = Ghibellina; with kids?

Two moms, three kids 7 and under, meeting up at a hip joint near the witching hour. What could go wrong? As it turns out, nothing- if your destination is Ghibellina.

Since my ragingly good and delicious maiden voyage at 14th St NW's Ghibellina, I've longed to go back. Recently, a foodie pal mentioned that she'd heard the happy hour was kickin' in the best of ways: cocktail specials; half-price pizzas; the same old welcoming and warm ambiance... Sold. We have some terrific friends who live just around the corner from Ghib so decided to meet them there tonight for the figurative ringing bell: the 4:30 happy hour kick-off.

I may have slightly threatened the children regarding good behavior or dessert-loss-for-a-week, but otherwise ushered them into Ghibellina with joy. They exclaimed over the handsome "fleur-de-lis, mommy!" and immediately requested sausage pizza and pesto pasta. Yet before we even reached a table, we were intercepted and greeted by none other than Ralph Lee, one of the creative forces behind this new'ish DC gem as well as Capitol Hill's Acqua al 2. (Full disclosure, the three of us were extremely lucky to have just recently met Ralph who married a very dear friend.)

Ralph graciously gave us a tour of the restaurant -how Angelica so masterfully rolls the perfectly proofed pizza dough into flawless, non-sticky orbs is beyond me- and introduced us to chef Jonathan Copeland; he showed the kids the ice cream maker's master switch, and you just knew gelato was in our future. The kids thought the pizza oven was "SOOOO hot but cool" and belatedly got Ralph's joke about the walk-in fridge being the "coolest spot in the whole place." Everyone was welcoming and enthused, and it was obvious that the atmosphere Ghibellina exudes is pervasive and sincere. Very Danny Meyer really, and I mean that as the cream of compliments!

We finally made our way back to that fabulous U-shaped bar I loved and planted myself at several months ago (and which, I discovered tonight, Ralph and his restaurateur-partner, Ari Gejdenson, designed!); the kids took over a three-top just behind us while my pal, KP, and I happily commandeered two bar stools. A Lagunitas IPA for her, a glass of Fiano for me, pizzas for the kids, and a very good night it was looking to be. J wolfed down four slices, 2 each of the salsicce and Margherita; Oliver refused to speak until he'd wolfed three of the Marg; little Ms agreed that the sausage pie was delicious; and then the gelato did arrive: pistachio and fior di latte. Both were inhaled as if they'd been nothing more than incredible, dairy-dream apparitions. I didn't even get a taste!

Meanwhile, K and I were on round 2, ordered our own pizza and in the meantime went wild over and could hardly speak during the two appetizers we were brought: shaved octopus, pimentón and fried capers with a chickpea-wilted arugula salad; and a ridiculously good green-and wax-bean summer salad dressed in lemon-mint vinaigrette and pickled onions. When Jack tasted the latter, he smacked his forehead and sighed with pleasure. I concurred. Both were spectacular, and we pretty much licked our plates. My only edit, if you will, is that I'd have left the arugula raw or only just-wilted; its naked peppery punch provides such a tremendous yet subtle kick for which both chickpeas and octopus often long.

Oliver had also requested a slice of the olive oil cake (I loved this dessert last time; macerated amarena cherries, mascarpone. Being that he assumes all cakes means some variation on chocolate and vanilla, he was disappointed. I was absolutely thrilled, and K and I ate it all.

I must give a shout-out to my dear hubs who after two hours picked the boys up and took them home whilst K and I (and her little gal) stayed to finish Round 3 and all else. Delightful in every way, and I can't wait to go back.

It's something special when folks create a place that not only provides its customers great food, but also where they can feel comfortable staying a while, enjoying la bella vita; a bit of Italianate culture here in the States. Job well done!