Last night, Tom, my sister and I went out to Ghibellina, a newly-opened (by the team behind Acqua al Due) Italian bistro, for lack of a much better word, in Logan Circle. It's to the left of the Pearl Dive oyster bar and on a definitely hip, rapidly expanding part of 14th St, NW (Le Diplomate is on the corner). The owners lived in Florence for a while, and Ghibellina is named after the street they lived on and is full of Florentine fleur-de-lis. Ghibellina is a typical DC store-front joint (which I love), with a big plate-glass window looking out onto 14th. If you get there early enough, you can snag some of the few bar stools nestled there, and enjoy a drink before heading to a table towards the rear of the restaurant. There are two bars; the first is a narrow oval with an interior space resonant of a gang-plank. Customers can sit all around while a bartender mans the plank inside, serving up drinks but no food. The second bar is one at which you can both drink and eat and is a more traditional one-sided strip. We started our night at the smaller, oblong bar and loved it. Also, critically, purse hooks are installed underneath so that women can hang their bags rather than sit them awkwardly in their laps or worry about them on the floor. After a first round, we sat, and in doing so I discovered what would be my only complaint about Ghibellina. The chairs are low, so low that I almost asked for a booster seat or phone book because I felt like a tiny tot at the big table. Like Lily Tomlin in the old SNL skit in which she plays the little girl in the enormous chair. Though this seat inspired my best posture, it was odd to feel so low in relation to the table and my dining companions who were happily enjoying their banquette.
Our waitress, Maria, was wonderful, and we went to town ordering everything that struck our fancy: Pici Carrettiera (hand-rolled pici pasta with a tomato/basil/peperoncino sauce; very traditional); Cavolo Verde Saltato Con Peperoncino, Aglio e Parmigiano (kale with peperoncino, garlic and Parm); Carciofi Al Forno Con Aglio e Prezzemolo (wood-oven cooked artichokes with garlic, lemon and mint); Germogli Di Piselli (pizza with pea shoots, culatello, lemon, mozz and grana); Salsicce e Cipolla (pizza with boar sausage, provolone, onions, grana); a plate of Accasciato (a semi-soft buff- and cow-milk cheese); and a slice of olive oil cake with pistachios and amarena cherries for dessert.
My sister the Florentine was definitely bothered by the mint addition to the Carrettiera sauce, but despite that update on what is a very traditional sauce, I am a complete sucker for fresh pici and so devoured my portion happily. The Accasciato cheese was terrifically good; it was about the consistency of provolone but had a wonderful complexity and a bit of sharpness. Buffalo milk is just of the gods. Mon dieu.
The pizzas were fantastic though I liked the Germogli best. I love pea shoots because unlike other vegetables' greenery, they taste just like their offspring. In leafy form, we were eating peas on pizza and with the lemon, mozz, grana and culatello (a superior prosciutto), well, suffice it to say we were quite happy. The Salsicce was quite good too -we got it primarily because Tom and Elia love sausage, and I've never(!) seen El turn down anything with boar in it- with a definite kick and a good char that nicely complemented the sausage and onions. Grana padano is an underrated cheese and should be used more often by everyone. It's considered a lesser step-sibling of Parm but I like it a lot.
The kale dish was perfect. You know how inadequately rendered greens can be chewy and fibrous, like leather? But well done greens are the opposite. Full-of-flavor silk ribbons that you just can't stop gorging on. Aah!
During this feast we drank and very much enjoyed a bottle of Benotto nebbiolo, and for dessert (though everyone swore complete fullness) the olive oil cake with pistachios and cherries was divine. I love olive oil cake anyway, but the crust of candied pistachios on top was sublime and with the Amarena cherries, well, all the better.
It poured brickbats throughout our meal which made our being ensconced in Ghibellina all the cozier. It's a really attractive restaurant with a great energy and vibe, marrying well a refreshing casualness and a serious commitment to good food and good service. I felt that a number of small details had been attended to- the bathrooms for example were cool but well-lit and the faucets (cool and with a cool sink underneath) did not splash water on you as you cleaned up. Amen because too often "cool" ends up being disappointingly idiotic in actual performance.
Can't wait to go back!