D.C. Restaurateur Adds Bibiana To Successful Track Record
Ashok Bajaj, undeniably D.C.’s busiest restaurateur, added a new dimension to his growing family of restaurants with the September opening of Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca. Responsible for such varied establishments as Rasika and the Oval Room, Bajaj is venturing into new territory with his first Italian restaurant in the group.
He has chosen young up-and-coming chef Nicholas Stefanelli to serve as Bibiana’s executive chef. Having worked under award-winning chefs Roberto Donna (at Galileo and Laboratorio del Galileo) and Fabio Trabocchi (at Maestro and New York’s highly acclaimed Fiamma), Stefanelli is well prepared to compete in the rapidly expanding group of mid-priced Italian restaurants that have risen to fill the niche between casual red sauce joints and the very expensive expense account destinations, many of which have closed recently.
A Maryland native and graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Stefanelli’s substantial experience with Italian cuisine is serving him well in putting together a compelling menu for Bibiana. Like many of Bajaj’s spots, Bibiana’s concept is sleek, elegant and modern. Stefanelli’s approach, which marries traditional regional Italian cuisine with modern tastes, techniques and ingredients, mirrors this concept with delicious clarity.
A round of Bibiana’s starters is both a culinary excursion and good introduction to this welcome new addition to the D.C. dining scene. Salted cod fritters are prepared in a Basque pil-pil style with an emulsion of olive oil, garlic and fish juice. The Polpettine, finely textured veal meatballs, are served in sugo finto, a very rich meatless ragu. Individual Cipollini onions in a sweet and sour agro dolce preparation are simple and tasty. Other notables include the Arancini, deep fried yet subtly spiced saffron rice fritters laden with parmigiano, as well as fat Medjool dates stuffed with ricotta salata and pancetta and adorned with sliced almonds, a dish that would do equally well as a dessert. But perhaps the most exotic starter is the roasted veal sweetbreads prepared with rutabaga, candied orange and fennel pollen — a most unlikely combination but fascinating nonetheless. In many of the starters, one also notices a decided tendency toward saltiness that is echoed in many of the main dishes.
The salads meanwhile are interesting in their side-by-side alignment that preserves the integrity of each ingredient rather than creating a blended flavor. Sorrel and arugula are paired with apricots and charred red onion vinaigrette in a delightfully refreshing salad. Winter beets, gorgonzola, saba and almonds pair up for another light choice.
About the Author
Rachel G. Hunt is the restaurant reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.