Forty layers of lasagna? Yes, I counted them, or—I started to count them when Peter and I were dining at L’Ardente (200 Mass. Ave. NW). But somewhere in the middle of this unusual lasagna I lost count.
No matter, I was too busy consuming chef David Deschaies’ layers of short rib beef sugo (tomato-based sauce), truffle Mornay (like bechamel) and grated Sottocenere cheese. The latter is a truffled cow’s milk cheese from northern Italy’s Veneto region. Presented sideways on my plate, this amazing creation emerged from the kitchen of chef Deschaies and partner Eric Eden in their “simple but elegant’ Italian restaurant in the sprawling Capitol Crossing development.
This place is gorgeous; glittering chandeliers hover over the spacious dining room, two bar areas and comfy booths. A huge, blue and yellow abstract mural embraces one wall. Also emerging from the spacious display kitchen: Whole grilled branzino ($65) scented with fennel; bistecca ala Fiorentina (dry-aged steak with a raisin, black pepper and brandy sauce); and a richly delicious risotto ($26).
That dish had Peter fooled. Instead of rice, the “risotto was actually finely minced calamari enhanced with crab and lobster. We did not get to the saffron-spiked arancini (fried, mozzarella-filled rice balls). We also missed the “Duck Hunt,” a concoction of duck jus, cream and foie gras with duck-stuffed ravioli. The bite-sized morsel is presented in a little cup with tiny duck feet.
But there’s more: L‘Ardente’s wood-burning grill comes from Barcelona producer Mibrasa, while the domed charcoal-fired pizza oven bakes naturally leavened pies crowned with the likes of smoked octopus, prosciutto, “hot” salami and Brussels sprouts. L’Ardente, by the way, is Italian for “burning.”
Complementing these innovative dishes is a reasonably priced wine list offered by the bottle and glass, including a Ornelis Molon Pinot Grigio and Punzi Sangiovese/Chianti blend. Both are tagged at $12 per glass. The full bar showcases Italian-themed cocktails and after-dinner cordials.
Sadly, we did not leave space for dessert: A reported showstopper is pastry chef Manabu Inoue’s tiramisu, a sphere of Valrhona chocolate enveloping espresso-soaked ladyfingers and mascarpone, then flambéed tableside. Next time.
Dinner for two, with a glass of wine apiece and the $20 percent service charge, came to $100. If I had a complaint, our service, rendered by Liam, was almost too swift. We wanted to spend more time here, just soaking up the ambience, so we lingered a bit.
L’Ardente is open for dinner Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday; for reservations (highly recommended) or more information visit www.lardente.com.
Godzilla has Invaded….
Grab your chopsticks: Kaiju Ramen, 525 Eighth St. SE, has finally arrived on Barracks Row. We could not wait to check it out. Formerly housing Porron by Anxo, the dark décor is dramatic. Neon lighting snakes around the walls and ceiling; Godzilla images lurk everywhere, including the restrooms.
Our trio snuggled in a corner table by the window, and we warmed up with hot sake as we perused the menu. We were eager to try the tako (octopus) corn dog, a whimsical take on the old fashioned standby. A trio of battered octopus globes was threaded on a skewer, inspired by the restaurant’s scary moniker, which means “strange beast” or “monster” in Japanese. We also shared the more conventional edamame, along with chashu fried rice, studded with pork morsels and crowned with an omelet. While billed as an appetizer, the dish fed three of us.
Then we shared Tokyo-style ramen; pork and chicken strips swimming in savory broth laced with scallions and nori (seaweed). Even tastier was the black miso cheese ramen, replete with noodles, egg, corn, black sesame and enlivened with squid ink. Broths, we’re told, are simmered for 10 hours; noodles are made fresh daily. Ramen dishes hover around $15 to $16, but the wagyula ramen—highlighting pricy waygu (beef) and gold flakes among other ingredients–will set you back $65.95.
The Japanese beer and sake listing includes intriguing sparkling varieties. Dinner for three with sake came to $73 before tip; service was excellent. The Barracks Row newcomer is an offshoot of Maryland’s Akira Ramen & Izakaya. Chef Junzo Miyajima hails from Saitama, Japan, and formerly wielded his whisk at the highly touted En Japanese Brasserie, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. For Kaiju hours and more information, visit www.kaijuramen.us.
Opening soon: As You Are Bar, a LGBTQ watering hole at 500 Eighth St. SE, formerly District Soul Food and before that—Banana Café.
How Sweet it is
Sweet Crimes, a gluten free bakery, has opened at 1238 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, next to the Capitol Hill Animal Clinic. Besides gluten free “criminally delicious” breads, biscuits, cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes and macaroons, the friendly shop also dispenses sandwiches, biscuits, muffins, quiches and more. Plus coffee and tea drinks. Open daily; visit www.sweetcrimes.com. (There’s another Sweet Crimes at 1407 T St. NW.)
Old but New
In La Cosecha, the contemporary Latino market at 1280 Fourth St. NW (near Union Market), Las Gemelas Cocina Mexicana has morphed into a full-fledged restaurant with a new moniker: Destino. The menu offers “modern Mexican cuisine and drinks, inspired by the culinary team’s favorite places in Mexico.” Expect updated classics like guacamole with smoked tomatillos; salsa caju (sauce with smoked cashews); a smoked beet dish; camarones (heads-on prawns); blue corn tamales; pork belly mole verde with house-made noodles.
Market Watch (Polish Power)
We’ve stumbled upon a new Eastern Market outdoor vendor: Chef Ewa. Her stand dispenses Polish-style pierogis—savory pastries with various fillings. A generous serving, with cabbage–is $11. Today’s pierogis were stuffed with potato and cheese, potato/bacon/sauerkraut/mushroom. You can also find golabri ($12), ground beef and rice smothered with tomato sauce. Chef Ewa hopes to continue operating on Saturdays; for updates visit www.chefewa.com.
Winter Restaurant Week
Coming up January 17-23: The 2022 Winter Restaurant Week. Sponsored by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), the promotion will highlight special deals throughout the metropolitan area. Diners ward off winter’s chill with $40 or $55 multi-course dinners, as well as $25 per person multi-course brunches and lunches. As many as 250 restaurants are expected to participate, and off-premises dining will be available. For more information, and for an up-to-date list of participating restaurants, visit www.ramw.org.