About week ago, my molto raffinata and enviably employed friend Ali suggested we have dinner at Bibiana, a new (!!!) Italian restaurant at H and 12th. “New (!!!)” because even though I’ve left the DC area for more cosmopolitan stomping grounds, I can still feel in-the-know gastronomically (if not geographically) when I come back, thanks to Ali and a few other college friends who winged south to DC for jobs. Also, to rekindle their appreciation of linear, grid cities like New York; none of these traffic circles and state avenues and other wretched city planning decisions. (Full disclosure: I got lost — twice — on the way to Bibiana. We also may or may not have spent the first glass of wine roundly abusing a city that can allow 1100 New York Avenue to exist in two different quadrants.)
Luckily for all involved, Bibiana is a treat. The restaurant itself is a low-lit, contemporary-minimalist space that emits sophistication, rather than jovial warmth. Not that it’s a cold, uninviting place — just don’t come hoping to discover your new neighborhood trattoria. This Italian is both authentic and a bit high-brow. If you can get beyond that (and you should), then start off with an order of meltingly sweet cipollini onions touched with agro dolce sauce.
The pasta dish above is their bucatini (hollow spaghetti! who knew?) tossed with guanciale, red onion, red chili, and pecorino. It was fascinating. Spicy in a way that pasta dishes usually aren’t, even arrabiata sauce, which at least is familiarly tomato-based. This was just oiled, al dente strands of bucatini with wedges of sauteed red onions and pig’s cheek bacon, dusted with cheese and tastily hot. Ali’s fish dish (sea bass??) was also quite nice, but tasted a bit too smoky. Is that bacon? Might be time to dial back the obvious enthusiasm for smoked pig.
And dessert — what a creation! We split their immediately intriuging butternut squash cheesecake (with pistachio crust and an amaretto anglaise, if you please!). The squash gave it a wonderfully rich flavor, not at all vegetable-y, and the cake itself was light, light, light. I’m not at all sure how one would recreate such a confection at home — and if we could, what would be the point of restaurants?
Oh what’s that you say, this is New Year’s Eve, too? Well it’s a dreadful, frigid, and soggy night here, but won’t that make the champagne all the brighter! Happiest to all, near and far.