Dazzling Bibiana Delivers Refined Italian Cuisine Amidst Milan-Inspired Opulence

Long labeled a style Mecca, Milan’s high-gloss, luxe aesthetic is reflected inside of D.C. Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s Osteria-Inoteca Bibiana. Deceptively simple Italian fare is served in a dining room that dazzles with jewel-like sheen quintessential of the haute modern Milanese style. Bibiana is a respite—an airy, light-filled retreat amidst a sea of imagination-less restaurants that are a part of DC’s faking-it-to-make-it dining scene. Don’t be intimidated however, the atmosphere is neither cold nor pretentious and expect every bit of that same flare from the restaurant’s cucina.

We were eager to try Bibiana and Restaurant Week was the perfect time to experiment. The 120-seat restaurant features the carefully cultivated fare of Nicholas Stefanelli, formerly with Maestro. The young chef affects the food with his nuanced understanding of Italian cooking, as seen in his refreshing takes on the classics. The menu is sparse but the dishes shine. Rather than overwhelming the diner with overwrought items that cram in ingredients as an after-thought, Bibiana’s simplicity is appealing in that one wants to try everything on the menu.

Our evening began with a warm greeting and everything moved at a relaxed but pitch perfect pace. We kicked off our experience with a braised veal polpette appetizer. The meatball was simmered in a Sugo Finto, a  hearty, meat-free sauce which is made with simmered tomatoes. The stellar dish came with  polenta and gremolada, an Italian garlic, parsley and lemon condiment that added an unexpected zing to the meat. It was tempting to order a second polpette. We also enjoyed a satisfying suppli al telefono, a lush rice fritter with an intense prosciutto flavor.

For our main dishes we shared the risotto with pesto Genovese, potatoes and green and yellow beans. The dish exudes aged cheese flavor that is complimented by pesto permeating throughout.  We also indulged in a favorite lunch menu item: the bucatini all’amatriciana. The pasta dish is lightly covered with spicy chili oil and pecorino cheese, then perfectly punctuated with red onion that spikes the dish nicely. Far from boring, it was simple and satisfying, proving that tomato over-dose is unnecessary. We complimented our main dishes with a side dish of fresh out of a pan cavolfiori or sautéed cauliflower, garlic and anchovies. The finale was desert.  Who could not pass up the delicate and lightly sweet zuppa inglese, a traditional Italian cream covered sponge cake with ripe peaches.

Throughout the evening, the staff looked happy and you could feel that energy throughout the dining room. As soon as we left the restaurant, Mr. Bajaj was entering. He graciously reached out to shake our hands and asked if we enjoyed our experience. Of course we had a great evening: the cuisine was memorable, the pricing fair, the style one-of-a-kind and the service equally as good. We only wished we had arrived early in order to enjoy the effortlessly stylish bar scene. So go early and go back often to Bibiana, and get ready to mangi nello stile.

Location: 1100 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC map

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