Yesterday we celebrated Mark's birthday at Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca, an Italian restaurant downtown, about 12th and H. Bibiana recently made its debut on Washingtonian's 100 Best Restaurants list (for 2010) at No. 99, and as Mark loves Italian food, I thought we could give it a try. We arrived at the restaurant at around 6 (we were meeting friends afterwards for drinks at Cure Bar & Bistro) and were seated immediately in the mostly empty, but beautiful 120-seat dining room. We had a great time - while the dishes were a little hit-or-miss, the service was friendly and attentive, and we were together and in a birthday-celebrating mood!
Click below to see what we ate!
As you may know, Mark and I have recently begun a torrid, steamy affair with Medjool dates, and pretty much order them every time they show up on a menu. At Bibiana, we selected an appetizer, datteri, which consisted of Medjool dates, ricotta salata (a salty, sheep's milk cheese), pancetta, and toasted almonds. The dates were really delicious, cooked much softer than I've ever had them. By themselves, they were almost too sweet, but were absolutely crave-worthy when eaten in a balanced bite with the cheese, tiny, salty cubes of pancetta and the crunchy toasted almonds.
Medjool dates with ricotta salata, pancetta and almonds
On the recommendation of a friend, we ordered the Burrata d’ Andria, which was supposed to come with Pugliese Mozzarella (no picture, sorry, was too blurry to be salvageable). However, our server advised us that the cheese listed on the menu had gone sour, so we gladly agreed to a substitute (but I forgot to get the name!). The dish was...fine. Both Mark and I will eat fresh Mozzarella 7 days a week, and this was a decent specimen. But nothing really jumped out at me about the cheese. It was accompanied by a winter salad - again, nothing particularly special about it. I'd be curious to try the dish again with the original Pugliese Mozzarella, to see if maybe it would make a difference.
Our final appetizer (I know!) was the animelle, roasted veal sweetbreads with rutabaga, candied oranges, and fennel pollen. This dish was a complete success: the rich sweetbreads were cooked beautifully and paired perfectly with the sweet tartness of the candied oranges. They came with a heavenly rutabaga puree that was lush (almost buttery) and full of flavor.
Roasted veal sweetbreads with rutabaga, candied oranges and fennel pollen
For our entrees, we both decided to go with pasta. I ordered the casoncelli (a pasta similar to ravioli), stuffed with braised veal and topped with pancetta, brown butter and sage. I really liked my dish a lot - the simple brown butter sauce was a great foil for the pasta itself, which was delicious. The braised veal filling was meltingly tender and flavorful.
Braised veal-filled casoncelli with pancetta, brown butter and sage
Mark got the smoked potato gnocchi (selected pretty much as soon as he opened the menu), served with a venison ragu and topped with Parmiggiano. It was good, but not great - in my opinion, the smokey flavor was slightly overpowering, and the ragu, though very rich and savory, was a little too salty (see more on this below). Mark felt the same way, although he still enjoyed it.
Smoked potato gnocchi with venison ragu and Parmiggiano
We also got a side of the cavolfiori, or cauliflower. Now, I saw the anchovies listed underneath the dish, and was expecting it to be fairly salty, but I thought I would like that. I crave salt. I will wake up in the middle of the night dreaming of salty snacks. This was...completely, overwhelmingly salty. I mean, we still ate it, because we are like wild animals, but wow. It was not good.
Luckily, the bad taste of the cauliflower was completely purged from our minds with the terrific desserts.
I ordered the vanilla panna cotta, with a liquid orange center and orange streusel crust. It was a perfect dessert for me - light and not overly sweet, yet still creamy and luxurious.
Vanilla panna cotta
Mark ordered the chocolate bomba. Our great server brought out this gorgeous dish:
The bomba was the definition of decadence.
Overall, we enjoyed our meal, although I don't know that we'll be going back anytime soon, given the many great Italian restaurants D.C. has to offer!