Locanda Opens

Posted July 11, 2007 at 5:02pm

After months of waiting, Locanda finally welcomed its first customers last week. Aykan Demiroglu’s new restaurant fills a void at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE on Capitol Hill.

Executive chef Brian Barszcz cut his culinary teeth at Bistro Bis, Obelisk and Tallula and now oversees a menu of Italian cuisine with touches from the Mediterranean. [IMGCAP(1)]

Start out with a snack from the selection of piattini, or Italian-style small plates, and antipasti. Zucchini fritters, veal crudo with capers and parsley and calamari fritte with salsa verde and spicy anchovy aioli are a few choices from the regularly changing menu.

Pastas and larger dishes include gnocchi with tallegio cream and hazelnuts, ziti with Tuscan cauliflower and sausage with fresh mint, and pork chop Milanese with rucola and cherry tomato salad. Italian-accented desserts include Meyer lemon panna cotta and pecorino fritters with acacia honey.

Like restaurants all over town, Locanda offers a nice selection of cheese (including several organic choices) and cured meats — arguably a concept the Italians perfected well before the trend took hold stateside.

Demiroglu has created an Italian wine list that comprises about 10 white and 10 reds by the glass (6 ounces) and the quartino (about 8 ounces). There also are two beers on tap and more by the bottle.

As promised by Demiroglu, the space has been completely transformed. Gone are the dingy walls and worn décor of Meyhane, the space’s previous occupant, in favor of a warm palette of oranges. Amber pendants hang overhead, and an orange banquette runs along one side of the dining room. Modern scooped chairs, also a vibrant orange, cluster around wood tables. A tall marble bar offers a few seats, along with two bar tables. A shiny new wine storage closet, enclosed in glass, sits just behind the bar.

Brunch will be added soon, with lunch service to follow. Also look for patio seating in the future.

Need Proof? Another long-awaited restaurant, Proof, opened its doors last week as well. The Penn Quarter restaurant, the brainchild of attorney Mark Kuller, sits right across G Street Northwest from the National Portrait Gallery.

Chef Haidar Karoum, formerly of Asia Nora, offers a diverse menu that includes charcuterie, flatbreads, several preparations of raw fish and a handful of entrees. Standouts include the thinly sliced raw hamachi with Hawaiian black salt, green papaya and olive oil, generous hunks of tuna tartare sandwiched between crisp sheets of nori, and mussel soup scented with fennel and saffron. A flaky flatbread topped with chickpea puree, pickled radishes, black olives and eggplant emulsion and the glazed sablefish with miso emulsion also are delicious.

The food is complemented by an extensive wine program, led by wine director Sebastian Zutant. More than 30 wines are available by the glass. Tables are even outfitted with slide-out trays to give wine bottles their own stage.

Crowds already are flocking to the attractive bar area, where a striking stainless steel Enomatic wine-serving system competes for attention with flat-screened televisions showcasing art from the neighboring Portrait Gallery.

In the dining room, a soft leather banquette divides the room. Elevated booths (perfect for surveying the scene) flank one wall, and tables with prime views of the museum line the opposite wall.

Kuller promises late-night and lunch menus soon.

New on Barracks Row. Also new on the dining scene, Jordans 8 opened recently at 523 Eighth St. SE. The new restaurant replaces World Cuisine and is the second Barracks Row spot from Jordan Cappolla, who also owns Tapatinis.

The upstairs offers a sushi menu in a lounge environment, while the downstairs serves as a sleek steakhouse.

Franco-fun. Waiters from around town will gather Friday on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest to test their tray-balancing skills in Brasserie Les Halles’ annual Waiter and Waitress Race, a Washington tradition for 33 years. The race is the main attraction of the restaurant’s 11-day Liberty Festival, celebrating both July Fourth and Bastille Day on July 14. Guests can take part in a race of their own, and kids can compete in the Angels Race.

The action unfolds from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and 13th streets. In addition to the three races, there also will be food, entertainment and a DJ.

The race schedule is expected to be announced today. Call 202-347-6848 for information.