I know I'm a little late to the Bibiana party. People (especially B) have been urging me to try it ever since it opened last fall. Add in the fact that we live just up the street and I really have no excuse other than there are a skajillion places to eat in D.C. and I've only got so much room in my stomach. Bibiana is restauranteur Ashok Bajaj's latest jewel in an already shiny and crowded crown (think Ardeo, Bardeo, Bombay Club, 701, Rasika (see our thoughts here), and the Oval Room). After the totally forgettable Luigino closed, Bajaj and his team worked their magic on the space and transformed it from snoozeworthy to sexy.
From the whimsical light fixtures to the metallic beaded curtain separating the main dining room from the private dining room, everything was modern and tastefully done. There are several outdoor tables but they don't offer much more than a view of the side of the Marriott hotel and the exhaust from buses on H Street.
My mom and her friend were visiting and wanted something a little fancier than the Surfside (see post here) and Good Stuff (post here) meals that we had on previous nights. B suggested Bibiana as he'd been before and loved it. I jumped at the chance to finally make it to the place everyone had been buzzing about.
We each ordered a starter and, while I didn't taste this salad, we wanted to include a picture of it to showcase the artistry on the plate.
If you've read our Taylor Gourmet post (see here), you know I have a serious love affair with their risotto balls. When I saw arancini (fancy pants name for risotto balls) on the menu at Bibiana, there was no question about which appetizer I was ordering. Bibiana's version is made with saffron and parmesan and, while I really liked them, I have to give the win to Taylor Gourmet. When I'm eating fried cheesy balls, I don't want them to be fancy. I want to pick them up and dunk them in spicy marinara and have the mozzarella ooze out all over the place.
B shocked everyone by asking the waitress for suggestions. She pointed him in the direction of the tempura fried squash blossoms. While it was a nice, light summer dish, there wasn't anything particularly memorable about the tempura batter or preparation.
I tend to get tunnel vision when I'm reading a menu. On this night, my eyes zoomed in on the pasta section and wouldn't look elsewhere. I was intrigued by the black spaghetti with jumbo lump crab and aglio/olio/peperoncino.
I have a theory that if you serve crappy pasta, you tend to drown it in a heavy sauce. Like somebody (probably Mr. Olive P. Garden) always says, a thick sauce can cover a multitude of sins. Fortunately, Bibiana's black spaghetti was an angel that needed no disguise. The garlic and oil lightly coated the pasta and the peperoncino added a healthy dose of spice. As you can see, the chef wasn't stingy with the lump crab portion which was a nice change of pace from other "crab" dishes I've had where you need one of those giant Sherlock Holmesian magnifying glasses to find the crab.
And here is where I was supposed to write that . . . say it with me . . . "B ordered lamb." But, after enough needling from his lovely wife, he pulled a trick play and ordered pasta. Not only could I not bear to write another description of another lamb dish that I didn't want to taste because I don't love lamb, but B also ordered lamb the first time he ate at Bibiana. Enough is enough! Thankfully, B loved his pasta dish. It was a burnt wheat cavatelli. I know that burnt is what you try to avoid when cooking but somehow it worked to add a richer flavor. Never mind the fact that wheat cavatelli look like caterpillars - they aren't - but they are fantastic.
Second Thoughts From B
Poor J would not have heard the end of it if I had bypassed the lamb, which I knew was delicious, for a pasta dish that recently debuted on the menu. It was a gamble to be sure, but one that paid off.
At the risk of being politically incorrect and quoting the Hungry-Man TV dinner company, this pasta was "man food." The portion was not necessarily large but the pasta was hearty and the flavors were bold. We're talking punch you in the face bold. Grow hair on your chest bold. You know, bold enough to make you feel like a man... or at least that's what Mike Golic would be screaming at you if this was a TV commercial.
If anything, I'd prefer something a little more subtle. Since each of the ingredients were so good and because I love fresh pasta so much, I didn't feel that the in-your-face flavors were necessary. But even if a little refining is needed, I can't help but fully endorse Bibiana and welcome it to the neighborhood... and that's not just because they serve great lamb.