Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Osteria Elisir

As the song goes, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."  I don't know if Chef Enzo Fargione is a Kenny Rogers fan, but he certainly pulled a Gambler-style move with his restaurant Elisir on 11th Street in Downtown.  Fargione (formerly of the shuttered Teatro Goldoni on K Street) opened Elisir near the end of 2011 as an Italian fine dining concept with tasting menus and the average check around $130.  Fargione came to realize that the expense account Italian restaurant concept wasn't going to work.  He closed the restaurant for about 10 days and rebranded it as Osteria Elisir with a more country Italian feel.  With the new decor come lower prices and more simple, home-style cooking.

Only a few weeks into the new concept and it seems to be a good move.  Case in point, we live up the street from the restaurant and never bothered to try it under the old concept.  And we eat out A LOT.  Once the restaurant was revamped, however, we tried it on the second night.

Overall, we had a really good experience with Osteria Elisir.  We loved the huge open kitchen and that Chef Fargione was working the line and checking each dish on a Saturday night.

While we enjoyed a wide variety of dishes, the one we managed to photograph was the Roman-style fried artichoke.  As we wrote in our post on Dino, B has been searching for "the one" artichoke to bring him back to our trip to Rome.  This one was dressed up with a sophisticated (and potent!) creamy anchovy garlic sauce, but at its core was a taste of that great meal in Rome's Jewish Ghetto.

I have a few quibbles with Osteria Elisir that I think will get worked out as they find their identity:
  • In their rush to redecorate a whole restaurant in a short span, I think they had some misses. The rope lighting, fake fruit, fake flowers, etc. looks a lot like they ran into a Home Goods and bought everything in sight.  Some of it works, some of it doesn't.  Please ditch the rope lights!
  • The service was very helpful but the pacing was very European.  During the 25 minute-plus waits between courses, we felt like we were right back in Italy.  Or worse... Spain.
  • If you are going to charge $6 for an accompaniment for your bread basket, please make it a healthy serving.  The ricotta we got to go with our bread was served in a comically tiny dish (however, it was tasty ricotta).
I don't think any of these things should keep you from checking out Osteria Elisir.  We're glad Chef realized it was time to "fold 'em" and reinvent his concept.  Smart thinking from a guy who certainly showed he knows how to cook.

Second Thoughts From B

J wrote her half of this post last week and has been hounding me ever since to finish it.  She has even co-opted some of our friends to crack the whip.  Hopefully whatever dribble falls out of this brain of mine makes up for the wait...

A few months ago I helped organize a training course on "effective communication strategies" for several of our senior scientists.  Among the things that the instructor emphasized was the concept of identifying a single message.  Since most audience members won't remember more than one or two things from any presentation, paper, interview, etc., he reasoned that it was critical to control that sole take-away idea.

I think restaurants are not dissimilar.  After a few days of separation, my thoughts on a place usually boil down to one or two distinct memories.  Maybe it was a mind-blowing sauce or an absent-minded waiter.  It could be a particularly loud group of diners or an inedible dessert.  Sometimes it is more general like a comfortable dining room or a series of familiar flavors. Regardless, without J's super-human memory or this blog's archive, I'm not going to remember every single dish, interaction and emotion from every meal I've ever had.

I'll let you decide if my delay in writing this post was intentionally meant to better solidify my thinking about Osteria Elisir (it wasn't), but I will say that I do have a few distinct memories from our time there.  First, as J said, it was clear that they were still working out the kinks but the potential was there.  Second, every single thing on the menu looked like something I'd enjoy.

While I'm generally easy to please and have been known to let the server decide which direction I'll go, I usually can narrow things down to two or three of dishes I'm most interested in.  Not so at Osteria Elisir and this was not a small menu either.  It could be that the chef is particularly gifted at designing a menu and describing appetizing dishes but it seems more likely that this is a reflection on the offerings themselves.  Either way, I'm curious and willing to investigate further.  And doesn't that seems like a pretty good take-home message?
Osteria Elisir on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Greg, Jennifer and Julia said...

Sounds like it will be good… hopefully they get those kinks out so we can eat there when we return. We may need a good place to get our "fix" in!