Foodies in the DC area, brace yourselves: Winter Restaurant Week is coming. Presented by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), this week-long event features three-course dinners priced at $35, and lunch and brunch at $22, for all locations. On Tap had the opportunity to sample fare from five of the 250 participating restaurants this week, from Italian comfort food served up by Alta Strada to cheese and charcuterie platters from the sophisticated Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi. Read on for our take on these five must-visit spots during Winter Restaurant Week.
The first stop on our Restaurant Week preview was this Southern Mexican inspired restaurant known for its mezcal selection. While waiting for our food to arrive, we sipped on a Ricky Ricardo, a zesty cocktail that was not unlike a margarita but on a different level with a spicy-salty, chili rim. Then out came Espita’s borracha salsa, a sweet and spicy dip with corn tortilla chips, followed by tostada de camarón, a crunchy shrimp bite with spice from the charred jalapeño and a serrano crema and avocado to balance. Espita’s Restaurant Week menu leans toward rich and natural, with executive chef Robert Aitkens playing with vegetables and fresh ingredients while staying true to the restaurant’s Oaxacan cultural roots. Espita Mezcaleria: 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.espitadc.com
Alta Strada City Vista
This urban trattoria is owned and run by Michael Schlow, who was inspired by his travels through Italian locations such as Tuscany and Campania, and features antipasti, house-made pastas and pizzas, among other entrees. Upon entry, we were handed a Rosemary’s Baby cocktail, a licorice-like drink flavored with ouzo. Then came platters of Brussels sprouts salad mixed with pears and prosciutto, cauliflower topped with grana padano cheese, and mini-versions of the Italian restaurant’s eggplant parm sandwich and soppressata pizza. Feeling right at home as a part Italian myself, this was definitely one of the restaurants that was harder to leave. Alta Strada City Vista: 465 K St. NW, DC; www.altastradarestaurant.com
Joselito Casa de Comidas
We then headed to the charming Joselito’s in Capitol Hill. Joselito’s serves up traditional Spanish cuisine inspired by owner Javier Candon’s late father, José, who valued family meals at restaurants that had a warm, old-school feel. We started our visit with an aperitif of red or white vermouth chilled by a large ice cube of frozen fruit. Plates of paté de higaditos de pollo, filete de buey and boquerones fritos were then brought out (a.k.a. chicken liver, flank steak and fried anchovies). We then sampled torrijas caseras, an Andalusian bread pudding, for dessert. If you can’t make it to Joselito’s for Restaurant Week, they also offer a unique Hemingway hour on weekdays from 4-7 p.m. where everything on the menu is 20 percent off. Joselito Casa de Comidas: 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; www.joselitodc.com
The next stop on our tour was reminiscent of Emilia-Romagna, the Northern-Italian location that inspired Osteria Morini. Using classic Italian ingredients from this region such as prosciutto, parmigiano and balsamic vinegar, you can watch your meals being made from the open kitchen on one side while enjoying waterfront views on the other. After entering the restaurant, we sipped red, sparkling wine while watching the bartender whip up A Cure for January, a whisky-based cocktail with a star anise lit on fire that made for a show. We then sat down and were brought desserts of agrume, an olive oil cake with candied citrus, and bavarese, pomegranate mousse with chocolate crema. Osteria Morini: 301 Water St. #109, SE, DC; www.osteriamorini.com/washington-dc
Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi
The final and most extravagant stop on our tour took us to Del Mar at The Wharf. Owned and run by Fabio and Maria Trabocchi, the pair has expanded beyond their Italian roots to include the coastal Spanish cuisine of Del Mar. The waterfront restaurant pays homage to Maria, who has roots in Spain, and the Trabocchi family’s home on the island of Mallorca. We were led upstairs to the private dining section, passing numerous Spanish artifacts on our way, and brought to the biblioteca room that overlooked the waterfront. To begin our meal, we watched as the bartender made Del Mar’s Te Quiero, a fruity gin tonic rich with lemongrass and grapefruit that used gin from a porthole – a round, thin, glass container of gin infused with different ingredients and refreshed daily. We then helped ourselves to savory appetizers of manchego and caña de cabra cheese, jamón serrano, sobrassada, Catalan crispbread and escalivada. If you go anywhere for Restaurant Week, go here. The incredible food and affordable price will make this a meal to remember. Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi: 791 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.delmardc.com
Winter Restaurant Week runs from Monday, January 22 to Sunday, January 28. See which restaurants are taking part in the week and make your reservations here.