Thanks to the social networking juggernaut that is Joyce, last night I had the pleasure of attending Teatro Goldoni with three people I'd never met before.
It wasn't just the dinner companions that were new - I'd also never been to Teatro, one of the 34 restaurants on the City Paper's Top 50 list that I had yet to grace.
Expectations were high. First of all, it was Restaurant Week. This is the time when modest food spenders emerge, gaunt and faint with hunger, from various hole in the wall delis and drive-throughs to take advantage of slashed prices at D.C.'s finest. We expect the second week of January to revolutionize our tastebuds, solve major life problems, and hold us over for months until the next Restaurant Week.
Ehsan, a recent transplant from L.A., said he was tired of being tricked by Papa Johns commercials featuring glamor shots of Tuscan six cheese masterpieces only to receive deliveries that were inedible. Restaurant Week was here to save the day.
If that wasn't enough pressure for Teatro, I'd also told people around our table about the restaurant's ranking on the Top 50 list.
Ehsan and I both started with the diver scallops carpaccio, which came with crispy leeks and black gelatins of balsamic, basil and pepper. I thought Ehsan was right when he said the scallops were too salty; Chef Fargione was trying a little too hard to cover up the fishiness of the raw scallops. Still, my take was that the scallops went well with the crunchy leeks, but Ensan was seen pushing away a full plate.
For the second course, most of the table ordered the braised veal cheek. When they placed the veal in front of me, it appeared to be sitting on top of a bun, which I thought was a cool play on a hamburger. My first clue that Chef Fargione was messing with my head was when I saw Christine easily spoon a piece of the bun off her plate. I couldn't wait to try this strangely soft bread so I went for it with my spoon, too - it was mashed potatoes. My pride hurt that the kitchen had fooled me so bad, I decided not to like the dish, but delicate veal plus layers of fontina cheese and mushrooms ragu won me over.
The serving sizes were on the small side, an unfortunate trend during Restaurant Week because supplies end up overwhelmed by all the customers.
Ehsan stared down his roasted gulf shrimp with chick peas puree, piled on his plate and half-eaten. "I don't eat fish heads," he said, and told me he was planning to swing by Burger King on the way home.
Joyce, battle-tested veteran of multiple DC Restaurant Weeks, told us about all the places she'd enjoyed in previous versions of Restaurant Stampede. She wasn't too impressed by Teatro Goldoni. Michelle voiced group consensus: Teatro is a solid restaurant as long as you're paying discount, but the food doesn't justify the prices on the regular menu.
My New Years resolution is to spend a healthy chunk of my income on fine dining, so I look forward to a few return visits to Teatro before making any final judgments.
Here's a good map of Restaurant Week provided by Capital Spice: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=117013112445532069246.000452bafcd563fe0ca27&ie=UTF8&ll=38.924161,-77.162476&spn=0.244661,0.598755&z=11.