Domaso Trattoria Moderna

Modern Italian cuisine in a trendy Arlington hotel.

It’s hard to miss the pastry chef rolling out bread dough in the glass-enclosed bakery as you step into Domaso, a new northern-Italian place in the Hotel Palomar Arlington. The restaurant’s snug lounge might be as sleek as a nightclub, but the chef-at-work motif conveys a hominess and made-from-scratch sensibility. Massimo Fedozzi’s menu reads well, too, balancing Old World fare—shaved baby artichokes, house-cured tuna, house-made pasta—with New World esoterica such as goat’s-milk butter.

These smart details stamp Domaso as an offspring of the Kimpton hotel group, known for its trendy restaurants. Some, such as Poste at the Hotel Monaco in DC’s Penn Quarter, are gratifying places to eat. Others—Urbana and Firefly in Dupont Circle come to mind—are more about style than substance.

At the moment, Domaso skews toward the style contingent. Those shaved baby artichokes are intensely salty, tsunamied with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The house-cured tuna is bland and flabby. And grilled jumbo shrimp with polenta and lemon sauce doesn’t taste like much of anything.

Salads, such as the mista with baby greens and slow-roasted tomatoes and peppers, suffer from the big chill—they seem to have come right from the fridge. And the bread—a decent-enough focaccia, an herb peasant loaf, and cheesy bread sticks—would be better warmed.

Beyond the misfires in Fedozzi’s modern-Italian cuisine, the waitstaff seems a little green. And aggressive—pushing drinks and desserts and pasta as a starter rather than as a main course.

The menu isn’t a total wash. Caprese fritta brings together crispy wedges of fried mozzarella with sweet, oven-dried tomatoes and fried leeks. Thin spaghetti, cooked al dente, with a simple sauce of tomatoes and basil, fresh mozzarella, and filaments of fried zucchini makes for a delicious bowlful. House-made tortelloni are delicate yet substantial with a filling of potato purée, a slick of slightly tart goat’s-milk butter, and a crispy round of pancetta.

The best of the larger plates are herb-roasted beef tenderloin with red-onion marmalade and robust red-wine sauce, and a sautéed half chicken in jus with pioppini mushrooms and roasted chestnuts.

Worthy sweets include individual tiramisus that have an airiness not often found and Piemontese hazelnut cake with an appealing layer of crunch amid the creaminess of the chocolate.

The wine list is heavy on the Italian vintages, with many boutique bottles available by the glass; Domasoteca, a wine shop, recently opened on the first floor of the hotel. But in the meantime, Kimpton would do well to smooth out the kinks at Domaso—and deliver some substance with all that style.

This review appeared in the February, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.