100 Best Restaurants 2009: Assaggi

No. 90: Assaggi

Cuisine: Rustic, regionally inspired plates evocative of the trattorias of Italy. Domenico Cornacchia, the onetime corporate toque at Franco Nuschese’s three restaurants (Cafe Milano, Sette Osteria, Sette Bello), is the man shaking sauté pans in the open kitchen.

Mood: Little about the handsome room has changed since the restaurant’s days as Centro, but the setting now is more engaging for couples and families than for singles who are after romance. And though it’s often crowded, the acoustics allow for conversation.

Best for: A casual meal of cheeses and salumi at the mozzarella bar or in the dining room; regional Italian fare and pastas with something for everyone.

Best dishes: Burrata cheese; sliced-to-order Parma prosciutto; condiments of green-tomato marmalade and basil-marinated zucchini; fritto misto of seafood and vegetables; chicken livers over polenta; pappardelle Bolognese; baked pasta in mascarpone sauce; veal short ribs with gremolata; lamb three ways; Alaskan lingcod with mashed celery root and celery salad with capers; chicken Milanese with arugula (lunch menu); buffalo-ricotta cheesecake with lemon zest.

Insider tips: Trying every cheese from the mozzarella bar may be fun, but most distinctive are the creamy burratas and the meaty salumi plates. The $15 two-course lunch special is a great bargain.

Service: ••½

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.