No. 21: Teatro Goldoni
Cuisine: In recent years, this darling of the K Street set had slid into irrelevance, home to big plates of overrich cooking that blithely ignored the essential simplicity at the heart of classic Italian cooking. No more. Chef Enzo Fargione has imposed clarity and purpose on the kitchen. The result? Imaginative, elegant, and often rewarding presentations, from elaborately adorned soups to superb pastas and risottos to uncluttered preparations of meats and fishes.
Mood: The circus theme is tired, as are the bad Euro disco tunes, and the staff is prone to a slick magnanimity, but the room pulses with the festive air of a newly big-time restaurant.
Best for: Diners willing to place their trust in a chef whose methods can be wacky—cigar boxes of marinated fish, a Mason jar of condiments flanking an appetizer of veal—but whose aim is traditional and true.
Best dishes: Applewood-smoked branzino that sends up a puff of smoke when you lift the lid on its wooden cigar box; veal tartare with summer truffle, hazelnuts, and 36-month-aged Parmesan; risotto with lobster; palm-size agnolotti filled with salty, crispy-skinned roast breast of duck with black-olive sauce.
Insider tips: Desserts are overpriced at up to $14.50 each. Order one to share, and finish your meal with coffee or splurge on a glass of limoncello or sambuca. The nightly wine special generally features good deals on supple Italian reds.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner.
See all of 2009's 100 Best Restaurants.