100 Best Restaurants 2010: Bibiana

No. 99: Bibiana

Cuisine: Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj—having tried his hand at Modern American, cutting-edge American, traditional Indian, and Indian fusion—indulges his passion for Italian cooking with this elegant restaurant on the edge of Penn Quarter. His chef is Nicholas Stefanelli, most recently of Mio, who oversees a menu of salads, pastas, pizzas, and main courses and manages to balance the needs of his well-traveled diners for lightness with his desire to tweak tradition.

Mood: It’s no looker—from the garish appointments to the unrelenting tones of brown, the dining room seems to have been outfitted by the sort of furniture stores that supply the area’s McMansions. The early crowds—a mix of tourists, curiosity seekers, and diners with billable hours—don’t appear to mind and have given the place the buzz of a play on opening night.

Best for: A client dinner.

Best dishes: Oysters with lemon emulsion; tender veal meatballs with marinara; crisp-crusted pizza for one, capped with a runny egg and strips of lardo; braised veal cheeks with white polenta, wild mushrooms, and hazelnuts; a thick twirl of squid-ink spaghetti with good crabmeat; chocolate bomba, a half-moon of ganache-draped chocolate mousse with a hazelnut-mousse center; a superb tiramisu.

Insider tips: The lounge offers a brief menu of small plates and pizza from 2:30 to 5:30 on weekdays.

Service: ••

Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants

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 Petworth.