An Early Look at Elisir

Chef Enzo Fargione brings a playful take on refined Italian to Penn Quarter.

Elisir’s dramatic red beet tortelli are served with green asparagus broth, black truffles, roasted duck, and crunchy red onions. Photographs by Kyle Gustafson

Slideshow: An Early Look at Elisir  

“You will feel like you’re sitting in a glass of champagne,” says Justin Kraemer, general manager of the soon-to-open Elisir.

Kraemer is describing the sparkling wine–hued wall fixture opposite chef-owner Enzo Fargione’s large open kitchen. But he could be discussing the intended overall experience at the 87-seat Italian restaurant, opening to the public for lunch December 1 and for dinner December 3. The walls—some of which are made from glass-enclosed wine racks reminiscent of those at neighboring Central—aren’t the only things giving off a refined vibe. There are crisp white tablecloths, waiters in full suits (during lunch they strip down to their ties), filtered water, and bread service where freshly baked black olive rolls and focaccia are doled out tableside (complimentary, of course). Not surprising from the Galileo-trained toque formerly behind the food at Teatro Goldoni, but less common amid the current crop of fast-casual and warehouse-chic eateries.

Still, Fargione does not intend for his restaurant to come off stodgy. A two-course, $19 lunchtime bar menu (plus a non-alcoholic drink) and à la carte dinner options are nods to the more casual, budget-conscious times. Five high-definition televisions broadcasting live kitchen service, as well as wine lists displayed on ten-inch Android tablets, play to modern techie tastes. You can’t tap in your vino order (Fargione had a bad experience with such a system at Aureole Las Vegas, mistakenly requesting a $750 bottle), but you can browse by country, varietal, and price range, as well as select anywhere from three to ten-plus pairings with the seven- and ten-course prix-fixe menus ($75 and $95, respectively).

Playfulness extends to the plate. The chef describes himself as a “traditionalist with a modern vision,” meaning many of the dishes are interpretations of Italian classics. Vitello tonnato arrives as rolled poached veal capped with a tuna foam; an eggplant-Parmesan mixture is stuffed into house-made paccheri pasta and blanketed with thin slices of burrata cheese; and a cannoli “cigar” is lightened up with a thin cookie casing and spun sugar “smoke.”  Even the classic Negroni gets a makeover: The Campari cocktail is carbonated in-house and served bottled inside 187-ml containers alongside a chilled glass of ice.

There’s a lot going on in the effervescent eatery, but Fargione hopes you’ll retain something after drinking it all in.

“Our goal is to give you just one thing to come back for,” he says. “It may be a dish, or the way the sommelier pours the wine. But we want you to wake up the next morning and remember that one special thing.  It doesn’t happen that often these days.”

Elisir. 427 11th Street, NW; 202-546-0385. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, 11:30 to 2:30; Monday through Thursday for dinner, 5:30 to 10, and Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 11. Closed Sundays.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.