Early Look: A Preview of Ghibellina (Photos and Menu)

The Acqua Al 2 crew stake out a spot on 14th Street.

Ghibellina inhabits the old HR-57 space, a structure that dates back to the early 1900s. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

If the 14th Street strip is primed for an Italian invasion, then consider Ghibellina
its Amerigo Vespucci. The 114-seat osteria officially opened this week, preceding
six soon-to-open Italian spots including Etto from the Standard folks, international pizza chain Piola, Bar di Bari by the Drafting Table crew, and G,
Mike Isabella’s sandwich joint that pops up at Graffiato this
week. Ghibellina co-owners
Ari Gejdenson and
Ralph Lee are currently paving the way with their Tuscan-inspired spot offering everything
piatti piccoli (small plates) to a hefty porterhouse steak big enough for a group.

Gejdenson and Lee’s first neighborhood joint, Acqua Al 2,
is a branch of an original Florentine restaurant; Ghibellina is closely inspired by
another. Gejdenson says he traveled with chef
Jonathan Copeland (formerly of Palena and Society Fair)
to work in the kitchen at Trattoria Mario, one of Gejdenson’s favorite restaurants
while living in the ancient city. There, they practiced making the rustic Tuscan dishes
that fill the menu—items such as
ribollita, a cannellini bean soup thickened with bread, and potato-stuffed ravioli with hearty
beef ragu. You might make a meal of smaller portions of pasta, meat, and seafood,
mixing rich offerings like white wine-braised beef pot roast
stracotto and ricotta-and-spinach-stuffed girelle pasta with lighter dishes such as citrusy
pesto-dressed arugula salad and wood-roasted artichokes tossed with lemon and mint.
Larger plates arrive in the form of shellfish stew or a splurge of a steak (depending
on how many friends are willing to share): the bistecca alla Fiorentina that clocks
in at more than 3 pounds for $85. More in a casual sharing mood? Pizzas get a light
char in the wood-fired oven, and are topped with both traditional ingredients—tomato,
basil, and buffalo mozzarella, for instance—and more creative combinations such as
pea shoots and culatello salumi.

The lofty dining room is designed with both eating and drinking (or waiting) in mind.
Leather banquettes and wooden tables are part of the rustic atmosphere, as are two
marble-topped bars: one where you can order the full menu, and a circular version
that’s reserved solely for sipping wines, beers, and cocktails like the white peach
“Ghib-Bellini.” A third place to perch is by the front window, overlooking what’ll
eventually be a small outdoor patio. Plans for the circa-1900 building are far from
complete. While currently the entry-level floor is the only open, it’ll eventually
be joined by two more: a top level that might become a more traditional dining room,
and a basement that channels the former occupant, jazz club HR-57, with live music.
Stay tuned for more details as they emerge.

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.