Back in March, chef Enzo Fargione rebooted his rarefied Italian
dining room, Elisir, into an easygoing à la carte osteria. He
ditched the seven-course tasting menus and filled the once-stark space
with decorative tchotchkes—birdcages full of fake flowers, a
cucina sign in loopy script. You’ll still catch Fargione peering
out at guests from behind the open kitchen’s counter, but these days he
takes the time to chat up nearby tables as he drizzles olive oil onto
soups and fans prosciutto over hunks of burrata
Urbane diners who snicker at Osteria Elisir’s kitschy
accoutrements will likely forget them as soon as the food arrives.
Fargione’s heavily embellished, sometimes overwrought cooking has become
more rustic and relaxed, and that’s a good thing.
There are three must-have appetizers: Roman-style artichokes,
fried and served in a gorgeous anchovy-garlic sauce; that
burrata, with green-olive spread and slightly sweet slices of
dry-cured ham; and squid, stretched around a stuffing of salami and shrimp
and accompanied by a garlic-and-saffron broth.
Among the entrées, the simple dishes shine brightest: meatballs
piled atop creamy mashed potatoes, for instance, and seafood cavatelli,
with bay scallops, mussels, shrimp, calamari, and cherry-tomato confit. A
whole river trout, stuffed with fennel stalks and baked, sounded
intriguing but was one night’s biggest bore, whereas it was impossible to
stop twirling a fork through the menu’s most basic dish—spaghetti with San
Marzano tomatoes and basil. On the whole, Fargione is judicious with salt
but less so with fats. The joy of that spaghetti came in part from the
brightness and relief it offered after the richness of the
Cherry-vanilla gelato distinguishes the espresso-drenched
affogato and is a light, pleasant way to end an indulgent meal
here. A chocolate-glazed tiramisu bar is a nice upgrade to an often frumpy
dessert—and an excellent ambassador for the newly laid-back Elisir. If
this is what the post-fine-dining era tastes like, then we say bring on
the flower-filled birdcages.
This article appears in the July 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.