07 April 2007

Two DC Fish Restaurants: D’Acqua & Trattoria Etrusco

My travel to Washington, DC, is picking up again. I went there three times in March, and on two of the trips, I ate in fish restaurants. They both happened to be Italian restaurants.

The first was D’Acqua. The restaurant is relatively new. It’s located in the space where a restaurant called Signatures was previously. Signatures was renowned because it was founded by Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist.

I did eat at Signatures once. It wasn’t my choice. One of our associations had a group dinner there. This was before the Abramoff scandal had really taken off. After Abramoff, DeLay, and that whole sordid crew went down, the restaurant failed. Seems that nobody wanted to be seen eating there, even after Abramoff was out of the picture. Funny town, DC.

Walking into D’Acqua was a surprising contrast to Signatures. Instead of cool and modern, it’s all warmed up with wood and soft lighting. I was greeted by a hostess who obviously was more comfortable speaking Italian than English. I took a seat at the bar to wait for my guest. I asked the bartender for a sidecar cocktail. She got all flustered and admitted that she didn’t know how to make one. She said she made a great Manhattan, so I said, “OK.” She wasn’t kidding.

By the time I got my drink, my guest had arrived. He ordered a margarita, and we were seated.

The shtick at D’Acqua is that if you want, you can personally select your fish or seafood from an iced display. Then it’s either grilled, oven roasted, or salt-crusted. Tom Sietsma’s review in the Washington Post, March 11, 2007, recommends this as the best way to go. I might try that someday. But for my first visit, I wanted to order a specialty off the menu.

(Note: Don't ask me why the waiter held the camera at an angle when he took our photo. But I liked how it turned out, so I'm using it.)

My guest started with a frittura mista – seafood fritters. They were nicely done in a light batter. I went with a salad of fennel, endive, radicchio, celery, and pecorino cheese. I thought my salad was very good. The flavors blended nicely, and the pecorino was top quality.

For entrées, I ordered cartoccio di pesce – whole dorado fish cooked in parchment and served with mussels and clams. My guest ordered monkfish. Both meals were outstanding.

It probably would be fun to do the ‘seafood market’ someday. But I liked my meal, and I’ll definitely be revisiting D’Acqua in the future.

Trattoria Etrusco is a different experience all together. It’s located near Dupont Circle, away from the hustle (double meaning) and bustle on Pennsylvania Ave. Which is not to say that Dupont Circle is a quiet little neighborhood; it has its own style of hustle. It’s just that it’s away from the horde of lobbyists and executives dining on expense accounts.

My usual trip to DC involves leaving on a very early flight, arriving before noon, and often making a lunch meeting. This time, I needed to be there for a breakfast meeting the next day. So I arrived in late afternoon, got checked in to my hotel, did a little work, and then started looking for a place to eat. The listing I found for Etrusco was on www.Frommers.com. It sounded appealing. It was about 5 blocks from my hotel, so I walked over.

I got there a little early, probably about 7 p.m. There really weren’t very many people at all in the restaurant. The interior is laid out like a piazza café, the outdoor feel created by arched skylights, brick walls, and potted plants. Since I was dining alone, I’d brought along some reading and I asked to be seated near a light so that I could see. That moved me to a table at the other end of the room away from the handful of other diners.

I’d had lunch on the plane so I wasn’t overly hungry. I decided to skip the starter and just order an entrée. All three of the fish dishes on the menu that night looked great. The waiter described each of them. There were two kinds of rockfish. I decided on one described as ‘alla ghiotta’ – with currants, olives, capers, celery, and tomato. I thought it was excellent.

By the way, the bread was served with olive oil. As is my practice, I asked for some butter. The waiter accommodated my request with a plate with pieces of butter in various, irregular shapes. It appeared to me that they only use butter for cooking at Etrusco, and that’s what they brought me.

Like D’Acqua, Etrusco also stays on my list of restaurants to try again. This is one that I’ll bring my wife to for a quiet, romantic dinner, rather than the expense account restaurants on Capitol Hill or downtown Washington.

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