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The frutti di mare is a seafood revelation.

A View to a Thrill

by David Hagedorn | Photography by Greg Powers | DC magazine | April 4, 2014

What do you do when you’ve just opened your second restaurant? If you’re James Beard Award-winning chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife, Maria, you open a third. Fiola Mare, an homage to the fish and seafood of the Mediterranean and Adriatic, opened at Georgetown’s Washington Harbour in late February. It joins tony Fiola and more casual Casa Luca in the Trabocchi’s nascent conglomerate. With its glorious views of the Potomac River and The Kennedy Center, and its equally stunning interiors and menu, Fiola Mare is quickly presenting itself as the Trabocchis’ crowning glory.

Once inside the restaurant’s 31st Street waterfront entrance, a gray and white marble bar with white leather stools—already a gathering spot for well-heeled locals—presents itself as a chic retreat for a boulevardier. Next to it is a gleaming mixologist station with multiple bottles of Campari, Punt E Mes, Aperol and other aperitivi lined up as accent pieces on sleek white shelves.

The 170-seat dining room (plus 60 outside) immediately evokes a feeling of airiness, like an elegant Venetian palazzo of multiple rooms. You’ll see coffered ceilings, ornate crown molding and wainscoting, lush ochre walls, chocolate brown and white-striped banquettes, brown leather side chairs and dark-stained wooden floors interspersed with gold-flecked beige tiles. French doors separate a 12-seat chef’s room and two rear dining rooms, one of which features a private bar.

The veranda is the place to be in good weather. Glass doors open to the main dining room on one side and the river’s boardwalk on the other. Slatted teak tables, chairs and benches bring to mind the deck of a vintage yacht.

The most intriguing decor component is Trabocchi’s open kitchen, where the chef helms as the expediter, approving dishes and putting final touches on them. On display is a raw bar where gleaming seafood awaits placement on a splendid frutti di mare platter that holds wild Maine belons, Sunset Beach and Kumamoto oysters, Middleneck clams on the half-shell, steamed lobster tail and claws, Penn Cove mussels, head-on prawns, Catalina sea urchin custard, Peekytoe crab salad and a panoply of sauces.

Fresh fish of the day—including Spanish branzino, turbot, Virginia black bass, Mediterranean dorade or that most delicate and prized delight, Dover sole—rest atop crushed ice alongside calamari and head-on, coral pink Scottish langoustines. Guests may choose their fish, then watch as it’s weighed and whisked to the grill. The impeccably cooked, filleted and vaguely smoky fish is presented at the table in an enormous saute pan and served with grilled lemon, black olive sea salt, salsa verde and fennel aioli.

Perfect for two people, the small version of the frutti di mare platter or the whole, lightly grilled, de-shelled and reconstructed Maine lobster are sublime starters to a Fiola Mare meal. A salad of Maine Peekytoe crabmeat—accompanied by San Marzano tomatoes, yuzu and sorrel—comes to life under a scarlet, head-on, Spanish Carabinero prawn. Not to be missed, though, is a heavenly parfait of briny oysters, spoonbill caviar and frothy Champagne zabaglione.

Trabocchi changes menu items daily. Pastas remain signatures as they are at Fiola and Casa Luca. Mainstay ginger- and butter-tinged Maine lobster ravioli are, as usual, plump and noteworthy, but marubini—filled with chestnuts and foie gras and topped with Maine scallops awash in black-truffle sauce—delight exponentially with each mouthful. Tomatoes, clam broth, pasta water and olive oil emulsify into a luxuriant, ginger-glazed sauce for Neapolitan Gragnano spaghetti, complemented by Middleneck clams, basil chiffonade and fresh chilis.

The seafood brodetto, an Adriatic version of bouillabaisse, is a standout entree. Sea scallops, lobster, mussels, clams, calamari, sea urchin and prawns rest upon a shellfish and tomato broth laced with saffron, garlic and chile pepper, with chunky, buttery bread crumbs providing crunch on top. There are wagyu rib-eye and veal loin entrees too.

The floor and kitchen staffs are prolific, polished and wired Secret Service-style so they can communicate with each other without disturbing diners, one of myriad service details. Managers sport smart black suits and ties; servers wear tailored uniforms with crisp, nautical striped oxford shirts, aubergine neckties and waistcoats backed in lilac.

Guests will find a formidable and accessible list of wines, mostly French and Italian, with some American vintages thrown in. Of note are the Viaggio in Sicilia and Gambero Bianco sections, the former featuring Sicilian (Mount Etna) red wines that pair well with fish and seafood, the latter a selection of mineral-rich white wines.

Executive Pastry Chef Tom Wellings’ striking desserts fit aptly into Fiola Mare’s upscale setting. His white chocolate popsicle—filled with orange sorbet and garnished with candied peel and nasturtiums—brings class to the Dreamsicle. Torta al limone with yuzu gelée, coconut sorbet and candied lemon elevates lemon meringue pie admirably. Baba au rhum—a boozy savarin—brims with vanilla crema, pear marmellata and toasted hazelnuts to brighten a French classic. If you’re too full, fill your pockets with the chewy almond cookie nuggets or chocolate-filled macarons that might arrive with the bill. Then take a postprandial stroll by the river to work them off.

The Brunch Factor
The dream of enjoying a spectacular waterfront Sunday brunch before heading to a movie at the Loews Georgetown Theater has come true! Bellinis, housemade croissants, lobster rolls with Calabrese mayo, eggs Benedict-style smoke salmon, lemon mascarpone pancakes and Italian shrimp and grits will no doubt induce you to skip the popcorn and nachos.

Shape-Shifter
Local sculptor Adriana Baler was looking for just the right place to appreciate the multifaceted, jewel-like molds she created for chocolate bonbons. Using El Rey premium-grade fair-trade Venezuelan chocolate, the Fiola pastry team fills Baler’s molds with flavors such as passion fruit, Earl Grey tea, cardamom, orange and Cointreau. A final dusting of gold or silver powder completes the refinement.

Fiola Mare
3050 K St. NW, 202.628.0065

Appetizers, $14-$22 ($145 for 1 ounce of Ossetra caviar); pastas, $18-$32; entrees, $38-$46 ($55 a pound for Dover sole); desserts, $12

Mon.-Thu., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-10:30pm; Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-11pm; Sat., 5-11pm; Sun.,11am-3pm, 5-9:30pm
Valet parking ($12) is offered in the evening.