Sunday, September 1, 2013

Vendetta

Vendetta is a new bocce bar and Italian restaurant on H Street NE.  Taking place of the former Red Palace, this simple Italian fare restaurant is the latest addition to the Atlas District.  With a fun decor of Vespas, old Italian posters, and bocce courts, Vendetta is a great place for first dates and large groups.  Happy Hour lasts until 8pm with some great deals,  but the food is hit or miss.  Closest Metro is Union Station.

Vendetta's website describes: "The early Romans were among the first to play a game resembling what we know as bocce today. In early times they used coconuts brought back from Africa and later used hard olive wood to carve out bocce balls. Beginning with Emperor Augustus, bocce became the sport of statesman and rulers. From the early Greek physician Ipocrates to the great Italian Renaissance man Galileo, the early participants of bocce have noted that the game’s athleticism and spirit of competition rejuvenates the body."

We had family in town for the Labor Day weekend, so the bocce courts are what initially drew us to Vendetta for dinner.  I thought it would be a fun activity to do after we ate that kept us indoors a bit longer, protected from the swampy humid temperatures outside.  We had a great table next to one of the two 25-foot indoor courts.  The courts are constructed using layers of gravel, decomposed granite and compacted oyster shell flour.  This provides the perfect surface for play.  We decided to eat first before hitting the court.

First, we ordered drinks to take advantage of the Happy Hour specials.  Glasses of wine were $5 and the Prosecco on tap was only $4 - a great deal.  For the table, we ordered a few appetizers to share.  The Antipasto platter came with locally sourced salume, ham, potatoes, bleu cheese, goat cheese, and pickled peppers.  The potatoes were a different touch as the starch alternative to bread.  The Fritto Misto was a pretty classic preparation of fried baby octopus, squid, and prawns, that came with a wedge of lemon and fra diavolo sauce.  Lastly, we shared the Tre Salad of warm cannellini, pancetta and tomatoes over arugula.  This large and rustic salad was a favorite of the group as the beans were fragrant with tons of garlic and the tomatoes were perfectly ripe and sweet.

For the main course, our group pretty much stuck to the pasta options.  I chose the only one that didn't have meat listed in the ingredients, as I was in the mood for something a bit light.  However, I chose what ended up being bland, pasty, and a bit heavy despite all the vegetables used.  The Walnut Kale Pesto Gnocchi was served with broccoli rabe and overly pungent pickled peppers.  I was not a fan.  Luckily others in our group ordered more tasty dishes.  The clear winner was the Tagliatelle Carbonara in a decadent sauce made with crispy pancetta, organic eggs, and Pecorino Siciliano.  This large bowl of creamy pasta was enough for two people to share.  The other favorite was a peppery bowl of Sugo All'Arrabiata Pollo made with chicken, farfalle, and garlic in a spicy tomato sauce.  I took a bite and the heat factor tingled the tongue, yet was addictive.  Keith ate the meatiest pasta dish of Ragu Napoletano with bucatini noodles tossed in a beefy sauce served with sliced brisket, sausage and pork.  The dish was a little on the salty side, but being the meat-lover that he is, he liked the filling dish.

I wanted something sweet to round out my meal and knew I wanted to order dessert.  I chose the coconut sorbetto that came in a cute martini glass drizzled with a cherry liquor sauce.  The sorbet was fresh and light with subtle chunks of coconut.  Keith ordered Il Duce - Italian chocolate mousse.  His dessert was a little more standard and boring, and didn't seem to be fresh as it was a bit dried consistency, especially the layer on top.  Others ordered regular coffee as no other warm drinks such as cappuccino nor espresso were available.  And regular it was - a bit disappointing for an Italian restaurant.

Overall, the food was alright - I did not like my entree but the appetizers were decent.  The portions were plentiful and service was attentive.  I would like to see more vegetarian-friendly pasta dishes on the menu.  The ambience and decor certainly are the appeal of the place.  After we finished eating, we played two full rounds of bocce and it was fun!  We ordered another round of drinks and our server even brought us each a gratis shot of limoncello - a sweet lemon liquor.  Soon the bar area filled up more and a line formed, waiting to play next.  We relinquished the courts and moved along for the night, but I would come back again to Vendetta for the Happy Hour wine and bocce.

Total Rating: 3.55
Food: 3, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 4.5, Accessibility: 5

What I ate:
Antipasto
locally sourced salume, ham, potatoes,
bleu cheese, goat cheese, and pickled peppers

Fritto Misto
baby octopus, squid, prawns, lemon-parsley butter & fra diavolo sauce

Tre Salad
warm cannellini, pancetta & tomato over arugula

Walnut Kale Pesto Gnocchi
homemade gnocchi, broccoli rabe, pickled peppers

Sorbetto
coconut

Plus Keith ate:
Ragu Napoletano
bucatini with sliced brisket, sausage & pork

Il Duce
Italian Chocolate Mousse

Vendetta on Urbanspoon

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