Friday, December 18, 2015


Ghibellina is simply described as a Tuscan gastro-pub in the Logan Cirlce area from the team behind one of my all time favorite restaurants in DC, Acqua al 2.  The name is derived from the street, Via Ghibellina, where partners Chef Ari and Ralph Lee shared an apartment. Closest Metro is McPherson Square.

May 2013:  We were invited to a soft opening for friends and family to get a sneak preview and have the staff massage out the kinks during a dress rehearsal.  The first level of Ghibellina houses the trattoria and pizzeria and has seating capacity for a little under a 100 customers. Wood and stone create a warm space inside as the light from the windows facing 14th Street floods the room.  Both the exterior and interior have gone through a long process of remodeling and restoration to bring back something special to the neighborhood.  We were seated towards the back with a great view into the kitchen.

Chef Ari Gejdenson expedites the kitchen.
Our server, Ivan, greeted us and allowed us to look over the drink menu first.  One quickly caught my eye - La Dolce Vita - made with stoli, lime juice, luxardo maraschino, pineapple, mint, and sparkling wine; it was totally up my alley.  It tasted like a slightly classier version of a pineapple mojito and was perfectly light and refreshing.  A few of the Italian imported beers caught Keith's eye, but being the soft opening, Ivan informed us that they didn't have many available just yet.  He was able to order the Moretti and Peroni on draught.

Next, Ivan described the "piatti piccoli" (small plates) concept of the menu and suggested we order about 2 - 3 dishes per person.  There are also a few larger "secondi" items and the pizzas are large enough for a main entree as well.  Many items caught our eye.

First, we decided to try some meat and cheese and ordered a few items from the "salumi e formaggi" section:  salame toscano and  salsicce.  We also ordered the quadrello di bufalo and pecorino toscano stagionato.  The meats were very peppery and fresh, while the cheese was strong and pungent but came with toasted raisin bread to add a touch of sweetness.

Next we shared the Baccala alla Livornesedeep fried salt cod in a lovely sauce of tomatoes, olives, garlic, and parsley.  The fish was firm and cured from the salt and was very different from anything I've had before.  I really enjoyed the simple sauce so typical to Tuscan cooking.  

We also shared the Polle e Coniglio Fritto - a plate of lightly battered fried chicken and rabbit.  Garnished with simple lemon, I only tried the chicken and found it nicely cooked.  

The next dish we shared was by far the star of the evening - Spaghetti alla Trabaccalora - fresh made pasta in a simple white wine and tomato sauce tossed with hake, swordfish, striped bass, and fennel.  The seafood flavor gave the pasta a richness that was so delicious I could have eaten another bowl. 

By now, I was pretty satisfied but Keith suggested we get one more dish each.  Being familiar with Acqua al 2's balsamic steak, he chose the Disossata - a grilled petite tender, with balsamico, grana, parsley, and sea salt.  It was a different preparation that Acqua al 2's in that the meat is cut in a different grain than a typical filet.  The parsley salad was very strong but overall a nice dish.  

I chose something a bit lighter - Insalata di Farro - a salad of farro, roasted beets, shaved fennel,and hazelnuts, with sherry vinegar and topped with ricotta salata.  The sherry vinegar gave a nice acidic bite to the dish and the farro was cooked just right.  It was a nice portion too that would be great to share.  

Lastly, we were tempted by the dessert menu and decided to share the creamy Panna Cotta made with trickling springs cream, vanilla, and drizzled with saba - a syrup made from grapes.  The panna cotta was luxurious and the saba gave an interesting sweet wine-like flavor.

Overall, we enjoyed the Tuscan shared plates of Ghibellina and left completely sated. While we visited during the soft opening, the service still felt experienced and appeared flawless.  I am so thrilled for Ari and Ralph and know they will be very successful in Logan Circle.

December 2015:  We finally returned to Ghibellina to celebrate an early Christmas dinner.  I ordered a nice bottle of 2012 Feudo Disisa Nero D'Avola from Sicily, Italy.  It had a light taste, with a deepening finish as it aerated.  It paired well with both the salty and sweet dishes of our meal.

To start, we shared the Fritto Misto of crispy, rice flour-dusted seafood, crispy polenta cubes, and seasonal vegetables.  They were served with a spicy marinara sauce for dipping.

We also ordered a pizza to share.  The Salsicce e Cipolla came topped with tomato, sausage, roasted onions, provolone, grana padano, basil, and oregano. Chili flakes were served on the side for extra heat.  The pizza came with a fresh pair of scissors for cutting, and was extremely flavorful, though a bit soupy in the middle.  The style was identical to the Neapolitan versions served throughout Italy.

Next, we shared the Bucatini alle Vongole.  This delicious pasta dish was loaded with New Zealand cockles, confit tomatoes, garlic, lemon, esplette pepper, fresh herbs, and topped with chili bread crumbs that gave a little spicy crunch to the dish.  This was the best dish of the night.

Another standout was a the Rockfish special that came with roasted sun chokes and kale.  The fish was expertly cooked - flaky n the inside with a slightly crispy skin.  The seasonal vegetables perfectly complimented the light fish.

For dessert, we shared the Torta di Gianduja - chocolate hazelnut cake with honey crème fraîche and hazelnut brittle.  I enjoyed the chewy chocolate cake with the last sips of my red wine.

All in all we had a another great meal at Ghibellina, and increased our overall score from our first visit two years prior.  The dining room and bar area was incredibly packed by the time we left, proving that business is going strong at Ghibellina and is a popular place.

Total Rating: 4.33
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 5
What Micky Eats...

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  1. I have been looking for an opportunity to try farro--this place may just be it!

    1. It was quite tasty and filling - reminded me of brown rice.


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