PHOTO: Morandi cocktail at San Lorenzo DC (c) Sery Kim
For weeks now, I have been hearing how phenomenal the food at San Lorenzo DC. However, I tend to be really skeptical when I hear buzz surrounding yet another new restaurant opening in our city. In fact, if a restaurant is super-buzzy, it turns me off from the restaurant (aka Le Diplomate is a perfect example. After all, there is no shortage of hype surrounding disastrously terrible food and service at establishments in the Nation's Capital because the celebrity of the Chef is more important than the taste of the actual meals and the quality of the cocktails (Barcelona but pretty much most restaurants on 14th Street). But I couldn't ignore the lure of San Lorenzo so, after weeks of trying to get in, I got a reservation for three on a Sunday night at 6:00 pm and despite the bad service the food is incredibly vivid and is worth any effort to get in.
PHOTO: All of our appetizers at San Lorenzo (c) Sery Kim
Speaking of the service, I arrive to San Lorenzo DC 15 minutes early because I wanted to make sure there weren't any glitches with my reservation. I was apprehensive because earlier I received a text saying my reservation was for a party of 2, and for a birthday, when I had confirmed with the publicist it was a party of 3, and to celebrate an engagement, so I wanted to sort this out before my friends arrived. I walked in and went to the hostess stand. Immediately I was truck by how space is quite small, like a classic Italian restaurant in the country of Italy: narrow, white-washed brick walls, and wood tables. "Quaint" was the word that comes to mind, but I wouldn't have used "cozy" or "lovely" since the lighting was awkwardly bright. When there is that much sun shining through, I think the lighting should have been on dimmer. Also, why were there two television screens with football on? I've never been to a classic Italian restaurant in any region of Italy where there were two flat-screened televisions. It shocked me to see them and took away from the overall ambiance.
After taking in the space, I spoke with the hostess. When the hostess didn't have the party of 3 reservation, I was taken aback. This wasn't an official restaurant review but, in my mind, it was so I thought I wasn't expecting the "full treatment," i.e. gratuitous welcomes and free plates + cocktails, however I certainly expected the reservation to be there. It wasn't there so I offered to leave but the hostess brought in another lady to help fix the seating. She couldn't fix it either so a third woman was brought in. She smiled at me -- they are all very friendly -- and finally sat me.
SO GLAD I CAME EARLY.
PHOTO: Proscuitto and the sumptuous Fiori Di Zucca (c) Sery Kim
Perhaps to make up for the lost/incorrect reservation, the server was aggressive about staffing our table -- he kept asking all the time what we wanted to order to get us OUT of the table. For example, I sat first and waited a few minutes for my newly engaged friends to arrive. The literal moment they arrived, after we hugged and sat, the server rushed over to the table to ask what we wanted to drink. Obviously, again because the restaurant is tiny, we hadn't had a chance to look at the menu so how would that work that they would know what they wanted to drink?!? Because I have tons of experience with pacing at restaurants, I wasn't deterred and made sure the server knew we weren't going to be deterred because the worst feeling to have in a restaurant is the feel of RUSH, and at San Lorenzo I felt like they didn't want me to linger, aka they wanted me gone as soon-as-possible. I HATE that feeling (the caps in this paragraph is for emphasis).
So this really also emphasizes the point, which despite feeling rushed and hurried, I have to again commend the food. I sincerely hope to come back and eat at the restaurant with better service, yet you are all forewarned to expect bad service.
The other two appetizers were equally good but the Fiori Di Zucca just blew them away, for me.
PHOTO: Pappardelle (c) Sery Kim
Because one of my friends lives the gluten-free life, we decided to order multiple Secondi plates and only ordered two pastas. As one would expect from an "acclaimed" Italian restaurant, the pastas are naturally made in-house. Each strand felt light and airy when, in reality, they are a quite dense material. Also, unexpectedly, the typically hefty sauces of most pasta dishes were equally light to match the fluffy-density of the pasta -- and not even remotely watery.
PHOTO: Fettuccine with red sauce (c) Sery Kim
I always like to order me a rabbit ragu and the Pappardelle's ($18) was phenomenally tasty. I couldn't believe how light the rabbit felt, without even a hint of being over-cooked. Actually, both pasta dishes were phenomenally tasty. The second pasta, the Fettuccine with red tomato sauce ($20), delighted me as well, and it was ideal to have two different pastas and two different sauces -- we do know how to order right!
PHOTO: Rosticciana (c) Sery Kim
For our entrees, we ordered the Rosticciana ($24). Roasted Tuscan style pork ribs, sage, rosemary broccolini and organic greens came to the table beautifully and perfectly cooked.
PHOTO: Branzino all’isolana (c) Sery Kim
My favorite of the two Secondi dishes was the Branzino all'isolana ($28). Roasted whole boneless branzino are filled with potatoes, tomatoes, olives and fresh herbs. Can't even begin to describe the marvelous medley of tastes in this dish. The fish was cooked at the right temperature, deboned, and the smoothness of the potatoes and tomatoes didn't make the dish a bland liquid but rather come more alive with texture and taste. Absolutely beautiful.
PHOTO: Cioccolato (c) Sery Kim
I am a real dessert person, as in I will cut out the appetizer/starter plate if I know the pastry chef presents a truly fantastic array of sweets, so a stunning meal can be ruined for me at the very end. Lucky for me, San Lorenzo DC's desserts exceed even the savory elements and this Cioccolato ($10) dish blew my mind with taste. Made with choccolate mascarpone, truffle torte, orange liquer sauce, raspberries and candided pistachios, the dish's richness meant I felt the $10 price was to cheap. Literally I think I could make a meal of the Fiori and the Cioccolato -- diabetes alert!!!!!!
PHOTO: Scoop of caramel ice cream with the wrong celebration ID (c) Sery Kim
This one was funny to me. The caramel ice cream was delicious, but after three hours at the restaurant -- I told you I ignore all attempts to RUSH me -- where I mentioned at least four times we were here to celebrate an engagement, this wrong labeling just adds to my issues with San Lorenzo DC's service. With cocktails and bottles of wine, we spent almost $400 in the course of three hours so, exactly, how difficult is it to pipe in the right labeling?!
It should be very easy.
PHOTO: Robbiolina (c) Sery Kim
Despite the final awkward service note, the evening ended on a magical high with this absolutely mouth-watering Robbiolina ($13). Could a cheesecake in D.C. be more perfect??????!!!!! I think not and the combination of thyme, honey & robbiolina cheesecake, black raspberry compote and graham cracker streusel was so divine we almost ordered a second one. GLUTTON-ALERT. I may seriously have to modify my chocolate tooth with the perfection of this cheesecake.
Finally, I should add the cocktails are tasty, the wine list is focused on Tuscany and the appertifs are solid as well.
All-in-all, a magical evening. We all agreed it was a fantastic #onefortherecordbooks kind-of-night, and I highly recommend you give San Lorenzo DC a try as well. If they ever work out there service glitches, I would give them a Michelin-star just for the quality of food alone.