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Joe H

Casa Luca, Osteria-Influenced Italian in the old Againn Space at 11th Street and New York Avenue Downtown - Reconcepted as a Sfoglina

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I took a friend who was visiting from Napa last week to lunch at Casa Luca. We had a lovely table, and our server was friendly and knowledgable. The food was very good (and a little pricey). She ordered "Lobster Gnocchi Fra Diavolo" for $32. This generous portion of lobster and gnocchi was richly decadent and delicious. My friend, who likes her food spicy and has cooked this dish at home, said she would have preferred a little more heat.

I ordered "Insalata Di Aliche" for $28, a well-cooked piece of Arctic Char a bed of maple-roasted kabocha squash, farro and grapes. It didn't strike me as a salad, per se, as the fish was by far the main component of the dish, but it was satisfying, with the flavors of the char enhanced by the grains and fruit.

We enjoyed fresh bread, great wine and a delightful amuse-bouche as well. I particularly enjoyed the pace of the meal. Our server was very attentive, but he also gave us plenty of time to sit and talk and enjoy each other's company without making us feel rushed in any way.

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Skipped the Oscars but was able to secure a late reservation for 6 last evening, last seating.  The restaurant appeared close to full when we arrived, the bar was empty and I’d suggest not ordering cocktails at that hour if they even offer them.

The current menu is far smaller and more limited than I recall but there are additional dishes available beyond the menu including a mushroom risotto.

A lot of chatting at that table and I believe we might have covered most of the menu.

Everyone was pleased though I felt the serving sizes were a bit small (didn’t ask for assessments from others)

The cooking was sublime.  A meatball appetizer was universally praised and my rigatoni primavera was similarly remarkably upscale tasteful.  Service was professional.

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18 minutes ago, funkyfood said:

what do you mean by you suggesting that we "not order[] cocktails *at that hour*"?

Sunday night, last shift;   There was no bartender.

I'm going to extrapolate a bit.  Within the last year this restaurant group along with others of similar quality contacted the bartending school looking for bartenders.  While we see employer requests from bars across the board, for a period of time in the last year those leads included a significant number of higher end establishments such as Casa Luca, its entire group and similar quality establishments.  While we have new grads who respond to those leads we also have grads with extensive experience.   I believe there is a shortage of qualified bartenders in the region. 

They might not be able to staff up all shifts.  Of course that is a guess and possibly they simply didn't have someone on staff that night at that late shift.  Can't know for sure.  But if you can't get qualified staff to cover all shifts...I'd suggest late Sunday night is as good as any to leave unstaffed.  That has to be one of the slowest times at the bar.  While I parked and was walking to Casa Luca I passed Capitol City Brewery.  That place is remarkably busy 7 days a week.  Around 8 Pm on a Sunday night it was not jammed.

 

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3 hours ago, DaveO said:

The current menu is far smaller and more limited than I recall but there are additional dishes available beyond the menu including a mushroom risotto.

"Dumbed down" would be what I would have described it as when my wife and I stopped in a couple weekends ago.  What they have on offer now in no way resembles the restaurant that we really enjoyed going to a couple years back.  They even have kitschy names for some of the items, which is just so far from what I would think of for a Trabocchi establishment.  We were put off by that and the fact that they wouldn't open the bottle of Gaja that we brought in because they had another Gaja on their list (different vintage and varietal), so we went to Bibiana instead, which is back to the level that it was when Stefanelli was there btw.  The new chef from Miami is cooking some great pastas right now, they would be my preference for high end Italian in the Metro Center area.

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7 minutes ago, DPop said:

"Dumbed down" would be what I would have described it as when my wife and I stopped in a couple weekends ago.  What they have on offer now in no way resembles the restaurant that we really enjoyed going to a couple years back.  They even have kitschy names for some of the items, which is just so far from what I would think of for a Trabocchi establishment.  We were put off by that and the fact that they wouldn't open the bottle of Gaja that we brought in because they had another Gaja on their list (different vintage and varietal), so we went to Bibiana instead, which is back to the level that it was when Stefanelli was there btw.  The new chef from Miami is cooking some great pastas right now, they would be my preference for high end Italian in the Metro Center area.

Ha.  Great switch.  Couldn't be more convenient.  Right across the street!!!!!!  I have to try that.  Frankly the meal quality was excellent but I prefer more choice.

Bibiana still has pizza doesn't it?  If so you also have a price point difference.

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3 minutes ago, DaveO said:

Ha.  Great switch.  Couldn't be more convenient.  Right across the street!!!!!!  I have to try that.  Frankly the meal quality was excellent but I prefer more choice.

Bibiana still has pizza doesn't it?  If so you also have a price point difference.

No pizza at dinner, it is back to being more of a high end place with assorted antipasti, cured meats and cheese, pastas, and secondis.  Try the Agnolotti, very unique flavor palate and absolutely expertly prepared.  That and the other pastas that we had were reminiscent of the Tosca glory days when Massimo Fabbri was in the kitchen.

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20 hours ago, DPop said:

"Dumbed down" would be what I would have described it as when my wife and I stopped in a couple weekends ago.  What they have on offer now in no way resembles the restaurant that we really enjoyed going to a couple years back.  They even have kitschy names for some of the items, which is just so far from what I would think of for a Trabocchi establishment.

I ate there last spring / summer and while the food was still quite good from when I'd been previously I do think the bold perhaps applied a bit.  Two of my favorite items I had that night for instance were Parmesan churros (essentially the best "mozzarella sticks" ever) and the tortellini of baby back ribs with 'Alredo of Rome' sauce... I assumed that the latter wouldn't mean bbq style ribs but that's essentially what it was.  Mind you this was still very tasty, but was also kind of surprisingly un-elegant for a Trabocchi place.  The previous time I went it almost felt like a more straight-forward better bargain Fiola by comparison.

The main obstacle for preventing me from returning right now is that I've been monitoring the online menu for a while (as I do for places I like) and almost nothing has changed in about a year.  Before I'd be enticed to go back by seeing particular new pasta preparations but even if the execution is strong seeing the menu on auto-pilot is a little disappointing.  

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3 hours ago, FranklinDubya said:

I ate there last spring / summer and while the food was still quite good from when I'd been previously I do think the bold perhaps applied a bit.  Two of my favorite items I had that night for instance were Parmesan churros (essentially the best "mozzarella sticks" ever) and the tortellini of baby back ribs with 'Alredo of Rome' sauce... I assumed that the latter wouldn't mean bbq style ribs but that's essentially what it was.  Mind you this was still very tasty, but was also kind of surprisingly un-elegant for a Trabocchi place.  The previous time I went it almost felt like a more straight-forward better bargain Fiola by comparison.

The main obstacle for preventing me from returning right now is that I've been monitoring the online menu for a while (as I do for places I like) and almost nothing has changed in about a year.  Before I'd be enticed to go back by seeing particular new pasta preparations but even if the execution is strong seeing the menu on auto-pilot is a little disappointing.  

On my most recent visit I will say that the quality of the dishes was excellent.  Everyone seemed pleased with what they had.  Nobody voiced a disappointment.  Some dishes were highly praised.  I was very impressed with both the rigatoni primavera and meatballs (meatballs--for cripes sakes--they were sublime!!!!). 

The limited menu....and the fact that it hasn't changed at all recently--well those are valid points!!!  I'd both return and visit alternatives such as Bibiana and others of the same quality/reputation

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1 hour ago, DaveO said:

On my most recent visit I will say that the quality of the dishes was excellent.  Everyone seemed pleased with what they had.  Nobody voiced a disappointment.  Some dishes were highly praised.  I was very impressed with both the rigatoni primavera and meatballs (meatballs--for cripes sakes--they were sublime!!!!). 

I think my last post sounded a little overly-negative in retrospect - I've only had great meals there to date.  Rigatoni primavera sounds great *and appears to actually a new / recent menu addition so that's good to hear!

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At the end of Tom's chat today: 

Quote

(Have you heard? A second Sfoglina is replacing Casa Luca this fall!)

 

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On 5/30/2018 at 12:27 PM, Pat said:

At the end of Tom's chat today: 

I'm guessing the margins are higher for Sfoglina's menu.

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and they are opening another Sfoglina in Arlington

I bet that Rosslyn space has been sitting vacant for over two years.  Meanwhile with the massive newish Rosslyn office buildings finally leasing up there is a mad rush of eating and dining places occupying Rosslyn or opening shortly.  

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Kinda sad it's getting replaced (even though the overall lack of new dishes prevented me from going back recently).  I thought it occupied in a nice medium between the Fiola level and the kinda upscale casual Italian places we have a bunch of in the city...  honestly it also seemed to be cheaper in practice than Sfoglina with it's small portion size $24 pastas.

Didn't realize Erin Clarke had left either... seems like at the Trabochhi places this happens quietly and gets reported on after the fact.

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On 5/30/2018 at 12:27 PM, Pat said:

At the end of Tom's chat today: 

"(Have you heard? A second Sfoglina is replacing Casa Luca this fall!)"

On 5/30/2018 at 5:21 PM, FranklinDubya said:

Kinda sad it's getting replaced (even though the overall lack of new dishes prevented me from going back recently).  I thought it occupied in a nice medium between the Fiola level and the kinda upscale casual Italian places we have a bunch of in the city...  honestly it also seemed to be cheaper in practice than Sfoglina with it's small portion size $24 pastas.

Didn't realize Erin Clarke had left either... seems like at the Trabochhi places this happens quietly and gets reported on after the fact.

I completely understand why it's happening, and I also completely understand why it's tragic for the diner.

Casa Luca was fabulous - so fabulous, that given it's wedged position between FiolaFiola Mare, Del Mar at the high-high end; and Sfoglina at the quote-unquote "low end," it seems to have no place in this organization. 

Which is tragic, because Casa Luca was this restaurant group's Rose's Luxury (vis-a-vis Pineapple and Pearls). Now, Sfoglina will be their cash-cow chain, while the Big 3 are going to be their Las Vegas-style Grande Cuisine locations (and in my opinion, one of them will close in the forseeable future, and I have a pretty darned good idea which one it will be, which is equally tragic).

These are all my personal guesses, based on nothing more than observation, and they could easily be wrong.

Regardless, Sfoglina is a fine, albeit very, very expensive, pastaria, something much like what Il Radicchio was for Roberto Donna (stop and think about that for a moment).

Mar, 1997 - "Interview with Chef Robert Donna of Il Radicchio - Washington, DC" on starchefs.com

That's right: Before there was Fabio Trabocchi, there was Roberto Donna; now, people don't even remember that the two are from the same country. But I do.

Remember how good EatBar was in South Clarendon, when Nathan Anda was making charcuterie in that decrepit shed in the parking lot? Me neither.

The use of the exclamation point after the quoted text in the chat makes me want to vomit - thepostareyouonit - although I suspect it was happenstance in letting readers know they just read something important.

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 I may be in the minority here, but  though I love Fiola, I wasn't wowed by my meal at Casa Luca, and I thought it was  too expensive for what it was.   On the other hand, I really enjoy Sfoglina  and have been there multiple times.  It's not life-changing, but it is reliably delicious, something which  is less common than it should be. And I don't think it's that expensive either-we usually split  The three pasta tasting, which is $66 for two people and is more than enough food, in fact we usually end up taking something home. 

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31 minutes ago, sandynva said:

 I may be in the minority here, but  though I love Fiola, I wasn't wowed by my meal at Casa Luca, and I thought it was  too expensive for what it was.   On the other hand, I really enjoy Sfoglina  and have been there multiple times.  It's not life-changing, but it is reliably delicious, something which  is less common than it should be. And I don't think it's that expensive either-we usually split  The three pasta tasting, which is $66 for two people and is more than enough food, in fact we usually end up taking something home. 

I love Sfoglina also - I'd be surprised if most people don't. The thing is ... we may get many of them, coupled with no Casa Luca, and that would be a shame.

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52 minutes ago, sandynva said:

 I may be in the minority here, but  though I love Fiola, I wasn't wowed by my meal at Casa Luca, and I thought it was  too expensive for what it was.   On the other hand, I really enjoy Sfoglina  and have been there multiple times.  It's not life-changing, but it is reliably delicious, something which  is less common than it should be. And I don't think it's that expensive either-we usually split  The three pasta tasting, which is $66 for two people and is more than enough food, in fact we usually end up taking something home. 

One significant change with Casa Luca is that the original Casa Luca changed.  Recently and for possibly many months the menu at Casa Luca has been remarkably small and limited.  What I and others ordered was excellent.  We would have definitely appreciated a larger menu.  In line with that it was a detriment to rebooking the restaurant without significant changes in the menu.

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On 5/31/2018 at 5:54 PM, DonRocks said:

I completely understand why it's happening, and I also completely understand why it's tragic for the diner.

Casa Luca was fabulous - so fabulous, that given it's wedged position between FiolaFiola Mare, Del Mar at the high-high end; and Sfoglina at the quote-unquote "low end," it seems to have no place in this organization. 

Which is tragic, because Casa Luca was this restaurant group's Rose's Luxury (vis-a-vis Pineapple and Pearls). Now, Sfoglina will be their cash-cow chain, while the Big 3 are going to be their Las Vegas-style Grande Cuisine locations (and in my opinion, one of them will close in the forseeable future, and I have a pretty darned good idea which one it will be, which is equally tragic).

These are all my personal guesses, based on nothing more than observation, and they could easily be wrong.

Regardless, Sfoglina is a fine, albeit very, very expensive, pastaria, something much like what Il Radicchio was for Roberto Donna (stop and think about that for a moment).

Mar, 1997 - "Interview with Chef Robert Donna of Il Radicchio - Washington, DC" on starchefs.com

That's right: Before there was Fabio Trabocchi, there was Roberto Donna; now, people don't even remember that the two are from the same country. But I do.

Remember how good EatBar was in South Clarendon, when Nathan Anda was making charcuterie in that decrepit shed in the parking lot? Me neither.

The use of the exclamation point after the quoted text in the chat makes me want to vomit - thepostareyouonit - although I suspect it was happenstance in letting readers know they just read something important.

This is a bummer. I really liked my meals at Casa Luca. I also liked my one meal at the Sfoglina I have had. And, while I am theoretically glad there will be more than one Sfoglina to take the pressure off of the one they have now, making it easier to get a table on shorter notice (I hope), I am sad to lose Casa Luca. 

:(

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Delightfully dinned in daylight and found food fresh and fabulous.

Waiter: Spanish accent, beautiful, looked like a 1920s attendee at a Gatsby party.

Support stuff: Cute too! Maybe it's the floral dresses.

Gazpacho: Perfect. When a gazpacho has a fresh start, a smooth center, and a tart finish, I am in heaven and this stuff was it. FWIW, souper girl's beet gazpacho is almost as good, or maybe better...hard to know.

Benzino over perfectly cooked spinach was fresh, flaky, and had just enough acid with a squeeze of grilled lemon. 

I realize that there have been some conflicting opinions of late but I really enjoyed lunch today. From the service to the food to the decor and my "date". (work thing).

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I can't let Casa Luca close without memorializing the great meal I had there about a month ago. @MichaelBDC and I met up with his parents for a Sunday dinner and we had a lovely time. 

We ordered a multitude of appetizers including crostini, meatballs, spicy grilled calimari. It was all wonderful and fresh. The crostini was especially appreciated because Michael's parents didn't care for its preparation so the kitchen whipped up something sans seafood for them: squash, ricotta, a red pepper puree and they loved it. Meatballs were also popular. 

For entrees we had drunken tuna, lasagna, and a pasta I can't remember. We loved it all. The manager/sommelier suggested a nice bottle of Frappato to drink with dinner and it was so good we ordered another one. 

Dessert was the chocolate bomoblini which satisfied all the chocolate lovers' sweet teeth.

Service was friendly and accommodating. 

Casa Luca left us with a great last impression. 

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On 6/1/2018 at 9:16 AM, DonRocks said:

I love Sfoglina also - I'd be surprised if most people don't. The thing is ... we may get many of them, coupled with no Casa Luca, and that would be a shame.

So it goes - it makes business sense (either being ultra-high end (Fiola X), or premium-low end (Sfoglina), and eliminating the middle-high end (Casa Luca)), but it's a real shame this restaurant is gone. [I would normally merge this thread into Sfoglina's (same owners, same location), but I'm going to make an exception in this case since Casa Luca had so much interest.]

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Am I the only person who can't pronounce "Sfoglina" ? I also went to Sfoglina and enjoyed the food but here's the thing; I remember the Casa Luna lunch still, but not the So-fog-lina lunch.  That's how my brain pronounces it...I know it's not correct but there it is.

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3 hours ago, NolaCaine said:

Am I the only person who can't pronounce "Sfoglina" ? I also went to Sfoglina and enjoyed the food but here's the thing; I remember the Casa Luna lunch still, but not the So-fog-lina lunch.  That's how my brain pronounces it...I know it's not correct but there it is.

No! I do the same thing. I thought it was because I spent 25 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and it is foggy there... 🙄

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