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Officina, a Massive, Three-Story Italian Culinary Collective from the Owners of Masseria - The Wharf

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This new massive restaurant from the owner of Masseria opened last week on the Wharf, so we went last night.  The entrance is right on Maine Avenue, unlike the majority of the restaurants on the Wharf.  You walk into a relatively casual café and market, and are led to your table upstairs to a swankier dining room.  The room was a little too brightly lit for our tastes, but I know many complain about rooms being too dark, so we may be in the minority.  We started with a decent bourbon and amaro cocktail to start, followed by delicious buffalo mozzarella and figs stuffed with ricotta and nduja.  We then split a delicious pasta (note: I am FAR from a pasta snob/expert, so others may disagree) filled with cauliflower with a hint of anchovy before our entrees: decadent tortellini filled with fall squash for my fiancé, and a whole branzino with a dill-lemon emulsion for the entrée.  My branzino was very good but unexciting (to be clear, I didn't expect it to be exciting when I ordered it), and the sauce was tangy and refreshing.  The tortellini was fantastic and a decent portion; the parmesan on it reminded me, in the best way, of the nostalgia of the Kraft pre-grated cheese in the green container that we all grew up with.  The side of beets we got with mint, oranges and fennel was a HUGE portion for $10.  Lastly, we shared a rhum cake with freshly whipped cream that was outstanding. 

Service was super friendly and, for the most part, knowledgeable.  Our waitress was quite engaging and glad to show off her knowledge of the menu.  One quirk: we mentioned during our meal that we wanted to check out the vaunted "Amaro Library" after dinner.  Before our entrees came, our waitress said they had spots open and that we should go now.  We resisted a bit because we were happy at our table and didn't want all the food to have to be brought to the bar, but she was pretty insistent, saying that the bar would likely fill up soon.  So we went, regretfully so.  I love eating at the bar alone, but it made it difficult to carry on as nice of a conversation when we weren't sitting face-to-face.  Worse, the bartender, who was otherwise perfectly nice, was a bit stressed out about all the tickets coming in from the waiters, and got a bit snippy with them, which dampened the mood a bit.  

As for the amaro bar itself, we were let down.  Despite having an interesting-looking collection, there was no menu, so we didn't know what was available and what flavors they had.  The friendly bartender revealed that he had limited knowledge of the actual amari and had to defer to a colleague for some help.  We liked what we ended up getting, but were disappointed considering how much they've hyped up their amaro bar.  The selection and knowledge at Little Coco's is much better, at least for now.

The crowd, by the way, was extremely Sceney, the same type of crowd you'd find at RPM or Nobu.  Not sure what it is about the Wharf that attracts these crowds (not that I totally dislike it), but it's starkly different from the people you'd see at other restaurants in the city.

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I forgot to mention re the amaro bar: the bartender was not familiar with Don Ciccio, one of the nation's most well respected amaro makers, which happens to be based in and made in DC.  

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The market opens daily at 10.  The cafe also opens daily at 10.  The Trattoria supposedly opens daily at 11 but they didn't actually open until 11:30 today (Sunday).  

We street parked a block away from the L'enfant shuttle pick-up.  With the live-time shuttle location map, we were able to hang out in the car until just before the shuttle arrived.

First we perused the market - lots of fresh bread, pastry, butcher counter, pastas, etc.  It's not a big space, maybe a little bigger than Centrolina's market.  What caught my eyes were the bottarga @ $144/lb.  I think I'll pick some up next month in Venice.

With time to kill, we had drinks in the cafe.  At 11:30, we were lead upstairs to our table.  We started with the Masseria Calamari and grilled prawns (5 for $24).  I never had the calamari at Masseria and I don't know what makes it special.  The calamari were nicely cooked but I didn't think it tasted especially good - flavors muddled by lots of components (on the other hand, I can see why linguine in XO sauce at Masseria is a signature dish).  I reminded our server not to overcook the prawns and they came out perfectly.

Next we had trippa Romana, rapini, and ravioli.  The kids ate all the raviolis so I never got to try them.  I enjoyed the tripe, even though they were chopped into really small bits.  The rapini was perfectly cooked - not chewy and not mushy.

Overall, an enjoyable experience and we will revisit.  

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Visit twice and they make you feel like a regular.  In my case, they thanked me for my support and comped a glass of prosecco (after I ordered 2).

We started with some meatballs, which the kids were very enthused about, tripe, which I was really enthused about, and Fave e Cicoria (braised puntarelle, fava bean puree and some bitter green leaves) - it's a salad, I felt healthy eating it but not enthused.

Next course was bucatni all’amatriciana and ravioli.  Good pasta dishes - other than Osteria Morini, I'm not sure where else to get good pasta dishes for lunch on a Sunday.  Too bad Osteria Morini's menu never changes...Oh I forgot about Fiola Mare.

I can see going back on a regular basis...interesting authentic Italian food with good service.

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I went to Officina Friday night with three friends. I enjoyed myself well enough, but I'm not sure I'd schlep to the Wharf for it again, especially with all the other Italian restaurants in the city. (I know nothing about amaro and had completely forgotten about the amaro bar mentioned above -- I can see how that might be a draw for some.)

We split a bunch of salumi, cheese, and appetizers, plus three pastas. Highlights were the prosciutto San Daniele (so velvety), the robiola (smooth and tangy), the buffalo mozzarella, the duck liver crostini, and the bone marrow (which I wouldn't say was anything too exciting, but I always like bone marrow). I agree with Ericandblueboy that the calamari had too much going on and muddled flavors -- my friend had read that it was a must order and I didn't see what the fuss was about. The arancini (arancino? there was one) was meh. When it first came out it was better, but once it cooled down it was kind of bland and greasy.

The three pastas were all tasty, but I liked two more than one. I only see one that we ordered on the online menu -- Cavatelli. Ricota. Goat Ragu. Pecorino -- except I think ours had lamb ragu. The others were maccheroni with some kind of interesting mushroom (chanterelle?) and a non-tomato, non-alfredo sauce and paccheri with frutti di mare in a light tomato-based sauce. The one I thought was meh was the paccheri. It just didn't have the same depth of flavor as the others. I thought it would be good to get something lighter with the other two, but I found it bland.

What really put us all off, though, was the service. My only complaint about our main server was that she was wearing pretty strong perfume. Every time she came near me I caught a whiff that I didn't enjoy. My friend asked for more grilled bread to go with our bone marrow, and she happily obliged. (I didn't see the bill, so I don't know if we were charged or not -- if we were I would understand.) Otherwise there were a bunch of strange service hiccups. First, one of my friends had a menu that was different than what the rest of us got. We realized it because she was excited about duck confit and none of the rest of us had it on our menu. She flagged someone (possibly the sommelier) down and asked about it, explaining that she was excited for duck confit, and he said it was the Valentine's Day menu and they didn't have duck confit. I understand mistakes happen, but there was no apology or sympathy about my friend's disappointment. We ordered a bottle of wine and they only brought glasses for three of us. One of my friends still had part of her cocktail from the bar at that point, but why would they assume she wouldn't be having wine with us? They should have at least asked. We had to flag someone down for another glass. The service issue that happened over and over again throughout the meal was that bussers kept trying to take our plates before we were finished. We had plenty of room on our table, so we couldn't understand why this kept happening over and over again. It was quite annoying. Oh, and one other strange thing about our server was that she asked us for our napkins while we were still sitting at the table. Granted, we'd been at the table for quite a while at that point and we may have just paid the bill (I can't remember), but why not wait until we left to take our napkins?

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1 hour ago, dracisk said:

What really put us all off, though, was the service. My only complaint about our main server was that she was wearing pretty strong perfume. Every time she came near me I caught a whiff that I didn't enjoy. 

Over the last several months I’ve been handling the placement function for the Arlington Bar School.  I deal with many employers of all types ranging from high end restaurants mentioned here all the way through the spectrum including places you may not want to send your worst enemy.

One with high end standards includes a variety of grooming requirements.  Limiting perfumes is one of those requirements.  

I wonder how restaurants would enforce that.  Might there be a manager of sniffing before one gets to start their shift?

On a more serious note—that is off putting.

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50 minutes ago, dracisk said:

Oh, and one other strange thing about our server was that she asked us for our napkins while we were still sitting at the table. Granted, we'd been at the table for quite a while at that point and we may have just paid the bill (I can't remember), but why not wait until we left to take our napkins?

The perfume thing is annoying, but that is downright odd. I've been to restaurants where I got up to go to the restroom while my husband was paying the bill, and I returned to my napkin being all neatly folded back at my place. That's the one thing they don't take away unless a guest has put it on a plate being cleared.

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18 minutes ago, DaveO said:

Limiting perfumes is one of those requirements.

I've never worked in the restaurant industry, but I always thought it was standard to limit perfumes. If I'd liked the scent of our server's perfume I might not have minded as much, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

11 minutes ago, Pat said:

I've been to restaurants where I got up to go to the restroom while my husband was paying the bill, and I returned to my napkin being all neatly folded back at my place. That's the one thing they don't take away unless a guest has put it on a plate being cleared.

I like when the staff folds your napkin while you're away from the table (which no one did here), but this was like, "I'm about to do a load of laundry, so can I have your dirty napkins?" She didn't say this or give any explanation as to why she wanted our napkins, but this is what it reminded me of.

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1 hour ago, dracisk said:

I've never worked in the restaurant industry, but I always thought it was standard to limit perfumes. If I'd liked the scent of our server's perfume I might not have minded as much, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

It absolutely is appropriate customer service, in fact it’s one of (I don’t know how many) standards taught at our school.  I wonder how it is enforced or implemented at restaurants.  

Possibly you I or my late dear departed pooch  could get a job as the staff sniffer. :)

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The grigliata mista was fantastic - 2 wonderful prawns, a top quality superbly seared scallop that was sweet and savory, and 2 calamaris.  Lunch with drinks and dessert, duck confit, rapini, meatballs, and ravioli turned out to be $200 with tax and tip but it's worth the money.

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37 minutes ago, Ericandblueboy said:

The grigliata mista was fantastic - 2 wonderful prawns, a top quality superbly seared scallop that was sweet and savory, and 2 calamaris.  Lunch with drinks and dessert, duck confit, rapini, meatballs, and ravioli turned out to be $200 with tax and tip but it's worth the money.

For how many? 

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3 hours ago, Ericandblueboy said:

The grigliata mista was fantastic - 2 wonderful prawns, a top quality superbly seared scallop that was sweet and savory, and 2 calamaris.  Lunch with drinks and dessert, duck confit, rapini, meatballs, and ravioli turned out to be $200 with tax and tip but it's worth the money.

Hah!!  Ooh that rang a bell.  I haven’t had grigliata Mista in ages—but never w/seafood, always meat and poultry.

Now I’m interested, but no imps

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Had brunch at officina.  The actual menu is slightly different than the online menu.  I ordered the Testa di Maiele, the Spaghetti Nero, and duck confit.

The testa is described as pork head terrine, crispy skin, and cannelini bean.  The dish is served warm, which surprised me.  There was alot of fat (which gave me pause).  It was good but I didn't love it (on account of all that fat).

On the other hand, I did love the spaghetti.  Loads of luscious crab meat served with al dente squid ink pasta.  The portion being on the small side being my only complaint.

The duck was also very good.  

When I ordered a glass of Pol Roger, the manager returned with a bottle of opened 2006 Dom Perignon.  He asked if I would like a glass of Dom ($50) for the price of Pol Roger ($30).  He said they opened the Dom last night and didn't want it to go to waste.  I do eat there fairly often (and they do remember that sort of thing).

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