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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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