It’s a quiet Sunday night in the dining room at Pinea. The newish restaurant is in DC’s W Hotel, in a space once occupied by J&G Steakhouse. The chef, Barry Koslow, comes most recently from DGS Deli, a restaurant featuring old-style Jewish dishes with modern twists. Pinea offers “contemporary regional Southern European and Mediterranean cuisine,” which seems like a natural progression for the chef, who has a fine dining background. While the chef has transitioned to cuisine that is more upscale, the restaurant itself has gone in the other direction. The menu is more casual than the steakhouse, and seems more likely to attract a broader clientele.
Transitions are on my mind, as we are dining with our BF’s and a couple we know from the very distant past, when we were younger than our children are now. This realization is mind-blowing.
We transition from catching up on year’s past to eating, focusing on a section of the menu called “Merenda.” The literal translation is afternoon snacks. Our selections include a terrific bruschetta trio. One topping features smoked ricotta and espellette, another avocado and pistachio, and the third is chickpea and grilled scallions. No favorites here- they are equally fresh and luxuriant. Fritto misto- a plate of light and airy fried vegetables and citrus slices- are delightful on their own or dipped into a zesty green olive aioli.
I’m conflicted about what to order, and relieved when the BFF agrees to share. This is ironic considering all the complaining we do about shared plates menus. But when you can’t decide between two distinctly different dishes, this is the way to go.
Grilled swordfish is highlighted by the smokiness of charred cauliflower, the saltiness of capers, the crunch of pine nuts, the sweetness of raisins, and finally the robustness of a generous helping of carrot romesco sauce.
It’s hard to put down the juicy lamb merguez burger with thick and crispy polenta fries. The fries take on an air of decadence when dipped into the cucumber yogurt sauce, studded with chunks of feta cheese.
Smoky grilled baby eggplant with chickpea puree, roasted tomato, and broccoli rabe is a hearty dish that will delight vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. The bright array of colors make it a picture-perfect dish.
Some transitions are easier than others. The passage from the kitschy/sparkly W Hotel lobby to Pinea’s fairly generic dining room is somewhat jarring. I wouldn’t mind a little more pizzazz in the restaurant decor. But the move from a steakhouse to a Mediterranean menu is a good one. The sophisticated flavors enhance the more casual cuisine. My adjusting to having grown children and recognizing some of the shifts that come with age… that might take a little more time.
Pinea, 515 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: “Chef Barry Koslow makes Pinea a fresh reason to check into the W hotel”