Firepits, complimentary blankets and a great view on Officina’s rooftop; Photo: Mike Goodman
Even with three stories of space, a marketplace, café, restaurant, rooftop bar and endless options for food and beverages, Officina still manages to stick to elegant simplicity with the food, flavors and ambiance. Pronounced oh-fee-she-nah, Michelin-star Chef Nicholas Stefanelli has graced Southwest with the presence of a well-designed, comfortable restaurant where you can enjoy Southern Italian-inspired dining and drinks, or buy something to take home and cook yourself.
The first floor café and bar is the right fit for any time of the day. Snack on a variety of rice fritters, which take you on a tour of Italian flavors, or choose from an assortment of salads and sandwiches with fresh, high-quality meats, cheese and greens. From pork shoulder to house-smoked sturgeon, to a flavorful rustic bread, to veal and pork meatballs in a subtle tomato sauce, you’ll find yourself wanting to over-order and try it all. Luckily, the attentive staff is there to guide you to the right-sized conclusion.
Dinner in the trattoria was even more of a treat. In a world of Italian restaurants that ladle on the marinara or drown their pasta in cream, Officina offers a simpler cuisine where you can actually taste the featured ingredient. The burrata stands on its own with only a hint of herbs, allowing you to enjoy its fresh taste and unique texture. The artichoke hearts on the dinner menu taste deliciously like artichokes—not like butter or marinade—while the artichokes served in the café come with a fried parsley with a crunch and taste that puts kale chips to shame. The calamari isn’t caked in corn meal like we so often see, and the chargrilled octopus was barely spiced and nicely grilled. While not quite as succulent as the octopus at other establishments, it was still refreshing to be able to taste the natural flavor of the seafood on the menu, instead of being overwhelmed by breading and sauce.
The dinner menu is split into nine sections, with hundreds of combinations for placing an order. This is an evolution away from the stale, same-old choices of appetizer, entrée and dessert. This menu is meant for touring, from a variety of charcuterie and cheese, to options for truffles, a seafood section, lamb, pork, cuts of steak, veal, chicken and even tripe. Don’t forget to order the family-style sides, with simple and fresh ingredients. Of course, at the center of all of this is the pasta section, featuring a combination of house-made pastas as well as pasta shipped directly from the Campania region in southwest Italy.
To be sure, there are still needed tweaks. The bread was not ready when the kitchen opened for dinner, meaning the bread basket didn’t arrive until after our first course was already on the table. Also, while I do enjoy 80’s pop as much as the next Gen-X’er, the all-80’s playlist seemed incongruous with the look and feel of the rest of the establishment’s environment.
Of course, at an Italian-inspired restaurant as splendid as Officina, you have to try the vino, and I found the dry, light-bodied Soave pairing perfectly with the lighter fare and seafood. The menu also features signature cocktails and Italian beer, and on the second floor you’ll find DC’s only Amaro Library, featuring a multitude of Italian elixirs. When in Rome…, right?
The price point is to be expected—it’s consistent with many of our new restaurants at the Wharf. But if you would rather avoid the cost of dining out, pick up food to make at home at the market on the first floor, and you’ll be glad you did.
Finally, if you’re looking to lounge, the open-air rooftop bar is as comfortable as they come, with a terrific view of the Channel. With firepits and even complimentary blankets, they are able to keep the rooftop open even on a chilly November night.
Officina really is more of a workshop, as the name means, than a restaurant. The options are abundant, but the flavor and feel is simple and wholesome. Take the trip to Officina. You’ll enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
By Mike Goodman