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[Photo: Fiola]

I finally made it to Fiola in Penn Quarter last week, after much anticipation and calls to ensure that there would options for vegetarianizing the meat- and seafood-heavy menu.

When we arrived our server graciously pointed out items that were or could be made vegetarian, which included four appetizers and two main courses. Although I’m normally not drawn to salads at nice restaurants (I can eat salad at home!), the baby lettuce sounded amazing. We settled on the buffalo mozarella as our second starter, passing over chestnut chanterelle soup and a special of farmstead cheese with port wine raisins, meant to be shared.

The salad looked and tasted like it came from some sort of pixie forest, with sweet little beans, buttery almonds, tender puntarelle shoots, pears that tasted like sorbet, and savory cheese:

Salad of baby lettuces, Forelle pears, tiny grean beans, La Tur cheese, and almonds

Salad of puntarelle, baby lettuces, Forelle pears, tiny grean beans, La Tur cheese, and almonds

Buffalo mozzarella was served with pesto genovese, apples, and beets, which were surprising and delicious. The portions of both appetizers were generous (in contrast to the two spoonfuls of mushrooms served at Bibiana) but not overly filling.

Buffalo mozzarella

Buffalo mozzarella

For my main course, I ended up choosing risotto with saffron and wild mushrooms (made with vegetable stock) over cavatelli with roasted tomatoes and pecorino.

The risotto was creamy and fragrant and very rich, with no skimping on the saffron:

Saffron with risotto and wild mushrooms

Risotto with saffron and wild mushrooms

The textures and flavors were perfect, and well-complemented by sweet wild mushrooms. Still, I kind of ended up wishing that I had tried the pasta, which is made in house and gets all kinds of rave reviews. More on this later.

Next, it was time to pick dessert, a tough decision when faced with pear panna cotta with bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup, a Mallorcan brioche with Tahitian vanilla gelato and caramel cream, and olive oil gelato. We settled on the ricotta doughnuts, called bomboloni, which were fluffy, lemony, and warm. UPDATE: apparently the Mallorcan brioche is made with lard!



Sandwiching in gooey pieces of deep salted caramel and spoonfuls of burnt caramel gelato made for the perfect end to our meal.

With salted caramel and burnt honey gelato

With salted caramel and burnt honey gelato

So where did that leave us? Satisfied and full, yes, but the special-occasion prices would be much more justifiable if the dinner menu included some expressly vegetarian entrees. Or if the kitchen thought up some off-the-menu alternatives for diners who identify themselves as vegetarian when making a reservation. Instead, you’re left ordering this-excluding-that and waiting to see what the chef decides to substitute in. Given the fact that the lunch menu has vegetarian pasta options, it’s a shame that they don’t make it on to the selections for dinner.

It was still a lovely meal, and I do still want to try the pasta (Tom Sietsema and Todd Kliman both call it “divine”). Next time I’ll go for an indulgent weekday lunch and order peppery cacio & pepe or paccheri with tomato and mozzarella.

601 Pennsylvania Ave NW (entrance at 678 Indiana Ave)