Dinner at Dino by way of San Marco

I really want to like Dino. Owner Dean Gold seems like such an interesting man, a true epicure, and his articles on Slow Travel show an appreciation for my favorite Italian city, Venice, which was further evinced by his using as the mascot for his restaurant its famous Lion of San Marco.

Unfortunately for me, what with the desire of the Cleveland Park neighborhood for a convivial enoteca and the Bush twins buying lion t-shirts, now everyone really likes Dino. Just like the tourist hordes that crowd Piazza San Marco! On a Saturday night it was jam-packed, including a large party in the private room, which made service painfully slow (a forty-five minute wait between appetizer and entree) and more than a little clumsy. This also made for an extremely noisy experience upstairs as people raised their voices high to be heard above the din.

My group of friends and I agreed that if we had only stayed at the little bar downstairs, our experience would have been perfect. We started out there with a great bartender who made perfect bellini for us and set out a plate of assorted crostini, taking us back to our Venetian holiday. I’d highly recommend the bar area, or aim to have your meal on off-peak hours.

The overall decor is rather basic, which is a pity as Yanyu, the restaurant that used to occupy the space, was one of the more elegant in the city. But that isn’t Dino’s aim, I suspect, which is more to have a comfortable, casual eatery with a focus on fresh ingredients and an amazing wine list. It doesn’t aim to be another high-end Italian restaurant, or a red-checkered tablecloth one, but somewhere in between.

Almost all of us were seduced by the Insalata di Mela, an apple salad with the holy trifecta of goat cheese, hazelnuts, and truffles. I had a savory special of pasta with gorgonzola. A friend particularly raved about her juicy pork loin, but another’s was too dry. Again, perhaps the crowd hampered consistency.

Now, a disclaimer – my grandfather was Torinese, I love eating in Italy, and it’s the main cuisine that I myself cook. So if I have a meal that I think – delicious, sure, but I could easily have made that myself – well, it’s satisfying but not earth-shattering. But again, I suspect the aim of Dino is to be satisfying and comforting, not a mind-blowing culinary circus.

Upon leaving we saw Dean himself working the front room with ease and a big smile. I’m happy that Dino’s a success, and I would return for cicchetti e l’ombra… but on a quiet night.

3 Comments so far

  1. Jen (unregistered) on February 17th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    I’ve been to Dino three times, and all have been exceptional. My reservations each time have been honored in a punctual manner.

  2. Jenn L (unregistered) on February 17th, 2006 @ 5:02 pm

    Well Jen, that gives me hope it was just an off night service-wise.

    It wasn’t our reservation that was in question but the long wait between courses. When we asked the server what was going on he grimaced, apologized, and said it was crowded.

    So perhaps our group’s experience was an isolated one, but I’ll have to return myself to test it.

  3. Goose (unregistered) on February 19th, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

    The time I went to Dino, the service and food were both perfect. We were seated as soon as we arrived (a few minutes before our reservation). Dean came by a few times to check on our party and make wine recommendations for each course (I love 3-oz pours). We all really enjoyed ourselves.

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