I missed him at Maestro, but I’ve been a fan of Fabio Trabocchi’s for a few years now and have followed him from Fiamma to the Four Seasons and finally to Fiola. Few prepare food better or more beautifully. Fiamma was a fine introduction to his modern Italian cooking, while the meal he cooked for me at The Four Seasons was easily one of the best I’ve had in recent years. It’s too bad that shortly after he was fired because the restaurant was reluctant to change its ways. Go figure!
It should be no surprise that whenI recently visited Washington DC, Fiola was at the top of my list of restaurants that I had to visit. After a little trouble finding it (Fiola has an address that does not exactly jibe with its location – the address reads Pennsylvania Avenue, but the entrance is more easily accessed via Indiana Avenue), our party of five was seated at a large, oval, shiny, wood-topped table overlooking the rest of the plush dining room.
Though the tables sport no cloths, don’t mistake Fiola for an informal dining room or an inelegant restaurant. Fiola is all about a return to elegance, in every respect. The service was accommodating and en pointe; the dishes, utensils and glassware were all of fine caliber; and the food and wines were both luxurious and heavenly. We started with an Italian sparkler, the 2002 Ferrari “Perle” Metodo Classico, Brut from Trento, Italy, Like its vintage cousins from the Champagne region of France, this had delicate, fine bubbles, wonderful acidity and a beautiful yeasty caramelization that made this a very enjoyable beverage and a fine pairing for the dish that followed it to the table.
Belon oysters originated off the coast of Europe, but recently have been raised in Maine. Trabocchi served his Maine belons with a limoncello granita that also contained a touch of yuzu. It was a most refreshing bite, especially when washed down with the flavorful Ferrari.
The art of blending flavors is what separates great chefs from merely good. Trabocchi’s blending of chunks of marinated ahi tuna and fresh Italian San Marzano tomatoes was absolutely masterful. The colors, the textures and the flavors combined to flow effortlessly from one into the other. The dominant notes were of refined sweetness balanced by the sultry acidic strings of yuzu and lemon, mild oniony flavor of chives, brininess of Taggiasca olives and the melodic sour notes of sorrel cream. This was a dish that was generously portioned and we were the happier for it. Had it been served as a single bite, it would have been too much a tease, but here as a full portion, our collective lust was satisfied. The net effect was that of a spectacularly good Caprese Salad finished with a really nice citrus zing. The crisp acidity and perfumed floral and violet notes of the 2011 “Clos de Capucins” Reserve Pinot Blanc from Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, France blended seamlessly with the wonderful preparation.
As wonderful as the tuna and tomatoes were, the most sensual dish of the evening was Trabocchi’s morsels of pure pleasure – his Maine lobster ravioli. Paired with Isole e Olena, “Collezione Privata”, Chardonnay, Tuscany, Italy 2010, the ravioli were mind-meltingly delicious. The lobster was cooked to the perfect texture – tender, but still with sufficient firmness, while the rice flour pasta was exquisite – thin, pliant and again with perfect texture. Lobster is an ingredient that is easy to please with, but difficult to make truly stand out. I can not imagine it being used to achieve more delicious results than with how Chef Trabocchi prepared it in this dish, one of the very best I’ve had this year. The very Burgundian, relatively low-oaked wine was a superb complement, enhancing the dish without drawing too much attention away from it.
We could tell that foie gras coming by the glass that was placed at our table settings. The wine was the superb and delicate Klein Constantia “Vin de Constance” 2006 from South Africa. A sweet and floral wine with charming acidity, it was one of the first wines to garner acclaim from South Africa. This just happened to be centuries ago when it was in demand amongst the royal courts of Europe as the major competitor to Chateau d’Yquem. It had been praised by Jane Austen for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart.” Neither our hearts nor our palates were disappointed by the classic sweet and sour preparation of the seared Hudson Valley foie gras that laid atop port-soaked crostini along with Manodori Balsamico and black mission figs and under a hazelnut tuile. It was a huge piece of foie gras that started to put a serious dent upon our appetites.
The lobster ravioli was a near impossible dish to follow, because it was sooo delicious and then there was the magnificent foie gras, especially since both servings were substantial and quite rich. Yet, Trabochi managed to do so with alacrity and a bit of surprise. This dish broke two old taboos – cheese and red wine with fish. The silken fish was covered under an avalanche of white truffle shavings and slices and a red wine demi-glaze and served atop a cheesey, white truffle risotto.
The proscription against red wine with seafood went out the window a long time ago and it is because of pairings like the one that was poured here. I don’t typically think of a Barbaresco or any other Nebbiolo with fish, but given the earthiness of the truffles and the umami of the cheese, not to mention the deep flavor of the sablefish, it proved to be a great choice. The old-world styled, anti-Parker wine had been decanted for about two hours before it was served to us, allowing the subtleties of its secrets to arise in an optimal fashion. It was the little touches like this that really helped to elevate this meal into the realm of the truly spectacular.
By this time the sheer quantity of delicious, rich food was beginning to smoke our remaining appetites, but Fabio Trabocchi still had another trick up his sleeve. At the Four Seasons, I had a dish of pine-smoked lamb that was pure delight. This time, Trabocchi mixed it up with venison in lieu of the lamb and added the umami bomb of exquisite matsutake mushrooms to send it careening lustily over the top. The pairing with Ciacci Piccolomini, “Pianrosso” Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2007 was classic and none the worse for that. The wine was bold, sanguine and hearty, a beautiful example of a young Brunello from an excellent vintage. The key component of the dish that lightened it and brought it all together was the hint of lemon on the matsutake mushrooms.
The transition was made to dessert with this refreshing vanilla and mint granita. Tom Wellings, who had been Trabocchi’s pastry chef at Maestro and at Fiamma recently rejoined him at Fiola. This was a tasty reintroduction to his work.
Even tastier was this Tartufo di Cicoolato, chocolate mousse with cacao powder painted on the outside and tempered chocolate on top. Within was warm Amadei chocolate and underneath crunchy chocolate pearls. It was a true tour de force of chocolate, both in flavor and texture, reminding me of the reaction I had the first time I had ever had a chocolate fondant cake (at Jean-Georges). As if that were not enough, it was accompanied by hazelnut/olive oil gelato on the side. It was delightfully paired with the fun and light sweet sparkler, Giacomo Bologna, “Braida” Brachetto D’Acqui, Piemonte, Italy 2010. This was not a powerhouse wine, but it was perfect for this elegant chocolate dessert.
Our meal finished with these mignardises, apple cider bon bons with apple cider ice cream in the center and macarons. It was a tremendous way to finish a tremendous meal.
Chef Fabio Trabocchi can bring it with anybody. This was an incredible meal – luxurious, elegant and delicious. One thing it wasn’t , however, was cheap, but then a meal of this quality with these ingredients in a setting as lovely as Fiola and with service as soigné as we had can’t be cheap or even inexpensive. That is not saying that it wasn’t worth the expense or that it didn’t represent good value. It was and it did. A meal like this is not something that I can do anymore with any frequency, both because of its rich calorie count and its rich cost. Nevertheless, I am glad that I finally got a chance to revisit one of the most talented chefs around doing what he wants to do in his own restaurant. It’s too bad that The Four Seasons didn’t work out, but that is their loss and New York City’s too. Fortunately for the rest of the world Fabio Trabocchi continues to make fantastically fine food.