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Nestled between wholesalers selling cosmetics, fruits, and electronics in the Union Market area, there’s a metal gate along a tall wooden wall with nicely manicured flowers out front. Beyond it, you’ll find chef Nick Stefanelli‘s oasis of an Italian restaurant, Masseria, in what used to be a concrete-walled produce warehouse. The former Bibiana chef will open the restaurant on July 21 with a limited menu and limited seatings. The official grand opening is slated for Aug. 4.
“We wanted to keep it secluded so when everybody was inside, you had no idea what was going on outside,” Stefanelli says. He adds that the neighborhood reminds him of New York’s Meatpacking District 15 to 20 years ago: “It had a lot of that grit and rawness and edge to it, and at night it was totally empty… It had that kind of risqué cachet that was really cool to be a part of.”
The restaurant has a large patio in front with grey sofas where guests can drink cocktails and snack on Italian cheese plates, arancini (fried rice balls), meatballs, and more. A section of the outdoor space has a retractable awning and will soon get sliding glass doors, so that the space can be enclosed. An indoor-outdoor bar straddles the patio and the dining room. Bar Manager Julien-Pierre Bourgon, formerly of PX, will focus on classic Italian cocktails. Look out for a sgroppino, a lemon sorbet and vodka cocktail topped off with Prosecco. For smokers, there will also be a cigar menu from W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist.
The inside 42-seat dining room will offer no à la carte options (although some individual dishes will be available at the bar). Instead, diners must choose from three- and five-course menus, which will cost $62 and $85, respectively. An eight-course option will be added later. Diners will choose from a selection of appetizers, fish, meat, and pasta. If you want to only eat pasta, you can order five courses of pasta.
Among the dishes to expect: beef tripe braised for six hours in a slightly spicy Sicilian fish stew and topped with olive-oil poached lobster. “It takes on all these flavors of the sea, and it reminds me of jellyfish when you eat Chinese food,” Stefanelli says. “Even if you don’t like tripe, you’re going to be very pleasantly surprised by it.” There will also be a linguini with an Italian twist on Chinese XO sauce inspired by Stefanelli’s travels to Asia. “It adds this unique umami flavor that you wouldn’t necessarily think of,” he says.
In addition, a six-person chef’s table next to the kitchen will offer a special eight- to 10-course meal starting at $150. “We work around dietary restrictions and restraints, but other than that, we just feed you,” Stefanelli says.
So why focus almost exclusively on prix-fixe menus?
“We know we’re a destination,” Stefanelli says. “We don’t have foot traffic here like you do if you’re on 14th Street, so we want to make sure we’re delivering an experience that everyone can really enjoy. It’s like you’re coming to my house to eat. I want you to be able to experience everything that we’re offering.”
Take a look at the space below:
Masseria, 1430 4th St. NE; (202) 608-5959; masseria-dc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman