Lupo Verde (1401 T St. N.W.) opened last month after many delays and is one of the newest additions to the 14th Street corridor.
Owned by Med Lalou and Antonio Matarazzo of the Lalou Group, Lupo specializes in rustic Italian fare. It’s a nice thought, but with so many restaurants nearby offering Italian food and pizza, it remains to be seen if it will be able to distinguish itself with its extensive cheese offerings, small plates and dinner plates as large as a whole roasted fish.
This intimate restaurant spans two levels with the first level lounge area dominated by a 15-person bar made of beautiful Carrarra marble. Upon entering, we were brought upstairs to a richly appointed but comfortable dining room with small groupings of tables throughout. The high ceilings and large windows helped open up the space while the brick walls and rich wall coverings kept it warm and inviting. We were seated in the back corner of the upper level with a couple other small groups of diners, a cozy setup that had the one downfall of being able to hear entire conversations.
Chef de Cuisine Domenico Appollaro is a native of Italy who moved to Washington for this position. He graduated from culinary school in Italy and prior to joining the Lupo Verde team, he was executive chef at Eat’s Easy Restaurante in Milan. He has also served as executive chef of Osteria Vista in Lachen Zurich. His culinary career started in 1994 when he began working his summers at Hotel Hermitage in Portoferraio, Italy.
Almost 70 percent of the menu is available to go, including 50 cheeses, five of which will be made in house. Lupo Verde has even adopted a sheep named Lupetta to assist in the onsite cheese making process, so once we were seated it seemed like it was only appropriate to start the dining experience with cheese.
When our waiter approached we asked him to select his favorite cheeses for us to pair with the two meats we had already selected; the handcarved prosciutto de parma and the capocollo picante. He selected three wonderful and pungent cheeses — the semi hard sottocenere del plave, the hard and peppery pecorino pepato and the castelmagno hard cow and sheep blend. The presentation of this cheese board itself is as impressive as the cheeses with all the meats and cheeses smartly labeled and any additional accoutrements you could have wanted included. The board filled a majority of the table as well as the next 20 minutes.
When the waiter sensed we had reached the end of our cheese endeavor he asked if we would like to continue. I was instantly inspired by some of the courses on the menu but I was also torn. Part of me really wanted to enjoy the comforts of what looked like a perfectly prepared lasagna. Instead of making a decision, I ordered the lasagna complete with meatballs, sausage and a creamy béchamel sauce as well as the spezzatino — lamb stew with riso venere and sweet pepper sauce. My dining companion opted for the special pappardelle with a lamb ragu. The gorgeously presented lasagna was a glorious combination of sweet, spicy, rich and creamy with the smoothness of the homemade pasta, the flavors were truly amazing. The only downside was served on the cool side, unfortunately the same temperature issues were evident with the pappardelle as well although the lamb and sauce both had an excellent flavor profile.
I was beginning to wonder if I was going to regret my earlier indecision, but that faded away as soon as the spezzatino was placed in front of us. The chunks of lamb were juicy and tender with a light sweetness that was accentuated by the sweet pepper sauce. The lamb was placed on a bed of riso venere; a rare black rice of Chinese origin that grows in the Piedmont region of Italy. The nutty rich flavor of the rice added another fantastic dimension to this dish and although both of our stomachs were full, we managed to clear the plate.
Ordering two entrées did prevent me from choosing one of the desserts on the menu, but it does provide me with a reason to go back to this restaurant, besides just purchasing abundant amounts of cheese. Hopefully, when I next visit the flavors are just as outstanding as on this visit, the meals are prepped a bit more evenly and served warm, the cheese course continues to be outstanding and I manage to save room for dessert. If all of this happens consistently, then Lupo Verde will be one of 14th Streets premiere restaurants.