There are a lot of new restaurants opening up in D.C. these days and many are focused on Italian cuisine.
It’s a no-brainer, in some ways, because Italy offers a wide array of options, from the northeastern part of the country near Austria and Hungary, where dishes can include sauerkraut and spicy sausages, to the wild boar dishes of Sardinia, to potato gnocchi tossed in pesto in Liguria. There’s a lot to work with.
Chef Michael Schlow already had three other restaurants in D.C. — including the Italian-focused Alta Strada that opened this past spring — before opening Casolare (2505 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.) in July in the Glover Park Hotel. Having grown up in Italian neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, it’s a cuisine that he clearly loves, understanding that there isn’t a single dish that can represent the entire country, so it’s no surprise that there is little overlap between Alta Strada and Casolare’s menus. While Alta Strada has embraced its downtown location near the Convention Center with gusto, including offering a late night menu for concert, theater and movie-goers, the vibe at Casolare is distinctly laid-back, reflecting its Glover Park neighborhood perched outside of most of D.C.’s night life.
“We wanted this to be a place where local families could come for dinner on a school night,” Schlow says, “and where a hotel guest could wander down from their room and get a really good meal.”
The focus at Casolare is on coastal cuisine, but, as Schlow points out, that means a lot of different kinds of food when you consider that Italy has more than 4,700 miles of coastline. It’s also not a seafood restaurant, because Italians typically view proteins as more of an accompaniment rather than the star of the plate, so the menu is truly the kind where there is something for everyone, from vegan to carnivore to gluten-free. Grilled octopus with potatoes, scallions and lemon has a homestyle brightness, while Mama Zecca’s eggplant is a glorious version of a traditional eggplant parmesan, paper-thin layers of tender eggplant with tomato sauce and the minimum of cheese, cooked slowly to allow the flavors to fully meld.
Overall, you’ll find a lighter menu at Casolare, emphasizing fresh notes of citrus, herbs and chiles, while touches of anchovy, cured olives and capers add a salty depth to vegetables, seafood and meat. Orecchiette, the pillowy ear-shaped pasta from Apulia in southern Italy, is paired with roasted cauliflower, chiles, grana padano cheese and crisp bread crumbs, while the marinara pizza is perfectly simple and completely vegan — just tomato, garlic and aromatic oregano on a crisp crust, so flavorful you won’t even miss the cheese.
“I don’t like soft, squishy pizza,” Schlow says. “I prefer pizza with some snap.”
The Italian word “casolare” translates to “cottage” in English, and with rustic wood accents and burlap-wrapped light fixtures, the restaurant feels decidedly homey, while the richly pigmented semi-abstract paintings lining the walls, by Schlow’s wife, artist Adrienne Schlow, provide contemporary focal points within the calming interior.
“Each painting is specific to its placement on the wall,” Schlow says. “I like the idea of art creating a dialogue with diners in a dining room.”
With an evolving cocktail menu — and the bar is a pretty nice place to sit for a drink and even a meal, accented by a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Wisconsin Avenue — look for Italian cocktails on draft featuring Campari, including Americano, Spagliato (a prosecco-based version of the classic Negroni cocktail, which is also available), Old Pal and Boulevardier, as well as signature drinks like the Savoy Sour, made with gin, Aperol, chamomile, lemon and lavender bitters.
Casolare is currently open for dinner seven days a week and plans to expand soon to offer both breakfast and lunch; the promise of an organic brown rice bowl topped with poached eggs, avocado, radish, bacon and tiny tomatoes might just lure me back to Glover Park for breakfast sooner than later.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage writer; follow her kitchen adventures @kristenhartke.