The gritty Union Market neighbourhood in Washington DC was the last place I expected to find a chic, design-led restaurant – let alone an authentic slice of southern Italy. But that is what I found in Masseria: a hidden gem recommended to me by a foodie friend that impressed with its exquisitely prepared, modern take on Puglian cuisine.
With its charming courtyard entrance – the perfect spot to savour one of the delicious sorbet-infused cocktails – and bustling dining room, Masseria offers a multicourse dining experience that is one of my culinary highlights of the past year. The whole place, overseen by stylish chef/owner Nicholas Stefanelli, has an air of La Dolce Vita about it, from the vintage yellow-checkered linens to the Versace china and blue-mohair-swathed leather banquettes.
Seated at the large marble-topped bar – the ideal spot to watch the lively kitchen in action – we perused the five- and six-course menus ($95 for five courses, $125 for six and an additional $85 for wine pairings). On the night of our visit we were delighted by antipasti of prawn crudo with seaweed, chickpea and Meyer lemon cream, as well as jumbo white asparagus served with a pancetta vinaigrette, cured egg yolk and a honey red wine reduction – all expounded upon by the delightful Stefanelli, who swirls around the room and delights in explaining the specials and locally sourced ingredients del giorno.
Pastas are the real highlight here: Stefanelli’s signature dish is a linguine in a spicy XO sauce, garnished with oil, chilli peppers and bread crumbs. Mains of Mediterranean amberjack – simply flavoured by bursting cherry tomatoes and basil – and a tender, 30-day-aged rib-eye steak with olive oil and crushed potatoes were excellent as well. We opted out of the wine pairings, but did dabble in the decadent desserts, including the poached rhubarb with a delicate rose yoghurt gelato, and left, thoroughly sated, after two sensory-filled hours.