American cities like New York and DC have no shortage of Italian restaurants, from old school red sauce joints to swanky modern fine dining institutions, and Italian is one of the safer and more predictable cuisines to navigate when dining out. So when another new Italian restaurant opens around our vicinity, my wife Jun and I are more often than not inclined to just skip the trip. Caruso’s Grocery, one of the highly anticipated openings from last year, was an exception as I kept hearing positive things about the restaurant led by chef Matt Adler who trained under the acclaimed NYC chef Michael White of the Marea fame and wanted to present his vision of soulful Italian American cooking. Overall, the dining experience at Caruso’s Grocery was solid, with one big miss, however.
The culinary philosophy at Caruso’s Grocery is uncomplicated Italian food a typical American would have grown up eating. There is no fancy ingredient or technique shown in the menu, which means the kitchen is really focusing on ingredient and execution. Caruso’s Grocery achieves that objective mostly, with very aptly fried semolina dusted calamari providing a great starter for the night, followed by layers of mozzarella and bread. For pasta, we were both compelled to try the spicy Neapolitan ragu with fresh bucatini pasta and whipped ricotta. In retrospect, we should have taken up on the offer from the menu to let our server known how extra spicy we wanted the dish to be since the ragu was not quite as spicy as we had hoped, but otherwise the pasta was solid with hearty feel. The big miss from the night was veal francaise of egg and parmesan battered veal cutlets along with market vegetables. The flavor of the dish was fine; it was the texture of the meat that was an issue as we both struggled to chew it, making us wonder whether this was part of the tradition of veal francaise (which I hope it is not!). Between the two desserts that we ordered, we liked the Brooklyn style cheesecake with strawberry sauce better than the tiramisu which we were hoping to be a bit more moist on the inside.
Caruso’s Grocery has been a popular dining destination in DC since its opening, so getting a reservation in advance is highly recommended. We liked the overall décor and vibe of the restaurant, with its wall decorated with black and white photos without being a too cliché old-school red sauce joint. I wish the restaurant had some more extensive Italian wine selections, but the cocktails we tried were quite well-made (and potent). Caruso’s Grocery offers a good quality dining experience if you are obsessed with Italian food. In terms of whether it gives you a wow moment, I will have to reserve my judgment for now.
KenScale: 7.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.5/10)
Address: 914 14th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Reservation via OpenTable