Mirabelle, mega D.C. restaurateur Hakan Ilhan’s fine-dining French destination for pricey prix-fixe meals near the White House since 2017, never reemerged from its pandemic-caused closure. Now the glamorous downtown space is ready to shine again as a more affordable and approachable Italian restaurant led by an Al Crostino alum.
Il Piatto, which means “the dish” in Italian, swings open on Thursday, June 23 for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch out of the gate (900 16th Street NW).
For newly named executive chef Lina Nicolai, cooking is a family affair that began in her hometown of Naples, Italy. In 2012, she teamed up with her mother to open Al Crostino, but the popular family-owned fixture in Shaw shuttered due to the pandemic. A chance meeting with Paul Zaiontz, a regular at Al Crostino, opened her up to the opportunity at Il Piatto, where Zaiontz now serves as general manager.
“I am an Italian chef and I view myself as one,” says Nicolai. “The food is all Italian, but I will be drawing a little bit from the American Italian influences and a modern expression.”
The comforting menu kicks off with an array of appetizers, including homemade meatballs, fried risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella (arancini), and “pera in camica” — a poached pear served with radicchio, goat cheese, and balsamic dressing. Pasta mains (around $20) include a classic fettuccine alla Bolognese, ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce, and Maltagliati funghi, featuring flat noodles mixed with a medley of mushrooms.
She also carves out room on the a la carte menu to showcase her Southern Italian roots. Regional classics include pesce al cartoccio — a white fish baked with zucchini, onion, and white wine — and pan-seared lamb chops. Other mains include eggplant parmigiana, rosemary-thyme New York strip steak, and chicken Milanese with arugula salad.
The restaurant’s prime location at the corner of 16th and Eye Street NW puts it right on the border of Black Lives Matter Plaza, which Ilhan says creates an opportunity to capture a new crowd of tourists. Il Piatto also hopes to benefit from 9-to-5 traffic slowly trickling back into their downtown office buildings.
“We wanted to bring in a value-oriented price point and comfort food that people are familiar with,” says owner Ilhan, who announced his pasta-centric replacement to Mirabelle a year ago.
The 4,300-square-foot space’s original mirrored-and-gold midcentury look from Norris Design Studio largely stayed the same, aside from one intentional deletion. There’s no more white tablecloths on-site, which speaks to its more casual, welcoming identity as Il Piatto.
“I want to bring that feeling of familiarity and comfort when you walk into the restaurant, whether you are a regular or a visitor,” says Nicolai.
Ilhan says Italian food is his personal favorite. His portfolio already covers the cuisine at upper Northwest’s Al Dente — a takeout favorite of Dr. Anthony Fauci during the pandemic. He also runs Turkish-inspired Ottoman Taverna and French-themed Brasserie Liberté in Georgetown.
Brunch kicks off this weekend with Italian eggs Benedict with prosciutto, Italian shakshuka, and tiramisu French toast (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
A wine list that largely swings Italian and domestic doesn’t break the bank. Glassy cellars are stocked with a few higher-end varietals, but bottles generally start at $35 and wines by the glass run $11 to $21. Weekday happy hour at its 22-seat bar kicks off early. From 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., find snacks like whipped goat cheese, fried calamari, and chicken Parmesan crostini ($6 to $10), plus $7 wines, and $8 cocktails.
Italian classics include a Negroni, Godfather (amaretto and Scotch whiskey), a homemade limoncello martini, and Aperol spritz. A unique “build-your-own” spritz kit offering at brunch comes with a bottle of prosecco and a carafe of Aperol for $34.95.
Italian spins on classics include an Aperol-spiked Milano Mule, a Sicilian Melt martini, and margarita built with Grand Marnier. Homemade desserts include a limoncello panna cotta, Italian cheesecake, and seasonal ice cream and sorbets.
Lunch will be served Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner will be served nightly, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. There’s room for 100 guests in the main dining room and a private dining room for 30 guests.
“We want guests to feel comfortable having a quick lunch, entertaining clients, group dinners, grabbing happy hour at the bar, or bringing their friends for brunch on the weekends,” says Ilhan.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report