Washingtonian Restaurant Review - Thomas Head - July 2003

At a time when some Italian restaurants are reaching price levels that approach those of high-class French dining, it's refreshing to find a place that serves good Italian cooking at reasonable prices. San Marco, once named Veneziano, is simply decorated and in the hands of its personable owner has become a neighborhood institution, the small bar often occupied by locals who come in for a glass of wine and a chat.

A meal starts with a basket of bread and focaccia with a pleasant olive oil for dipping. Appetizers are a blend of the seasonal and the familiar--a plate of beautifully cooked asparagus with vinaigrette; hand-sliced, very flavorful carpaccio; a generous plate of freshly roasted peppers with prosciutto.

The real bargains are pastas, cooked al dente and sauced with care. Fusilli amatriciana is everything it should be, with a spritely tomato sauce and just a hint of pepper. Linguine with white clam sauce won't win prizes for originality, but it's delicious. Lamb chops are cooked medium rare, exactly as ordered. Desserts include the usual tiramisu, cannoli, and gelato. The wine list has a number of good choices in the $20 range. It's the kind of Italian restaurant we'd all like to have in the neighborhood.

That's buono Italian! - David Garver, in the Washington Blade May 9,2003 - an excerpt

ONE THING WASHINGTON has far too few of is neighborhood Italian restaurants. Listrani's, in the Palisades area, and Dupont Italian Kitchen, both of which I've written about here, are just the kinds of places that we could use more of. Add to this list an Adams Morgan gem called San Marco...decorated it with fanciful Venetian masks and bottles of grappa and eaux de vie. It's what my British friends would call "cheap and cheerful" -- not at all a derisive description.

It's easy to dine here on a salad, pasta and a glass of wine for about $20 or less. While you're studying the menu you can munch on bread and focaccia dipped in herb-flavored olive oil, which are promptly delivered to your table.

*****As good as you'll find in this city*****

The soups I've had have been very good, rustic versions of Italian favorites that warm you to the core on cold winter evenings. The minestrone is loaded with generous chunks of fresh vegetables, cooked perfectly to retain their shape and texture.

MORE THAN A dozen fresh pasta dishes and several risotti are on offer.. I loved the agnolotti filled with ricotta and spinach in a walnut cream sauce. The naturally slightly bitter taste of spinach, paired with fragrant walnuts, were just the right counterbalance to the velvety cream sauce.

When I complained in another restaurant that their pasta was overcooked, a waiter told me that it was pre-cooked and reheated before serving. You won't find that outrage at San Marco, where it's sure to be al dente. A rich and creamy penne carbonara was pure comfort. Tomato sauces here are nicely chunky, not overly acidic, and have just the right degree of thickness. The risotti I've tried have been creamy and skillfully tended to avoid overcooking.

Daily specials alternate between such creations as veal scallopini with artichokes and white wine, pork tenderloin with mushroom polenta and a cream brandy sauce, and swordfish or tuna with sliced mushrooms.

Appetizers and soups are priced between $4.50-$6.50; pastas and risotti from $7.75-$9.50 (daily meat and fish specials cost a few dollars more); and desserts $4.50 -$5.00. It's hard to find a restaurant in this price range that delivers satisfying and delicious meals as consistently as San Marco.

Phyllis C. Richman - the Washington Post - an excerpt

You could dine for under $15 on a plate of pasta, a glass of wine and a salad. And the grandest feast the kitchen provides wouldn't go much above $25, all told. The entrees are all pastas except for a daily fish and a veal special, and the appetizers are cold except for a soup and a grilled portobello. San Marco is just the place when you want a dinner that's quick or simple or light, but you don't want to settle for chain-restaurant anonymity. It's primed for the overflow crowd at Pasta Mia, though I wouldn't be surprised to find it developing its own camp.

You won't need an appetizer to fill you up; the portions are hefty. But it's nice to start with something cold and vigorous, perhaps a plate of crimson roast peppers crisscrossed with anchovies or draped with prosciutto under a glisten of olive oil.

The chef, the waiter confides, won a prize for his tuna with mushrooms, and if you're lucky he'll be doing swordfish variation the night you're there. The fish is sliced thin and sauteed with sliced mushrooms so that both are tender enough to nearly melt into other. It's littered with mild white garlic and bright green chives, flecked with herbs and slippery with olive oil, all wonderfully aromatic.

Veal scaloppine is also thin and tender, not full-flavored meat on its own but raised to greater accomplishment by a lemony pan sauce and a topping of asparagus spears and Parmesan, glazed under the broiler. Nor are these entrees left naked on the plate; garlicky broccoli florets with lemon or baby carrots rolled in garlic accompany them, along with a fluff of salad and a few salty black olives. The meat fish, usually around $12, are bargains.

But the long list of pastas and the risotto, all under $10, are hard to pass by...these mounds of pasta show plenty of character. Linguine with clams has a succulent balance wine, lemon, olive oil and clam juice, with chives and red pepper adding just enough bite. The pasta is al dente, and the sauce is just viscous enough to cling to it. Tomato sauces also show a strong dose of personality, in all the usual guises of angel hair, penne arrabiat, fusilli amatriciana and ravioli bolognese. Pesto, carbonara -- over rich and too mild -- and mushroom-cream sauce all make their expected appearances. Risotto is creamy and steeped in the flavor of its mushrooms or shrimp or sausage, sometimes even squid ink. If this cooking is not reaching for stars, it's adept and undeniably Italian.

San Marco is quiet and easygoing, an extremely pleasant neighborhood restaurant. It's just the kind Washington might have by the dozen if we had Italian neighborhoods here.

Italian in Adams Morgan - Josh Gibson,

Any list of quality Italian restaurants in DC must include San Marco, rated by an Italian-American friend and her even more Italian-American parents as excellent. They also have the biggest selection of Grappa in the USA. Check out the bottle signed by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Madeine Albright, and others.

San Marco is at the corner of 18th and Kalorama. It was a perpetual favorite of Phyllis Richman. Also, be sure to get on their mailing list: once a month, they have a special prix fixe multi-course dinner matched expertly with wines and liquors.

The bread selection is limited to crusty Italian bread and olive oil, so you peanut butter and cinnamon raisin bagel folks will have to go elsewhere.


San Marco Restaurant, 2305 18th St., Washington, D.C. 20009 - (202) 483-9300

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