Inside Il Piatto, the elegant new poem of downtown Italy

Mirabell, the French luxury restaurant Hakan Ilhan’s destination for expensive meals near the White House since 2017, never appeared after the pandemic-induced shutdown. Now the glamorous downtown space is ready to shine once again as an affordable and accessible Italian restaurant led by the Al Crostino alum.

Il Piatto, which means “dish” in Italian, swings open Thursday 23 June for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch just outside the gate (900 16th Street NW).

Executive Chef Il Piatto Lina Nicolai hails from Naples, Italy.
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For new executive chef Lina Nikolai, 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 famous family-owned facility in Shaw closed due to the pandemic. A chance meeting with Paul Zaiontz, a regular at Al Crostino, gave her the opportunity at Il Piatto, where Zaiontz is now general manager.

“I’m an Italian chef and I see myself as one,” says Nikolai. “The food is all Italian, but I’ll draw a bit from Italian-American influences and modern expression.”

The comfort food menu begins with an array of appetizers, including homemade meatballs, fried risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella (arancini) and “pera en camica” – poached pears served with radicchio, goat cheese and balsamic sauce. Pasta mains (about $20) include classic fettuccine alla bolognese, ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce, and maltagliti funghi, which features flat noodles mixed with a mixture of mushrooms.

She also makes space on her menu to showcase her southern Italian roots. Regional classics include pesce al cartoccio – white fish baked with zucchini, onions and white wine – and grilled lamb chops. Other main dishes include eggplant parmigiana, rosemary and thyme New York steak, and chicken Milanese with arugula salad.

Chicken Parmesan at Il Piatto.
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Eggplant Parmesan at Il Piatto.
Ray Lopez for The Plate

The restaurant’s main location at the corner of 16th and Eye Street NW places it right on the border of Black Lives Matter Plaza, which Ilhan says creates an opportunity to catch a new crowd of tourists. Il Piatto also hopes to take advantage of the 9 to 5 traffic that’s slowly flowing into office buildings downtown.

“We wanted to offer a value-oriented price point and comfort food that people will know,” says owner Ilhan, who announced his pasta-centric replacement for Mirabelle a year ago.

The owner of the dish is Hakan Ilhan.
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The original 4,300-square-foot mirrored and gold-toned Mid-Century space from Norris Design Studio has remained largely the same, aside from intentional omissions. There are no more white tablecloths on site, which speaks to its casual and welcoming identity as Il Piatto.

“I want to bring that feeling of familiarity and comfort when you enter the restaurant, whether you are a regular or a visitor,” says Nikolai.

Ilhan says Italian food is his favourite. His portfolio already covers the cuisine at top Northwest’s Al Dente—a favorite of Dr. Anthony Fauci during the pandemic. He also runs the Turkish-inspired Ottoman taverna and the French brasserie Liberty in Georgetown.

The original décor, such as reptile red upholstery and a custom brass-and-wood chandelier that hovered over a Carrara marble flooring installation, was untouched.
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Spacious outdoor patio along 16th Street NW seats 60 guests.
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Salmon with roasted potatoes, asparagus and salmoreglio sauce.
Ray Lopez for The Plate

This weekend brunch kicks off with Italian Eggs Benedict with Prosciutto, Italian Shakshuka and Tiramisu French Bread (11am-4pm).

The wine list that swings largely Italian and local doesn’t break the bank either. Glass cellars stock with a few high-end varieties, but bottles generally start at $35 and wines by the glass range from $11 to $21. Happy hour kicks off weekdays at the 22-seat bar early. From 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., look for snacks like scrambled goat cheese, fried calamari, and Chicken Parmesan crostini ($6 to $10), plus $7 of wine, and $8 of a cocktail.

Happy hour kicks off in the gold-clad bar every weekday at 2:30pm
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Italian classics include Negroni, Godfather (amaretto and Scotch whiskey), homemade limoncello martini, and Aperol spritz. Serve up a one-of-a-kind “make your own” spritz at lunch with a bottle of Prosecco and a peach of Aperol for $34.95.

Italian courses include the classics Milano Mule made with Aperol, Sicilian Melt martini, and margarita built with Grand Marnier. Homemade desserts include limoncello panna cotta, Italian cheesecake, ice cream, and seasonal sorbet.

Lunch will be served Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and dinner will be served at night, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. There is a room for 100 guests in the main dining room and a private dining room for 30 guests.

“We want guests to feel comfortable eating a quick lunch, entertaining customers, having a group dinner, enjoying happy hour at the bar, or bringing their friends over for a weekend brunch,” says Ilhan.

Boiled pear with radicchio, goat cheese and balsamic sauce.
Ray Lopez for The Plate

—Terney Plumb contributed to this report

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