This all-American holiday dinner varies greatly throughout the country—and we don’t just mean baked versus fried turkey. Here, we asked top chefs from 15 cities for their own take on local Thanksgiving cuisine.
When Nicholas Stefanelli opened Masseria last year at 1340 4th St. NE, it was a unique entity — a free-standing, destination restaurant near Union Market. Since then, crowds have flocked to the chef’s elevated Italian cuisine — served in three- to six- course tasting menus — as well as for cocktails and wine al fresco.
We ate our way across the country to find the Best New Restaurants of 2016. These were the best things on the menu. As we spent months bouncing from restaurant to restaurant, eating non-stop for our annual Perfect Night Out piece, some things became clear. That we need to work out more. That the burger is rarely the way to go. And that sometimes a restaurant isn’t amazing, but there’s one thing on the menu that rises above the rest, and leaves you drooling whenever you think back on the first bite. For us, these were those dishes.
When the hottest restaurants in town require an Olympian trial of line-waiting, Masseria is an oasis of “takes reservations” in the industrial Union Market neighborhood. You arrive on a sloped street lined with wholesale fashion importers. Then you step into Masseria’s gated courtyard and are transported to Puglia. Chef and owner Nicholas Stefanelli serves traditionally inspired, impeccably modern Italian dishes with a garnish of whimsy: Breads arrive in treasure chests and are ringed around porcelain octopus tentacles. A signature sparkling cocktail is served with a scoop of Belvedere-infused sorbet. And your receipt appears alongside a postcard of Sophia Loren. Come for the linguine with XO sauce, stay for the buttery branzino—or really, any of the seafood dishes. Ambitious stomachs should go for the five-course option with wine pairings, but with the surprises that pop up in between courses, you’ll be more than full.
Conventional wisdom says the silky, slippery charms of fresh Italian pastas are lost to those who need or choose to avoid gluten, because that very protein is what puts the “give” in doughs that are stretched and rolled and shaped to glorious effect. Once cooked, fresh pasta absorbs a sauce, while dried pasta provides a clingy surface for it. There’s nothing quite like it.
Hey, isn’t that… First lady Michelle Obama hanging out with a gal pal at Italian hot spot Masseria on Friday night? Not that FLOTUS typically eats crumpets off the Truman china service, but the restaurant in the once-gritty Union Market neighborhood is still a pretty edgy choice for a diner whose meals sometimes take place in the ornate state dining room of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Chef Nick Stefanelli’s hot new tasting room near Union Market will serve a prix-fixe menu complete with fritto misto (a seafood mixed fry); curried linguine al farouk; and poached cod with tomatoes, onions, and potatoes. As a bonus, every guest is sent home with a house-made pannetone cake.
For this dish, chef-owner Nick Stefanelli marries his love for the traditional Italian pasta preparation of aglio, olio e peperoncino — or “garlic, oil and chiles” — with his time spent cooking in Shanghai. He swaps the chile flakes with his own housemade XO sauce. He sources the prosciutto, dried scallops and dried shrimp from the wholesale markets in the neighborhood, then cooks them with olive oil and garlic for three hours to make a flavorful paste.
Chef Nick Stefanelli makes almost daily visits to Union Market, in Northeast Washington, to pick up ingredients for Masseria, the industrial-chic eatery hidden behind a high wood-plank fence that he opened 2 miles north of the Capitol in July. He turns out winning Pugliese-inspired fare from an open kitchen using his market finds.
A banner year of cooking in Washington has been matched by one of transporting interiors. Consider Masseria, modeled after the country houses in Puglia, Italy, and the first stand-alone restaurant amid the warehouses outside Union Market.
Chef-owner Nick Stefanelli worked with DC-based design firm Grupo-7 to achieve a space that feels modern yet cozy, industrial yet classic — and the result is pure sexy. Plus, the place practically mimics a striptease considering the high wooden wall out front that hides the secret dazzling patio decked with couches and a fire pit.
The indoor/outdoor setting combines the feeling of the Italian countryside with snazzy urban design details, like distressed cement and wood and hip lighting, with a lounge-y courtyard for sipping cocktails and an exhibition kitchen to boot.
The space, says Stefanelli, was designed with both luxury and grit in mind. Think Carrara marble, Wishbone chairs, cement floors and scarred walls or, as Stefanelli puts it, Sophia Loren in post-war Italy.
Masseria is Stefanelli’s first restaurant – a project that has been more than a decade in the making. “Ever since I started cooking, my end goal was always to open up my own place, so we’re finally bringing that dream to fruition,” Stefanelli said in a recent interview.
Executive chef and owner Nicholas Stefanelli made a name for himself as the longtime head of the kitchen at Bibiana, and the chef worked with design firm Grupo 7 to balance the rustic-industrial look he was going for with his first solo outing.
This spring, Emanuel hosted a dinner party for Sarah Weiner, head of the Good Food Awards, and friends from Union Market in Northeast. He went off on yet another rant about lousy brunches in the District, and his friends basically dared him to be a guest chef for a pop-up breakfast at chef Nick Stefanelli’s new restaurant Masseria. “Five minutes later, we had two weekends” planned, Emanuel says.
Masseria has a huge indoor/outdoor courtyard that will be open for a large portion of the year, with flower planters and fire tables - they’ll have blankets in the colder months. There’s an entire cigar menu for the outdoor diners to peruse.
The design of the space, located in the midst of working warehouses near Union Market, takes industrial chic to a new level. A heavy, rust-hued door opens into a courtyard set with outdoor sofas, fire pits, and planters growing basil, rosemary, and sage for the kitchen.
Born and raised in Maryland, Stefanelli made a name for himself at a number of restaurants specializing in Italian cuisine (Maestro in McLean, Fiamma in New York, and Bibiana in DC), where he developed his modern take on classic Italian fare.