Image: Risotto Nero with fried seafood.
Last Updated: 8/16/2020
Current Status: Re-opened for sit-down, take-out and delivery.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: September 2019
Modena replaced Bibiana in September 2019. It is still the same owner, still Italian cuisine, and the décor did not change that much. Bibiana went through a few chefs in its ten-year run and even went through a renovation. Modena feels like another revamp of Bibiana. That is a good thing. Bibiana was excellent in our book and probably underrated by others. Each time it refreshed it returned to excellence, and that is true this time with a new name. Hopefully, Modena marks less a radical change and more a shift to stability.
With the change, owner Ashok Bajaj brought Chef John Melfi back in to his fold. Melfi was at Bajaj’s Oval Room for many years and did very good work there. He bounced around for the last couple years, including a stint at Fiola. The dishes at Modena are substantial with elements of finesse. The new gimmick is a trolley of antipasti with several choices of light starters like salads, artichokes, olives and a light-ish ricotta tart. They are all classic Italian ingredient-focused choices that work well (and shift some pressure off the kitchen during service). The pasta list reads pretty heavy with ragu, truffles, and guanciale. Even the seafood versions get deeper, lower register notes like sea urchin or pancetta. There are a handful of mains course dishes too. The veal with chanterelles and sweetbreads was subtle with a touch of richness and hint of cheese sauce. Despite traditional elements and techniques, Mefli is still exploring combinations. I expect the seasons will bring changes and prompt another visit.
The beverage program carries over Bibiana’s strengths as well. The Italian-focused wine list is deeper than you might expect with many options in the double digits, some of them quite good. There are also good cocktails and a decent selection of Amaro and grappa. The service is attentive with lots of Italian accents.
With Sfloglina, Tosca, and Centrolina in the area, Modena faces stiff competition. It deserves to be in the mix. Modena is named after the city in Emilia-Romagna, the great food region of Italy. It is doing right by its name.
Other guidance: The dress is the classic downtown mixture of professionals and tourists with no implied standard. There are gluten-free options including for pasta. Vegetarians can also do well.
Rating: Worth Paying for Cab
Location: 1100 New York Avenue, NW (but the street address is a lie, it’s on the corner of 12th and H)
Washington Post: No review yet, Tom’s Bibiana ranking was 2-3 over the years.