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Posted at 3:13 PM ET, 07/26/2006

Finally Lia's

By Erin

In the midst of stagnant summer heat and six months after its anticipated opening, Lia's opened the doors of its breezy Chevy Chase space on Monday. From Geoff Tracy, the man behind Chef Geoff's, the Italian spot (Lia is short for Italia) will attract a diverse crowd. Tracy has mastered the art of the neighborhood restaurant with the uptown location of Chef Geoff's, and this new sister continues the formula. Set in the first floor of a towering office building, the restaurant is spacious -- the kind of place you can hit for a happy hour (think $5 burgers, $8 pizza and big beers for $7) or take your parents for good food in a casual setting.

Much like a grandmotherly Italian trattoria, Lia's aims to be family-friendly. With build-your-own pizzas, pastas, drinks and dessert, plus an array of games, food trivia and jokes on the kids' menu, it should appeal to discerning little ones. Want to know why the donut had to go to the dentist? Guess you'll have to take a kid to Lia's.

I very much like the space. The bar to the left of the host stand is spacious, with televisions and a chalkboard that touts the day's specials. The bar features more than 10 beers on tap and a nice cocktail list, including a pleasing summer peach and strawberry white sangria. On the dining side, the private room is set off by a floor-to-ceiling glass wine wall. With high ceilings, I imagine that it will become noisy, but otherwise, I have few complaints. As for outside seating, the patio sits under an obtrusively loud waterfall, but I'm sure most diners prefer rushing H20 to the typical din of honking cars.

As for the food, the expansive seasonal menu features little touches like fava beans and heirloom tomatoes. The menu is broken down into starters, soups and salads, cheeses, raw bar selections, a cured meat platter, pizzas, sandwiches, entrees, side dishes and, finally, pastas and risotto. Indeed, I twice had to ask for more time deciding.

Starters include bruschetta, fritto misto and olives, but we settled for crispy risotto balls with fontina. They arrived with a dish of marinara sauce and would be more than enough to share with a larger group. For the pizza, we turned down the more innovative selections like the chicken sausage, apple and asparagus pie for a simple tomato and mozzarella variety to see how the kitchen handled its dough and cheese. Frankly, though cooked the way I like it (barely done), nothing on that pie stood out. I doused my slice with the scrumptious table-side olive oil to make it more flavorful.

For entrees, we tried sea scallops and a lobster pansotti (large ravioli). The scallops arrived looking charred, but were actually delicious with pan ratatouille and basil pesto. But the lobster pansotti could use improvement. The tomato basil pasta sauce was good enough to lap up with a spoon, but the vegetables in the filling detracted from the lobster that accompanied them. Also, the corners of the large pansotti were undercooked to the point of crunchiness.

For dessert, the strawberry napoleon, grilled peaches and build-you-own ice cream or sorbet appealed, but we opted for the ricotta cheesecake. With crunchy pistachios around the plate, the dish was a pleasantly subtle end to a huge meal. Like all new restaurants, this one needs some time to work out the glitches involved in cooking for crowds. But in an area exploding with new dining destinations, Lia's is worth a look.


By Erin  | July 26, 2006; 3:13 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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I recently decided to give Lia's a shot since I have followed Chef Geoff's ventures since the beginning. I was surprised by the amount of choices on the menu, and I liked the options. My wife and I started out with the Olive of the Week! which was a purple olive whose name I can't remember but whose effect I'll always remember. It definitely was a generous portion (about 20 olives) and the flavor was similar to Kalamata. It took its effect on my wife and my stomach much after the meal (too much of a good thing). After the olives, we shared the cheese sampler and had buff mozzarella, and two others. The fig jam and crostini made a nice compliment to the cheeses which all varied in taste, texture, and finish. With so many choices, we opted for the shrimp salad instead of a pizza (we'll get a pizza next time). The shrimp salad was very good--the chef split it for us into two plates and the shrimp were definitely jumbo, the orange was sliced well, but the watercress was a little messy. All of the stems were attached. For dessert we had two gelatos and a sorbet--espresso, mint choc chip, and passion fruit. The passion fruit was my favorite. My wife liked the espresso the best. I had a dbl espresso and my wife had a single. The espresso cups were odd but the espresso itself was delicious. We'll return again for sure to try some of the pizzas and sample other parts of the menu. With so many choices, we'll either bring more people next time and pick off of their plates, or make many return visits. Bene.

Posted by: Mike Monroe | August 8, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse

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