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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 10/24/2006

Crystal City's New Treat

By Erin

When Oyamel closed its doors last month, many feared that Crystal City would fall flat without the lively dishes that offered a small taste of Mexico. News that Roberto Donna would open a casual new trattoria with pizzas and pastas was small comfort. Sure, hungry lunchers form snaking queues whenever Donna opens his downtown summer grill, but the food at Galileo has not been up to snuff in recent visits. Could Bebo Trattoria be a success?

I'm happy to report that, two days after my Saturday visit to the newcomer, I'm already planning my next meal. Yes, I am quite confident that Oyamel's replacement will quickly fill the fun, shining shoes of its predecessor. Donna shows just how he earned his international reputation with this new venture. It offers reasonably priced, deliciously simple Italian fare. Opened in near-record time, the casual restaurant still shows traces of Oyamel (note the silver Mexican carvings lining the pillars by the bar), but the food is all its own.

Strolling in late Saturday afternoon, we took seats at the bar and were welcomed by a friendly bartender who went out of her way to accommodate requests and keep her cool as things like a failing credit card machine slowed transactions. The bar has its own affordable menu listing small plates of calamari, shrimp, eggplant, cauliflower and other scrumptious nibbles, but we opted for the real menu.

The antipasti ranges from fried mozzarrella to cured lard. There are several soups, including a wedding soup with meatballs and escarole. The warm chicken salad in lemony dressing came with egg, onions and chopped tomatoes making a lovely light bite.

There are about ten pastas and each one looks delicious. Donna's attention to pasta quality shows through in a lasagnette with meat ragu. The dish features multiple layers of silky pasta in a hearty, flavorful meat sauce. If that fails to tempt, linguine with clams, spaghetti carbonara and penne arrabiata should be enough to draw any lingering Atkins dieters back to the fun side. Pastas range from $9-$13.

Meats and grilled dishes include a scaloppine, rabbit, four meatballs studded with pine nuts and simmered in tangy tomato sauce and a spicy grilled chicken ($10-$18).

On the dessert side, strawberry salad with vanilla pudding and a hazelnut-rich tiramisu are worth a final splurge if you have room. There are several wines by the glass, including a delicious Barbaresco. There will be pizzas soon, but in the meantime, I'll take pleasure in familiarizing myself with the rest of the menu. For those who can't decide during lunch, the express lunch menu offers four mini-courses (including the meatballs) for $15.

Bebo deftly caters to solo diners with a large bar, groups with the long table that lingers from the days of Oyamel, children with six special dishes, bargain-hunters with its low prices (particularly at the bar) and gourmands with an adventurous, but pleasing menu.

Bebo cannot replace Oyamel, but it will sure treat diners to a delicious Italian tour.

--Erin

By Erin  | October 24, 2006; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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Comments

We made our way to Bebo on Friday night and really enjoyed the food and atmosphere. The only things we didn't enjoy were the mostly unprepared staff.

I can easily put aside the computer crashes that slowed down everything. I can't put aside bartenders that don't know the basics of handling customers waiting for drinks. We waited over 20 minutes for drinks at a bar that was far from overcrowded.

The first bartender we tried was a very nice girl but completely fried by the computer backups and by the crowd. We ordered wine and seconds later she dissappeared. Five minutes later we gave up on her and moved to the the other bartender. We waited 10 minutes for glasses of wine from this bartender. The first five minutes he ignored us even though he was preparing drinks (facing us) two feet away. I told my wife I'd wait five more minutes before leaving. At that ten minute mark he finally acknowledged our existance and said he'd help us in a second.

I know it's a new place, but either hire experienced people or train your employees to handle customers better. I would have been less annoyed if the second bartender told me he'd, "be right there" right from the beginning. At least then I know I'm on his list of things to do and he's not just being arrogant.

After saying all that, we really did enjoy the food and our waiter was fantastic. We do plan on returning soon.

Posted by: TPete | October 24, 2006 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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