I was not a fan of Lupo Verde before it opened. Mostly because the owners pressure-washed the incredible, enormous, original JR mural off the side of the building as they were finishing up construction. Who does that!? That was Washington’s first JR, you criminals!
Beyond that mortal offense to contemporary art, I simply wanted to give the new spot a minute to sink or swim. The slew of 14th street eateries that have opened in the last year—and I’ve heard numbers north of 20—are hit or miss and quick to die. Case in point: Bar di Bari, which lasted all of two minutes. (It’s now Red Light.)
But when my friend Mike proclaimed that Lupo Verde is his favorite restaurant in D.C. (this being a man who lives right in the U Street area and has plenty at his fingertips), and the restaurant seemed to consistently have a wait coming out the door, I decided it was probably time. So we booked a table for brunch.
We got there as the restaurant was opening at 11 a.m., so we had our pick of tables. Of course, a World Cup match was about to begin at noon, so we selected one of two large high-tops in the bar area right at the entrance, which has direct view of the TVs and the lovely patio with its 14th Street people-watching.
The hostess was absolutely delightful, and got us settled quickly. And our server was quick to arrive and bring cocktail menus and brunch menus. We were happy campers, with a great table, great company, football at the ready and cocktails on the way.
Along with our drinks, we couldn’t resist ordering a cheese and charcuterie plate. We had no idea what we were in for on that first round. The cocktails were tremendous, and the cheese and charcuterie plate is one of the most beautiful and interesting I’ve seen in Washington, D.C. That proscuitto is phenomenal.
For my drink, I thought the Sofia was appropriate. The cocktail is don ciccio and figli hibiscus liqueur with prosecco. At the bottom, there’s a hibiscus flower curled up, making it very pretty. We were adventurous enough to try the flower once the glass was empty, and it tasted like a wet cherry.
My brunch colleagues each ordered the Black Pearl. Now, that was a treat. The cocktail is made with squid-ink-infused tequila (really!), mandarin liqueur, pomegranate, and lemon juice. The drink was beautifully colored and packed quite a kick alongside its salted rim and candied orange slice.
Yes, beverage director Francesco Amodeo’s cocktail list delighted us. We just wish those suckers were bottomless. In fact, the Black Pearl is such a popular drink that over the course of the brunch the restaurant ran out of the squid ink (we swear it wasn’t all us!).
Along with our enormous, beautiful cheese and charcuterie plate, which was presented with lots of accoutrements such as jams and fruits, we got the cestino di pane, or a basket of sweet bread. The basket was sweet indeed, filled with sugared doughnuts, chocolate croissants, brioche bread with chocolate and hazelnuts.
The breads were fresh and hot, and that basket with the cheese and charcuterie plate was plenty enough for brunch—we needn’t have ordered entrees. In fact, we shouldn’t have ordered entrees, because the brunch went down-hill from there.
As expected, Chef Domenico Apollaro’s brunch menu is chock full of Italian fare. Granted, he brings in some egg dishes, and Italian is hard to do at brunch, but the basis is still a selection of pastas and pizzas. Even so, you feel a bit like you’re eating dinner. A bland dinner.
For instance, my friend Mike went for one of the brunch pastas, the Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Spaghetti is a strange thing to have at brunch. It’s heavy, even though these noodles were homemade. And this particular carby dish was rather bland, with guanciale, eggs, and pecorino.
I had the steak and eggs, which wasn’t all that flavorful. Called the Tagliata di Manzo con Uova a piacere, the steak came pre-sliced into strips, which made it easy to eat and dip into my runny egg (just how I like my steak and eggs). But it wasn’t as tasty as the meat we had at the beginning of the meal.
A couple of our brunch friends ordered the Uova in camicia, which arrives looking like a big red marinara soup. It is actually poached eggs in a San Marzano tomato sauce, made with fresh basil and shallots, with a bit of grilled bread on the side for dipping. “It was weak. Very weak,” they both lamented.
We were disappointed with our entrees, and the World Cup game was about to end, so we decided to finish off the brunch with a dessert to share. Of course, if there is ever Nutella on the menu, it must be ordered, and so the warm crepes arrived sprinkled with powdered sugar and strawberry slices. We were too stuffed to finish it.
Our server was friendly—in fact everyone at Lupo Verde was accommodating and kind—but made small mistakes here and there. The entire experience was a bit clumsy, and we all lamented that we should have stuck with the cheese, bread, and cocktails with our futbol.
I have returned for dinner a few times since this brunch and truly enjoyed the experience. The rustic Italian food is fantastic in the evening, and the restaurant’s ambiance lights up when it’s dark outside. In fact, the second floor is even prettier than the first.
I was tweeting and Instagramming away when some friends (including Jenna Golden, who had a different opinion of the brunch that day) popped up on my feeds that they were upstairs, in the main dining area of the restaurant. So I nipped up to say hello and check out the second floor, which is gorgeous, with exposed brick, big vintage chandeliers, and wooden tables.
There’s even another bar on the second floor, which seems like it would be a nice place to hide away with warm Italian food on a cold night. Unfortunately, I was there for brunch in the middle of summer. And I was stuffed and over-heated.
When we got the check, we were a little in shock. I know we ordered a lot, and we may have conveniently forgotten that this brunch was not bottomless, but the final bill was nearly a Benjamin a Bitch, which is extremely steep.
The Bitches say: B. Go for a romantic dinner. For brunch, stick with the appetizers and cocktails. But not too many, lest you break the bank.
1401 T St. N.W.
Lupo Verde serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.