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Monday, March 24, 2014

Peachy's Picks Washington D.C.: Ghibellina Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

Executive Chef Jonathan Copeland and Owner 
Ari Gejdenson

Fresh Origins is America’s leading producer of Microgreens and Edible Flowers. Combining the benefits of an ideal climate with a deep passion for quality and innovation, Fresh Origins products are sought after by the finest restaurants and top chefs. The farm is located in the picturesque rolling hills of San Diego County, where the near perfect weather allows for production and harvest all year. Fresh Origins produces almost 400 Microgreens, Petitegreens, Edible Flowers, Shoots, Tiny Veggies™ and related items. Many are not available anywhere else, with new introductions nearly every month. Fresh Origins products are on top of the finest cuisine in the world! Fresh Origins supplies distributors of specialty produce who serve fine dining restaurants and resorts nationwide. There are also a few online sources of their products available to private chefs and home cooks. Read our first Culinary Queen interview with Kelly Sasuga:

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Italian restaurants rank among our favorites, and we love Italy not only for their amazing shoes and stockings (get excited for news from Emilio Cavallini soon!) and terrifically fun events by our friends at the Italian Trade Commission,  but also for their talented restaurateurs.  Not only does the owner of Ghibellina, Italian native Ari Gejdenson, excel at cuisine but he is a retired professional soccer player.  He was a midfielder for eight years.  We cover sports as well so we were especially excited to learn that!  Ari grew up in Florence (where the amazing Emilio Cavallini stockings are made) and opened Ghibellina in May 2013.  Today, Ari owns five restaurants including two in Florence, one in San Diego, and two in Washington, D.C. plus a catering company there.  The first of these was Ari's Diner in Florence, which opened in 2002.  In 2004, Ari stopped playing soccer and our stomachs can be glad for that!  Peachy's stomach joy began at Ghibellina with the Insalata Ghibellina: arugula, avocado, roasted tomatoes, emmenthaler, pine nuts and basil pesto joined in full symphony to nutritional goodness.  Super fresh, this salad was dressed perfectly-not too much for Goldilocks Deegan who of course wants it just right.
Though a green salad is essential nutritionally, let's be honest.  Everyone is dying for the pasta course and the pasta at Ghibellina is excellent and made on premises several times a week.  What could be better than that?  The authenticity announced itself in each bite of the tremendously flavorful Tagliatelle al Ragu composed of beef ragu and grana padano.  Ari says he ate this every day when he was growing up and it's his favorite sauce.  You will wish you ate this every day growing up and as an adult: when you taste it, it is clear why and you should try this too.  Ghibellina boasts a seasonal menu with components that change weekly.  
We were given the opportunity to try a few Italian wines and trying to pick the one she liked the best is also a problem Peachy has with Italian shoes and exactly the kind of problem in life you want to have.  The resident Cinderella clicked the glass slippers together and chose the Lucente Luce All Vite Montalcino (Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) and was happy with her versatile choice all night as it paired well with all that she ordered.  
When perusing the entrees, oftentimes Peachy sees chicken and she thinks boring.  We like to order complicated dishes that wow us and in turn, wow you the reader.  We look for items we think we can't find anywhere else.  We have reviewed a lot of places by now and it's harder to find excellent that we have not seen before.  Boy was Peachy surprised when she tried THIS chicken.  The phenomenal Pollo Ruspante al Mattone is clearly in a class by itself.  The free-range chicken cooked under a brick was so flavorful and juicy, every bite was pure bliss.  We can't wait to have this again!  
Finally, we reached dessert which is an absolute must when the preceding courses are fantastic and indicative of a good sweet ending.   Peachy ordered the Crostatina al Pere e Mirtillo: pear and cranberry tart with whipped cream.  It was phenomenal! Ghibellina is a comfortable trattoria that would fall under the category Italian gastropub, and you ought to try it.

Our esteemed panelist (who is even more the world traveler than Peachy and has been to Ari's restaurant in Italy!!!) adds:
Located on hip and up-and-coming 14th Street NW, Ghibellina exudes a warm and welcoming ambiance, just as you would expect from a good Tuscan restaurant. With a menu that changes often – it changes with the seasons and also as different ingredients are available – you can be sure that everything is fresh! Even with the frequent changes, everything is pure Tuscan. It’s not modernized, though the d├ęcor and the presentation could rival any “modern fare” restaurant. It’s also not Americanized, which means pure unfiltered Tuscan deliciousness.  

I was incredibly excited when the owner mentioned he is affiliated with Acqua al 2 in Florence. I have been fortunate enough to dine at Acqua al 2 on three occasions. The first was in 2000, prior to them becoming as well-known as they are now. It was amazing, and I raved about it for years. Upon returning to Florence, several years later, it was top on my list of dining destinations. I ate there two nights in a row – once with the friend with whom I was traveling, and the next evening with friends from California that I unexpectedly bumped into in a piazza there. If you find yourself in Florence, definitely give it a try. 

To enjoy with my meal, I selected the Morellino di Scansano doga delle cavule, from their wine by the glass menu. This is what’s known as a “Super Tuscan” blend, a blend of several typical Tuscan grapes, in this case, sangiovese, merlot and Alicante. This was bold and well-blended (aka smooth), just as I expected and just as a Super Tuscan should be. 

For a starter, I tried the Insalat di Farro. This was a grain salad consisting of faro, roasted beets, fennel, hazelnuts, sherry vinegar, ricotta salata, and was absolutely fantastic for the season. I know I mentioned they change the menu often, and it’s noticeable, as this dish was a perfect embodiment of the time of year we visited Ghibellina. The faro, beets and hazelnut gave it an amazing and crunchy base, while the fennel and sherry vinegar flavored it nicely. This was all highlighted by the fresh ricotta cheese grated generously on top. It was a delightful and unexpected combination of flavors!

For the pasta course, Ghibellina’s gnocchi is delicious! If all restaurants did gnocchi like this, I would order it more often. Unfortunately, most restaurants, at least in the United States, gnocchi isn’t well-executed. I tried the Gnocchetti al Pomodoro and it was amazing. The gnocchi was light and flavorful – just how gnocchi should be, but often isn’t. Ghibellina’s pastas and gnocchi are made fresh, on-site, and it shows! The fresh tomato sauce was simple and fantastic, and it complemented the gnocchi deliciously. 

For my secondi, or main dish, I enjoyed the Disossata, a grilled petite filet of beef with aceto balsamico, parsley, grana and sea salt. And all great Tuscan restaurants have a hearty meat as a main dish, and this was delicious. The filet was flavorful, and juicy, and the presentation simple yet beautiful. I especially enjoyed the aceto balsamico, which was amazing, and a great and unexpected highlight to the meat. 

For dessert, the Affogato al Caffe’ jumped out at me. This is a simple dessert, consisting of vanilla gelato “drowned” in espresso. The gelato was homemade and absolutely amazing! This is such a simple dessert, yet it’s OH-SO-delicious when executed well. I have tried to replicate this a few times at home, to no avail. Maybe if I could make my own gelato, I might have a hope of being able to enjoy this from the comfort of my home. Until then, I’ll need to return to Ghibellina!

Peachy Picks Ghibellina!
Ghibellina is Recommended by Whom You Know.

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