I usually avoid soft-openings, I prefer to give a new spot a few weeks to find themselves, let alone share stories about those experiences, but as a fan of the chef, Nicholas Stefanelli I couldn't resist hitting up Masseria to show my support and indulge. It's been over six months since we've seen Stefanelli in the kitchen so it was long overdue to enjoy his cooking, plus the menu was half off for the first two weeks.
There's no denying that Masseria is a beautiful restaurant, its neighbors in the Union Market area are warehouses, wholesale vendors and a Motel 6, industrial chic I think Stefanelli calls it. The outdoor area is a compliment of concrete, rusted steel, wood and custom Greek flooring. There are three dining areas in the fashionable courtyard, a lounge with sofas and coffee tables (cigars permitted), the outside dining room with standard seating and bar seats, the latter two covered by a retractable roof.
Inside the main dining room there is a chef's table and seating at the open kitchen counter as well as the inside bar. A glass wall functioning as a wine cellar stretches one of the walls which pretty much serves as the backdrop to the restaurant, in addition to the "backsplash" of the open kitchen which is a stunning opal green subway style tile.
The menu is split into four sections: antipasti, le paste, pesce and carne. It's a prix-fixe menu, providing the option of choosing three or five dishes (I've heard an eight dish option will also be available) with a choice of about 16 dishes, priced at $62 and $84 respectively. This style of dining definitely provides limitations, mostly in cost - even at half-price during the first two weeks the checks came to $200 and $160 (excluding tax and tip) on the two meals for two people. On the upside, you can pick what you like. If you were to choose the five dish option you could choose two meats and two fish dishes (the fifth is reserved for a dessert), however your server will encourage you to choose from all sections, I recommend that too. The dishes are a good size, not a full entree size but close enough. Stefanelli is a an enthusiastic fan of rosé wine and he's chosen an affordable Greek bottle at $40 that's worth ordering, the only one at that price point so he's made sure it's good. But there are plenty of crafted cocktails from Julien-Pierre Bourgon (formerly PX Lounge) to pair with your meal.
Antipasti dishes include options such as trippa, a beef tripe and lobster brodetto; crudo, cobia with watermelon rind, basil seeds, green tomato and lime; or a carne cruda, veal, parmigiano, black truffles and chervil. There are four pasta dishes available, with the maccheroni the heartiest of the bunch, a maccheroni alla molinara pasta with a spicy nduja (pork sausage) in a tomato sauce, egg plant and ricotta - reminiscent of Stefanelli's Bibiana days. I'd say my favorite meat dish would have to be Shenandoah lamb, with shallots, garlic and pistachios - this is one of the many dishes on the menu that will surprise you, it's not just a lamb loin, but wrapped in crisp skin with a lamb confit. Delicious. A couple of seafood options are red snapper with romaine, cherry tomatoes and brown butter; or soft shell crab with crisp summer corn (the corn alone is worth ordering this dish for.)
I can only speak of one dessert, on both occasions myself and my dining companions ordered the same one. We saw it go by our tables to other diners and couldn't resist one each. Orio cioccolato is a selection of créma, flourless chocolate cake, Piemontese hazelnuts and coffee gelato. I can't stress enough, you won't want to share this dessert.
Masseria has found itself pretty quickly and is now open for full service Tues-Sun for dinner only and taking reservations through OpenTable. It's not convenient for metro, but if you're dining at a restaurant like this you're probably ordering an Uber.
Masseria: 1340 4th Street NE, Washington, DC (closest metro: New York Ave)