The new eatery Noelia Italian Kitchen, located in downtown D.C., is a study in contrasts. That's evident from the minute you step through the glass doors—the flooring and tables are done in an elegant and traditional dark wood, while the walls are encrusted with uneven, rough, gray stone with modern frosted-glass sconces embedded in the pillars. Even with minor construction and some parts unfinished, it's clear that owner Kaiser Gill, a former FBI agent and defense contractor, wanted to express a full range of dining experiences.
"Coming from a family of restauranteurs, I've always dreamed of opening my own restaurant," Gill says. "The time was... right, and I seized the opportunity. We're trying to target something for everybody. If you want to have something exquisite like duck breast, or veal, you can, but there are some days when all you want is a good risotto or some lasagna."
Noelia has more to offer than just an expansive menu, although there are interesting ingredients scattered throughout—butternut squash and mint crystals, among others. Gill also incorporated another unexpected element into the restaurant: a dance floor. "[I created this space] out of necessity," he says. "There aren't many venues like this in D.C. ... When we were designing the restaurant, this is something we wanted to include. You still get a chance to dance and have fun, but you're not packed in [a place] where the decibels are so loud that the next morning you can't hear your baby cry."
The dance floor is 1,400 square feet, and will be open on Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. with live music. On other nights, the large projector screen on the far end of the room will play classics or silent films—"something entertaining, but not distracting," according to Gill.
Beyond the dance floor and lounge, there is a set of private and semi-private dining rooms that can be booked for special occasions.
The dance floor injects an unexpected element to the venue, but, in the end, it still comes down to the food: How does Noelia plan on distinguishing its cuisine from the many other Italian restaurants scattered across the District? While neither the chef nor the owner insist that "nobody should leave here hungry," their focus is on creating lighter fare with genuine, imported Italian ingredients.
Executive chef Carmen Gianna Piazza, previously of Café Milano, takes staples like pasta and panna cotta to a refreshingly buoyant level. Delicate but by no means unsubstantial, the cappellaccci alla zucca (butternut squash filling a delicate-layer of house-made pasta folded to resemble a rose, garnished with amaretto cookies, sage, and a buttery Parmesan sauce) is a far cry from the omnipresent and lifeless pasta slathered in a heavy, cloying cream. The panna cotta had a distinctly dense texture without overwhelming the strawberry and balsamic vinaigrette reduction drizzled on the side.
Overall, the feel is one of upscale comfort dining, a place to remove yourself from the humdrum of daily life but with an echo of home-cooked food. "I view this as you coming into our house, you're a guest and we want to cater to you," Gill says.
The menu is below: