Food Court: Lavagna

Posted October 4, 2012 at 5:55pm

Hear ye, hear ye: Court is now back in session.

Our latest case: Barracks Row trattoria Lavagna.

Spaghetti and meatball plate
(Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

Founder Stephen Cheung split off from the family business — the Cheung clan continues to operate neighboring Fusion Grill — to start his locavore-baiting Italian eatery last year. Although he’s cycled through several executive chefs, the concept has remained constant: locally sourced ingredients married to house-made staples (eggy noodles, boozy limoncello) via homegrown recipes.

Current toque Darren Maas has put his stamp on the new menu, carving spots for the likes of a “50/50 burger” forged from seasoned ground beef rolled together with custom pork sausage, ricotta free-range egg stuffed ravioli bathed in hearty Bolognese sauce, a pan-seared pork chop-creamy polenta pairing (Cheung’s current favorite) and local rockfish brightened by a tomato-ginger reduction.

What attracted us, though, was the rolling out of a new lunch program.

Online since Tuesday, the conservative carte features a handful of generously portioned hits designed to get busy Capitol Hill types fed on the fly. Although the kitchen seems to favor flavorful handhelds — the aforementioned burger figures prominently, as do meatball and grilled chicken breast sandwiches slathered with marinara and melted provolone — we gave a few knife-and-fork features a whirl.

The half-portion of spaghetti and meatball, a carryover from the dinner program, hit the spot. The sauce was stocked with garlic and slow simmered tomatoes, while the anchoring meatball delivered satisfying bites of braised pork accentuated by grated Parmesan.

Spinach-walnut salad with chicken
(Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

A spinach-walnut salad boasted plenty of crunch, the bountiful nuts ringing a mess of lightly dressed greens littered with pickled carrots and a slab of extra tender bird.

Might the lunch menu grow to include more of the signature pasta dishes in the future?

Cheung seems to believe folks prefer lighter fare. But he’s open to suggestions.

“Our goal is to do a few things very well, but well enough to show that anything you get here, no matter if it’s a new item or old one, is great,” he said.

Judge for yourself.

Lavagna is shaving every lunch bill in half for Friday. But you must make a reservation to get the cut-rate deal. One more day, folks.

Lavagna: 839 Eighth St. SE; 202-546-5006. Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Saturday, brunch Saturday and Sunday.