September-October 2012 | Reviews

Three’s a Charm

Sugo Cicchetti looks like a hit-in-the-making in Potomac

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At Sugo Cicchetti, lots of things come in threes.

Take the intriguing hot and cold small plates that comprise much of the menu. Many—including the scallops, shrimp, meatballs, sliders, arancini, crab cakes and mini-gelato cones—come with three items each.

Why? When it comes to small plates, “chefs usually work with odd numbers,” Executive Chef Dimitri Moshovitis says. “It looks better. Five is too much. Three is perfect.”  

Then there are the owners—Moshovitis, Ike Grigoropoulos and Ted Xenohristos—a trio of longtime friends who have brought the Washington area several Mediterranean-style eateries. In addition to their restaurants—three Cava Mezze, three Cava Mezze Grills (with two more in the works at press time) and now Sugo—they do a bustling catering business and manufacture packaged dips and spreads that are sold in dozens of local supermarkets.

With Sugo Cicchetti (sugo means “sauce”; cicchetti, pronounced chi-KET-tee, means small snacks or side dishes), the ambitious threesome have switched gears from Greek to Italian, opening their first restaurant in Potomac. Mamma Lucia’s, the local Italian restaurant chain, is an investor in the new project.

So in the spirit of triplets, here are three important things to know about eating at Sugo Cicchetti:

1. Go with three people. That way you’ll be guaranteed one entire item from the trio of servings. And believe me, when it comes to the scallops, you won’t want to share. Seared to a crusty finish on the outside, the jumbo mollusks sit atop a complex, smoky sauce, made by steeping charred corn on the cob in milk, then adding onions, pancetta and fish stock and reducing the liquid. Dotted with corn kernels and garnished with grass-like strands of crispy leeks, the dish’s textures and flavors are a wow. I wanted to hog the entire plate.

I felt the same about the spicy pork sliders, with their just-right hit of red chili flakes; the arancini, fried risotto balls with a light coating and creamy mozzarella filling; and the expertly sautéed shrimp. On the other hand, I was willing to stop after half of a veal meatball. The house-ground veal leg and shoulder meat was pleasant and homey but rather bland.

(Note to Moshovitis: Three items may look perfect on a plate, but the arrangement is not ideal for parties of two or four. Which brings me to my view of the small-plate trend. Although its built-in sharing is great for restaurant reviewing, I can’t say I’m fond of it as a dining concept. It’s like a portion-controlled buffet, leaving me full but not particularly satisfied. I don’t like the haphazard pace of the dish delivery, the negotiating over who gets the first taste and the last piece, the debate over how many dishes are enough. Plus, the cost and calories generally don’t add up to less than a traditional meal; in some cases, the tally on both counts is more.)

2. The hot dishes tend to be better than the cold (and that includes dessert, see No. 3).

What’s hot: the short rib, with its ultra-tender meat and thick, dark sauce; the unusual braised lamb shank and ground veal lasagna, with its notes of toasted fennel and peppery kick; and the gnocchi with truffle cream and basil—soft,  rich little pillows that go down ever so smoothly.

And the pizza! The Onion Love, with sweet-cheesy-herby contrast provided by caramelized onions, goat cheese and fresh rosemary, is truly to love. Its chewy, crackly crust, baked in an oven fired by a combination of gas and wood, is nicely blistered and just the right thickness.    

What’s lukewarm: grilled asparagus, served with buffalo mozzarella and tomato, which tasted like the Dead Sea thanks to over-salting the day I was there; and a pretty beet and goat cheese salad indistinguishable from other versions of this popular combo. The best of my cold selections was an arugula salad with pear, Gorgonzola and toasted walnuts. I would have preferred more pear and less cheese and walnuts, but the balsamic vinaigrette and bitter lettuce gave it a nice sharpness.

3. The desserts sound appealing but need finessing.  

Lose the gimmicky popcorn off the top of the Nutella cheesecake. The sticky caramel-popped kernels detract from the delightful cheesecake, which was surprisingly light and fluffy.

The tiramisu, served deconstructed in a wineglass, tasted dried out, and the coffee and booze flavors were MIA.

The cherry cotton candy is fun and expectedly sweet. But the bombolini (Italian doughnuts) were surprisingly blah-tasting and not sweet enough.

Located in the Park Potomac development—a new “urban village” that seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere as you approach from I-270—Sugo Cicchetti is a snazzy, casual space, with walls covered by broken bits of mosaic tile and three patterns of antique wallpaper; a bar made of polished concrete; and an open kitchen with views of the pizza oven. The wait staff and hostesses are young and attractive, and mostly competent, as well.

Despite a few errors here and there, the Greek trio has a new hit. Maybe not a home run, but definitely a triple.

Sugo Cicchetti

12505 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac, 240-386-8080, eatsugo.com

Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Wine, Beer & Cocktails: Italian-dominated selection of two dozen red and white wines for under $50, with most also available by the glass; nine beers (including Allagash White and Fat Tire Amber on draft).

Lively cocktail menu with red and white sangria, Sugo Punch, martinis and mojitos.

Reservations: Recommended

Prices: Small plates range from $5 to $15; pizza, from $10 to $15

Favorite dishes: Arugula salad, seared scallops, spicy pork sliders, shrimp, arancini, short rib, Onion Love pizza, lasagna, gnocchi

Good place to go for: People who like to eat a little of this and a little of that

Parking: Shopping center and office building lots

Carole Sugarman is the magazine’s food editor.