Despite the fact that Agio has been open for nearly ten years, I had never eaten there before this weekend. Partly that’s because I don’t hear much about it from my friends or other food fans. I thought maybe the lack of buzz was just because the restaurant is no longer the hip, new thing. After dining there, though, I think it’s probably because the food is simply average, which is a little disappointing given the relatively high prices.
From the outside, the restaurant itself is not very noticeable, blending in with the other shops, restaurants, and theaters surrounding it on Massachusetts Avenue. There appears to be a rather prison-like outdoor seating area, though, which might make spotting the entrance easier in summer. After finding our way inside, we were seated in the bar directly beneath a wall-mounted TV set. We didn’t ask to sit in the bar and we would have preferred to sit in the restaurant itself, but, well, there you go. I didn’t see a coat check or a coat rack, so I had to put my coat on the back of my chair. That’s usually not a problem, except the chairs in the bar had half-circle backs, which meant that my coat kept falling off onto the floor. I noticed that the other diners appeared to be in their fifties and sixties, a little older than at most of the places that I eat. Not that there’s anything wrong with an older clientele! It’s just an observation. So far, I wasn’t feeling Agio, but I was still hopeful that the food would turn things around.
Because nothing puts me in a good mood as quickly as alcohol, I decided to order the drink special, which was a flight of 3 beers (Fat Tire, Upland Wheat, and Sun King Cream Ale). I’d had all of those beers before and liked them, so I knew I would be okay. And I was. The beer was delicious. As I drank my beer, our server brought us some complimentary bread and olive oil. Usually I’m a bread guy, but I was not a fan of this at all. First off, the bread was stone cold and tasted like it just came from a bag. If it had been toasted or at least warmed, it would have been more palatable. Secondly, the olive oil was flavored with herbs and contained a bit too much garlic for my taste. When I dip in olive oil, I like to taste the olive oil, especially if it’s good olive oil. Give me some fresh, warm bread and some Divina, for instance, and I’m in heaven. I was not in heaven here. In fact, I barely ate any of the bread.
We decided to split an appetizer of fried calamari to put the disappointing bread/oil behind us. The calamari came quickly, which was nice, and it was well cooked (that is, not chewy), but the breading wasn’t very crisp. Still, the soggy breading didn’t ruin the dish for me, and I ate my half. We also tried the artichoke, olive, and cheese tempura skewer, which was basically a shish kebob of green olives, Mozarella cheese cubes, and artichokes dipped in tempura batter and then deep-fried to a golden brown. When this arrived we both chuckled because it looked like fair food. Despite the “fried Oreo” appearance, though, it tasted good. The saltiness of the olives paired well with the mozzarella cheese. Unfortunately, some of the cheese cubes were still cold in the middle, which was surprising.
As entrees we chose the beef cutlet (Parmesan style) over spaghetti and the veal scaloppini in Marsala sauce. The beef cutlet was cooked crispy and wasn’t overly breaded. The red sauce on top of the beef was a little sweet, which I liked. I’d say this was the best dish of the evening. As for the veal, the heavy Marsala sauce and mushrooms kind of overwhelmed the flavor of the meat for me. I felt like I was eating a mystery filet drenched in brown gravy. The risotto that accompanied the veal was a little stiff, too, reminding me of mac and cheese. Both entrees were large, though, which is saying something, I suppose.
For dessert, we split the apple crumble tart. I only had a bite and wasn’t inspired to eat more. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have me jumping up and down either. Which sort of describes my overall experience at Agio. It wasn’t terrible, but it doesn’t make me want to go back. Given the relatively high prices, “just okay” is not good enough for me. If I'm going to pay $50/person for dinner, I expect innovative, fresh cuisine, not average fare. Unfortunately, for me, Agio didn’t deliver.