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Ashok Bajaj likes to mix things up. His 30+ years in the D.C. restaurant scene has been punctuated with success after success, but that hasn’t stopped him from making big changes. After 10 years of brining upscale Italian food to downtown D.C., Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca is now Modena. It’s still serving upscale Italian food, but with the help of its Chef John Melfi (who you may know from Oval Room), things are a little lighter and brighter. You could call it playful and you wouldn’t be wrong.

The first thing you’ll notice after stepping through the door is the new planter boxes hanging from the bar. They’re cute and they feel very 2019. If you squint the right way, it almost feels like you’re drinking a cocktail in a very small garden. Despite the new plants, the bar is as comfortable and as in the middle of the action as ever.

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We recommend you kick back and watch the restaurant work around you with a GG In D.C. Featuring a mixture of Campari, orange juice, bitters and a quick trip through a nitrogen cream whipper creates a cocktail thats refreshing as hell with the right amount of bite. It’s also pretty low proof, so you can have one at lunch and not make a fool of yourself.

The second thing you’re going to notice is the dark wooden cart studded with shiny silver metal. It’s not a dessert cart or a cheese trolley, it’s an antipasti cart stacked with vintage china. It’s the snack trolley of your dreams, jam packed with delectable salads (like panzanella or confit tuna with white bean), marinated olives, proscuitto, cheese tarts and anything else your heart could ever desire. Let it take your meal to the next level.

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And speaking of food, Modena’s menu is a little more packed with surprises than the old Bibiana you know and love. Again, playful is the word. The salmon ravioli (which you can find on the lunch menu) isn’t a ravioli at all, instead pieces of citrus cured salmon so bright they bleed off the plate are draped delicately on top of a mound of lemon whipped mascarpone and then covered with a mini salad of nasturtium flowers, radish slices and lacy squid ink tuile. The only word I can think of to describe this dish is wild. It’s a sensory explosion, that hits you with its gorgeous plating and then KO’s you with flavor.

So if you’re looking to get a little experimental, a little wild, a little playful with your next meal, Modena is calling. Even if you just slip in for one of their two lunch specials (a $30 option and a $20 option), you’ll be in good hands.

Modena is located at 1100 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005.

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