When Fabio Trabocchi opened Fiola in Washington, D.C. in 2011, it was a somewhat bittersweet homecoming for the celebrated Italian chef. He made a name for himself in the States at Maestro, just across the Potomac River in Virginia. Ultimately, he departed to New York City to take over Fiamma from Michael White in 2007, but the Great Recession rocked the restaurant, leading to its abrupt closure in 2009.
So when he debuted Fiola with his wife Maria overseeing the front of the house operations, he felt like it was a make or break moment in his career. “We had the fear of failing,” he says. “We knew we only had one chance.”
That chance paid off. Fiola was named one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit and the best new restaurant in D.C. by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Celebrity diners flocked there, including the Obamas. And in 2017, it earned a Michelin star.
The luxurious Italian restaurant became the cornerstone in the Trabocchi’s empire, which swelled with the opening of Fiola Mare, a stunner on the Georgetown waterfront showcasing the elegant seaside cuisine of the Mediterranean, Del Mar, an homage to Maria Trabocchi’s Spanish heritage located on the glitzy new District Wharf, and several outlets of the pasta-centric Sfoglina, including a newly minted location in Rosslyn, Virginia.
This is just the beginning of Trabocchi’s expansion plans. Earlier this year, he debuted a second Fiola in Miami’s primo Coral Gables neighborhood. “It was a natural extension for us,” says Trabocchi. “I love Miami – the vibe, the cultural energy, and the weather, of course.”
Plus, plenty of Trabocchi’s current guests also have a second home in the city or nearby. “It’s a home away from home for a lot of Washingtonians on the weekends or throughout the year,” he says.
Though the restaurant’s menu features favorites from the original – yes, Trabocchi’s renowned lobster ravioli is available – there’s an emphasis on lighter options that pair better with the seaside city’s hotter climate. Case in point are the raw bar options, including ceviches with Latin American influences, such as Key West pink shrimp with coconut and yuca, and sea bass tossed with leche de tigre and habanero. Don’t worry, there are plenty of stick-to-your-ribs Italian classics, like cacio e pepe, beef short rib stuffed agnolotti, and Wagyu short ribs.
As if Miami wasn’t enough, Trabocchi oversaw the opening of Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia at the 40-acre JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. The luxury resort is on a private island, Isola delle Rose, which is only accessible by boat.
The restaurant was the fulfilment of a lifelong quest. “It’s been a dream of mine to open a restaurant in Italy since leaving there in my early twenties,” he says, “but I never thought it would be possible.”
The newest Fiola is set inside a natural pantry. Surrounded by 100-year-old olive trees, whose fruit is pressed to make oil used in the cooking, the grove is complemented by a garden offering an abundance of herbs, vegetables and fruits for the restaurant.
The menu has undergone a significant transformation from its D.C. counterpart, though some classics endure (again, yes, the lobster ravioli is available). “I call it the most Italian thing to do, which is adapting the restaurant to the culture, the surrounding, the product, the lifestyle and the recipes,” says Trabocchi.
There’s a strong Venetian influence and plenty of Adriatic seafood. Take the baccalà mantecato, whipped fluffy salt cod topped with caviar or black truffles. Or seafood stew ladled over white polenta. “We’re trying to reimagine old recipes without losing the flavors,” he says.
Though Trabocchi has been traveling a fair amount to oversee his new properties, while still keeping tabs on all his District properties, he doesn’t feel like he’s done yet. Though nothing is cemented yet, expect more projects from the chef both here and abroad.
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Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.