"It’s a long story, but a good story,” says Maria Trabocchi of how she and her husband, chef Fabio Trabocchi, started their relationship and, eventually, Fiola, their flagship restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Maria, born and raised in Mallorca, Spain, was a senior at Georgetown University’s School of International Affairs in the mid-1990s when she and some friends were invited to dine at a restaurant in the city. During dinner, they were introduced to the restaurant’s new, 20-year-old Italian chef, Fabio Trabocchi. The two immediately hit it off.
After they married, Fabio went on to work in restaurants in Virginia and New York, and in 2009, the couple returned to D.C. with hopes of opening their own restaurant. Soon, they got word of an available space they knew they couldn’t pass up: The location, now Fiola, is the same space where the couple first met that fateful night in 1995.
Fiola opened its doors in 2011, a difficult time for restaurants. “We were opening during a recession, so the concept was more of a trattoria style,” says Maria, who worked the front of the house while Fabio led the kitchen. “But Fabio had a reputation for more fine food, so we had to continually upgrade it because people demanded it. You make restaurants for people, not for us.”
One of the first upgrades was the wine program. “Wine is as important as the cuisine,” says Fabio. “Fiola started with real humble means and tools to be a good restaurant. And our resources for our first wine list were very humble, but we wanted to expand it to offer unique wines for our guests.”
Just two years after opening, Fiola received a Wine Spectator award for its list, which had grown to 575 selections. Today, it offers 2,635 choices, with strengths in Piedmont, Tuscany, Bordeaux, California, Burgundy and Sicily. Fabio credits the wine program to corporate wine director Casper Rice and head sommelier Jennifer Foucher.
Rice notes that Tuscan wines are the most popular with guests. Standouts on the list include the Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto 1999 ($1,200) and Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo Riserva 2006 ($2,100). Customers also mine verticals of Ornellaia (to 1988, $995), Tignanello (to 1977, $895) and Sassicaia (to 1986, $1,825).
The 300-selection Barolo portion of the list, organized by commune, offers exceptional breadth and depth. A vertical of Marchesi di Barolo ranges from the 2005 vintage ($250) to 1964 ($625). The Barbaresco menu includes a full page each of wines from Gaja and Produttori del Barbaresco back to the 1960s.
But wine selections from outside Italy are not an afterthought. Bordeaux fans have over 125 labels to choose from, including first-growths and other benchmarks, such as the Château Cheval-Blanc 1982 ($3,200). California bottlings include trailblazers like Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 1982 ($450) and modern-day influencers such as Aubert Chardonnay Carneros Larry Hyde & Sons 2016 ($275).
Fiola offers three different tasting menus for dinner: Fabio Grand Tasting Menu ($220), the ever-changing regional tasting menu ($145), and the customizable menu ($115 for four courses; $135 for five).
Popular dishes include burrata with onion jam, wild cress and garden herb pesto; rosemary-smoked Wagyu beef served with nebrodini mushrooms and wild ramps (supplement $20); and Fabio’s famous Fiola lobster ravioli, a signature dish he has been making since the late ’90s. Fabio’s food is an elegant and modern take on Italian cuisine that does not compromise the familiarity of classic dishes.
Fabio enlisted culinary director Brinn Sinnott, formerly executive chef of Fiola Mare in Georgetown, to oversee the kitchen at Fiola. “Brinn has been a great companion to elevating the cuisine at Fiola,” says Fabio. “He has put his heart into taking it to the next level.”
No longer a trattoria-style restaurant, Fiola has become a fine-dining institution. Its location, within walking distance of the United States Capitol building, has made it a favorite of political leaders and the lobbyists who follow them. Maria, a Spanish citizen, has a straightforward take on catering to Fiola’s unique assortment of patrons: “Our restaurants are bipartisan,” she says. “Everybody needs to eat and everybody needs to drink.”
The couple’s knack for hospitality and high-end food has led to many other successful ventures, now far-flung. Fiola Miami, located in Coral Gables, Fla., holds a Best of Award of Excellence. The latest project stretches to Italy: Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia is located in Venice, in the secluded JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. But as the Trabocchis’ restaurant empire expands, their home base will always remain the capital city, the place where it all began.
Read the entire 2019 Restaurant Awards package, including the cover story, “Sharing the Table," in the Aug. 31, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator.