Back in September, when I first found out that Roberto Donna was opening Bebo Trattoria, I was really excited. The idea of a reasonably-priced Italian restaurant in the area run by Roberto gave me goosebumps! I'd always enjoyed dining at Osteria del Galileo, the cheaper, value-centric face of Galileo, and Bebo Trattoria just sounded like the same thing on a much larger scale.
I didn't go to Bebo Trattoria for a while after it opened, but people let me know, practically the day after they opened, about the bad service they were experiencing there. My response was simply, "Well, what do you expect? Give them another month or so to settle into the new space and get used to the new menu."
Following my own advice, I waited until the end of November, the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, and the restaurant wasn't very busy at all. Food and service on that first trip actually were both very good, but it was hardly representative of the typical experience at Bebo -- the restaurant was mostly empty.
I'd never been to the humongous, modern space previously occupied by Oyamel. A large bar overlooks a kitchen open for everyone to see -- and you occasionally see Roberto Donna and Executive Chef Amy Brandwein, slaving away over the presentation of that veal scallopine or whole roasted Branzino. Next to the bar, there's a very large room that can be curtained off for large parties or events, and then you step down into the spacious dining room.
Bebo's prices, quality of ingredients, and preparation set it apart from other Italian restaurants in the DC area. Entree portions aren't huge, but the prices make up for it. A polpette (meatball) entree comes with four (or maybe it was five) veal, beef and pork meatballs in a bed of chunky tomato sauce with garlic bread toasts for $12, or veal scallopine, lightly breaded, pan fried and topped with mozzarella cheese and a salty slice of anchovy.
However, fried foods have left me unimpressed. The fried mozzarella comes out greasy and heavy rather than the light and fluffy cheese puff that I'm used to. The same goes for the fried rabbit entree.
But who doesn't love pasta?! Bebo serves up simple pasta dishes with the occasional surprise like a deconstructed lasagna with bechamel and meat ragu (a subtler, less knock-you-on-your-fat-ass version than the one you'll find at Dino) or a hearty paccheri (think of a smooth-surfaced rigatoni) pasta with pork rib ragu.
I always hesitate to order risotto. How a restaurant can put the care and love and constant stirring into a risotto dish with all the craziness that goes on in a kitchen is beyond me and I always find that risotto is either underdone or overdone. At Bebo though, I've had the most amazing risotto. Each delicate morsel of rice had the right consistency and texture. Of course, that was the first time I ordered it. The second time, it was underdone, but the chance of eating perfection will keep me re-ordering it regardless. It helps to know that if you order the risotto, it will be a 25 minute wait. The first time I ordered it as an appetizer and we waited, for what seemed forever, for our appetizers to come. The second time I ordered it though, our server informed us that the risotto takes 25 minutes, which explained a lot.
And like others have said, the service can be as inconsistent as the risotto and seems to depend completely on the server. A night where we had flawless service, the table next to mine waited 30 minutes before their server came to greet them and had to go talk to the hostess before their waiter came over. When ordering the whole fish, the server brings it to the table and de-bones the fish. When I first ordered the fish, my server butchered the fish and left half of the meat still hanging off the bones. But, the other night, I saw another server fillet the fish perfectly, getting every little piece of that fish off the bones.
Desserts on the other hand, are anything BUT inconsistent as each and every dessert I've ordered is completely delicious. My favorites are a creamy and sweet panna cotta with a sinfully sweet strawberry sauce and the tiramisu, which is anything but typical, with brandy and espresso drenched lady fingers in a pool of sweet, fluffy marscarpone....and the firm chocolate pudding with crumbled merange...and the list goes on.
Wines are available by the glass and bottle and there are a good deal of bottles that are reasonably priced unlike Galileo. Roberto Donna's commitment to good cuisine continues with the recent reopening of "The Grill" which has been a longstanding DC foodie staple since its opening. Roberto has also resumed his cooking classes (which I've written about here before) at Bebo. Pizza will soon be offered too as soon as the wood-burning oven is installed.
My suspicion is that as time goes on and the servers get more experienced, the service issues will disappear. But regardless, Bebo is a great restaurant overall that I'll continue to return to as often as I can.
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: There is a parking garage under the shopping center where Bebo Trattoria is located and parking is free after 4 PM.
National Airport Crystal City
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 Diapers. The atmosphere isn't too quiet but not too loud either. The waitstaff seems very amicable to children and it seems pretty common for people to bring children to the restaurant. Highchairs and boosters are available.