Albeit a new kid on the block in its current location, Dino’s Grotto has plenty of history behind it. After occupying a cozy, welcoming space in Cleveland Park for almost a decade, what was formerly known as Dino is now rebranded in the revitalized neighborhood of Shaw on a busy stretch of 9th Street, NW. Dean Gold, the affable and energetic proprietor, still serves rustic, homestyle Tuscan and Venetian cooking with subtle, but important, Jewish influences.

Like its new neighborhood, the digs at Dino’s Grotto are smart, yet unobtrusive: quiet, earth-toned walls with murals evocative of the Italian countryside, exposed brick from the structure of the original townhouse that houses it and simple wooden tables placed close together. The dining room upstairs is intimate, while the party’s always on below ground. Here, a proud wooden bar dominates, with gleaming metal stools and high communal tables for sharing handcrafted cocktails (with “politically incorrect names,” Gold points out with a twinkle in his eye) and late-night bites.

The basement bar at Dino's Grotto

The basement bar at Dino’s Grotto

Though the flavors might be taken right from a Tuscan trattoria, the ingredients themselves do not come from nearly as far. The Dino food manifesto reads, “The food we eat should be raised and produced by small farms following sustainable practices.”

Gold himself sources the meat to ensure that it’s free of hormones and stimulants, and only in-season produce appears alongside it on the plate. He and his wife frequent the U Street and Dupont farmers markets weekly, carting home as much as they can carry. Let’s be honest: there’s no substitute for imported Italian burrata. For most everything else, though, it’s all local, seasonal and sustainable.

Gold explains how critical it is to have the right ingredients in his food: “We feel our use of natural, simple, sustainable ingredients is, in part, a moral thing to do. The teachings of Judaism as a religion of personal responsibility to take care of the world ring true today.” The industrial food process can harm both our environment and our bodies. Utilizing small producers, partnering with local farmers and other similar practices “help sustain families, traditions and our world.”

Dino's Grotto's local vegetable antipasti

Dino’s Grotto’s local vegetable antipasti

While others might miss the Jewish inspiration at an Italian restaurant, according to Gold, it’s everywhere. During his travels, he explored ancient Italian cuisine. “Time after time,” he explains, “I found a nexus of Tuscan and Venetian cooking and Jewish cooking.” He discovered that during the Inquisition Tuscany and Venice skirted the harshest of laws, understanding the importance of keeping a Jewish population. Such sustained presence can be felt today. For example, cinnamon, cloves and allspice originally formed a Jewish spice blend. Today, it’s a popular Tuscan method of seasoning wild boar.

In fact, Gold says he’s constantly encountering connections to Jewish influences in Italian recipes. Researching a flourless Roman cake, he found out that it was actually a traditional Sephardic recipe. Gold also takes delight in serving special, themed menus for the Jewish holidays, infusing traditional Jewish recipes with Italian influences.

Local, sustainable, Jewish, Italian—all on the same plate. Salute to that.

Dino’s Grotto, 202-686-2966, 1914 9th St NW, Washington, DC; Monday-Thursday 5 pm-12 am, Friday and Saturday 5 pm-1 am, Sunday 12 pm-10 pm. Not kosher. 

Top photo: Albacore tuna dish. All photos by Stacy Zarin Goldberg Photography (copyright 2014).