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Sette Osteria, 1666 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 483-3070 When the owners of Georgetown’s oh-so-hip Cafe Milano opened their latest venture, Sette Osteria, in early March, we approached with caution. Would Sette be another ultra-trendy place to see and be seen, or would it be the kind of neighborhood spot we could feel comfortable being our ordinary, only semi-glamorous selves? So far, Sette seems to offer a little bit of both. Stop by the bustling corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street on a Saturday night, and Sette’s bar is likely to be packed with well-dressed groups waiting for a table. On weeknights, however, the airy dining room is far less frenetic, with waits rarely exceeding 20 minutes. Sette’s menu is also more casual and less expensive than Cafe Milano’s. At dinner, prices for pizzas and pasta start at $8, with few dishes topping a modest $13. Sette’s appetizer choices tend toward simple, rustic fare. The robust flavors of tangy roasted bell peppers and smoky eggplant complement each other on a plate drizzled with olive oil and garlic. A potato cake studded with dry salami and infused with Italian cheeses proves to be salty, moist, and surprisingly light. We might have skipped the fried calamari as too mundane, but we caught a delicious whiff of an order en route to another table. We were not disappointed when our plate arrived. A light, tempura-like batter swaddles plump, tender morsels of calamari. Paired with zippy marinara sauce, the generous portion is large enough for two to share. For $19, Sette offers a combination of smoked Italian meats — prosciutto, soppressata, mortadella, and coppa — for the entire table to snack on. Sette’s salads are consistently fresh and interesting. A plate of shaved fennel, celery, and baby artichokes sprinkled in lemon vinaigrette is crisp and flavorful. In another, crunchy fennel and shaved pecorino cheese top a bed of peppery arugula. A traditional caprese salad features thick slabs of tomato and fresh buffalo mozzarella. We found our favorite entrees on the pasta menu. Cecatelli and broccoli rabe tossed in a simple sauce of olive oil, garlic, and pecorino tastes light and fresh. Firm canoe-shaped noodles work perfectly for holding onto flavorful juices, though the dish could have had a bit more oomph, and after a few bites, we lost interest. In contrast, basil-flavored fettucine and firm chunks of eggplant bathed in smoky tomato sauce were addictively rich and luscious. For a nostalgic indulgence, Sette offers solid versions of meatball lasagna and cheesy eggplant parmesan — both baked in individual ceramic tureens. Where Sette still seems to be struggling is with the wood-fired pizzas — the focal point of its menu. Thin, soggy crusts, bland mozzarella, and insipid tomato sauce make for punchless pies. Moreover, after several visits, we’re still searching for a successful eating method. Lifting a slice to one’s mouth by hand is quite impossible, as the flimsy crust bends under its own weight. Cut a bite-size piece, and there is barely enough substance to stab with a fork. Our best results came with an elaborate rolling technique. Still, we had to wonder whether anyone in the kitchen has stopped to taste what they are turning out. Desserts suffer from similar missteps. Perhaps for the first time ever, we failed to finish a plate of cannoli, finding them chalky and nearly tasteless. The house specialty, chocolate stuffed pastries called bombolonis, were dense and rubbery when they should have been light and flaky. Sette also demonstrates an unappealing stinginess at times that seems at odds with the restaurant’s overall homey feel. Too many dishes come out with just a spattering of promised sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, or olives. And while we love that Sette offers several reasonably priced wines by both the glass and the half-glass, we find the fill lines running around their stemware unnecessarily tacky. But while Sette’s kitchen may still be searching for its footing, the restaurant has already found a following. Tightly packed tables host a mix of passersby and Dupont Circle denizens — a refreshingly diverse crowd of 30-somethings, gray-hairs, couples, groups, and families. A cluster of sidewalk tables facing R Street recently made its seasonal debut, and in warmer weather we can easily imagine spending an afternoon lingering over a bottle of wine and a plate of Italian cheese. Sette just has that sort of friendly, neighborhood appeal. — Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times. Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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