Having a good Italian restaurant nearby is an inalienable human right. But until recently that need was not adequately met for the denizens of the Rosslyn neighborhood in Arlington, Va., said Jacque Kish, vice president of design for the Puccini Group. So the group designed Domaso Trattoria Moderna , located on the fourth floor of the Hotel Palomar Arlington, to support varied dining experiences within the same space and draw repeat visits from hotel guests and local diners alike.
“We researched what type of restaurant we should put in here,” she said. “Italian restaurants are very well-received, especially in hotels. And looking around the area, we definitely saw that there was a need for more of them, so we thought we would design the best one.”
“The Italian presence was not big in the area,” chef Massimo Fedozzi said. “There are Italian mom-and-pop restaurants, but [there is] not a huge presence like in New York or Chicago.”
Domaso is named for a village on Lake Como in Northern Italy. The space is designed to evoke a spacious, traditional Italian castle, but with materials that are sleek and edgy to complement Fedozzi’s modern Italian cuisine. A native of Genoa, a seaport on the northern coast of Italy, Fedozzi says Domaso’s menu is authentic modern Italian food from the Northern regions, presented with a taste for modern twists.
“My tiramisu is not a square,” he said. “I present it in a semi-sphere with a pistachio tuille and a coffee sauce.”
And Domaso’s tomato and bread soup with spinach gnocchetti is designed to marry the flavors of two regions—spinach gnocchi from Lombardy and the tomato soup from Tuscany.
The 145-seat restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. According to Fedozzi, breakfast is mostly hotel guests, while lunch and dinner draw both guests and locals from the office area in downtown Arlington.
“[Domaso] has been doing really well,” Kish said. “Every time I’m in there it’s busy, and once I had to tell them I was the designer to get a reservation. And the food is excellent.”
Domaso may be a local spot, but it is also a hotel restaurant, and that brought unique requirements.
“We figure that a guest might eat there maybe twice during their stay at the hotel,” Kish said. “So the idea was to break it up into different sections so everybody has a different dining experience. If I were to eat there four nights in a row, I could conceivably have four different dining experiences.”
The illusion of different restaurants within Domaso begins when guests enter the fourth-floor space through a custom-built gate of bronze squares fixed in geometric lines. The gate opens onto a large-scale destination lounge centered around an oversized marble bar that stands on sleek, curved, bronze legs. Overstuffed chairs and a large, communal table encourage lounging with cocktails, wine and shareable dishes from the bar menu.
The main dining room features 14-foot-tall vaulted ceilings and long, curving walls that initially created a problem for the design team.
“On the plus side, we had big, tall spaces, which we normally don’t,” Kish said. “We had these enormous ceilings, which was wonderful. But it was all long, and on a curve. And when you start designing kitchens, seating and bars, everything else needs to be more linear.”
They decided to tackle the problem by using the space’s curves as an asset to help delineate dining areas within the restaurant and break them up into distinct experiences.
In the dining room, back-to-back couches mimic banquettes and are designed to feel like a love seat snuggled up to the table. Like most of the furniture, they were custom designed for Domaso. Varying the types of seats and the dining levels creates different dining experiences within the restaurant, depending where and on what the guest is sitting.
An outdoor terrace overlooks the buildings of the Georgetown University campus and seats 66 when the weather permits. And at the right side of the dining room there is an elevated dining area where guests are seated in large booths.
“You take a step up, and that’s where you have your big, oversized, traditional U-shaped booths,” Kish said. “And that upper dining area could double as a private dining area if someone wanted it to.”
The kitchen is visible through an alcove cut into the floor-to-ceiling, stone-tiled wall of the main dining room, highlighted with an overhang of blue tiles that lend a contemporary coolness to the old-style wall.
“[The exhibition kitchen] is very cool,” Fedozzi said. “This is more of an exhibition kitchen than an open kitchen. [Guests] want to look at what I’m doing. Even for the line cooks it is exciting, because they’d never worked in a restaurant where the kitchen is right in the dining room.”
Domaso’s bread and pastries are baked daily in the restaurant’s pastry kitchen, which features large glass windows so guests can look in during the day and see the staff at work. Rich, chocolate brown-tiled walls and a chandelier upgrade the bakery decor so it can double as a private dining room in the evening.
In keeping with both the modern and traditional aesthetics, Domaso makes use of plenty of natural materials and subtle colors.
“The palette is very natural colors and natural materials,” Kish said. “[Domaso has] butt-jointed wood floors. And one of the great features of the space is that we have textured stone tiles all along the curved wall, and it’s lit from above.”
Lighting is key to Domaso’s signature contemporary-castle atmosphere. Oversized, custom-built metal chandeliers with etched-glass panels highlight the spacious interior and dramatic vaulted ceilings. Spotlights fill out the space and create a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere.
“We took what I would call a traditional chandelier that might be hanging in a castle,” Kish said, “and we started drawing up how that would be done in a modern interpretation.
“It is like an old chandelier that you would see with hurricane lamps on it,” Kish said.
To mimic the look of old hurricane lamps, the chandeliers each feature a ring of etched-glass panels in front of electric candles.
“It’s a traditional shape,” Kish said, “but it’s modern. It’s sort of our modernized Italian castle.”