Dear Inga is a heartfelt love letter to Eastern Europe, and specifically to chef David Golovin's grandmother, and the three-week-old restaurant has already proven itself a welcome addition to the already food-destination-worthy 18th Street corridor.
The warmly lit interior shows light signs of remodeling, reimagining the sleek former Farina space with more wood accents and less Milanese sheen. Some rustic touches in an Eastern European vein have been added, including colorfully painted wood tables and stencils on the ceiling, but the handsome white marble bar has — with good reason — been left in place and intact.
And now that we're almost three years on from the tragic closing of Bar Tartine, it's with great pleasure that I can report that Golovin's take on a similar swath of cuisines is equally original, flavorful, and delightful in its own right. Beginning with the Slovakian-inspired liptauer cheese dip — essentially pub cheese punched up with smoky paprika — the menu at Dear Inga offers an array of satisfying, hearty food that's been reimagined in a modern California style. The dip can be ordered with crudités for dipping if you're doing the low-carb thing but I'd recommend the fried-to-order langos, the same potato-based fried bread that Bar Tartine had on the menu, only this version is a bit crunchier and zeppole-like.
Other highlights from an initial visit include the chicken and pork jowl meatballs with rye glaze, the pork and beef-stuffed cabbage, and the delicious endive and fermented turnip salad with a kicky paprika vinaigrette.
There were only four entrées on offer the night I was there — the menu is definitely geared toward sharing and small plates, though you can definitely opt to order a starter and an entree per person as well. And the menu has changed slightly since the opening version seen here. (See the latest one on the restaurant website.) But the star of the show has to be the smoked game hen, which is almost normal roast-chicken sized and arrives as a spatchcocked whole-bird portion. It is served with grilled chicories and a delicious, savory yet tart pomegranate-walnut glaze. But the moist, smoky bird is flavor-packed enough on its own, and will be calling me back for seconds any week now.
Dear Inga - 3560 18th Street between Guerrero and Valencia - Open Tuesday to Sunday at 5 p.m. for dinner - Reservations here