We may have missed out on Restaurant Week here in DC, but we got back just in time to visit the 3-week old new brainstorm of Chef Roberto Donna, ALBA OSTERIA, where Chef Amy Brandwein (previously of Café Nonna, Fyve and of course Galileo) has taken helm in the kitchen.
A great team is assembled here in this very relaxed casual osteria(bistro) where food and wine both rule (http://albaosteriadc.com -located at 425 "I" Street, NW). The orange contoured chairs will be recognizable if you have been to Al Dente where Chef Roberto reigns. They are cool, clean and crisp, but not super comfy; I do prefer a cushion for my you know what! There is a huge bar area in the entry area with lots of raised tables around. A glass wall separates this from the smaller dining area and open kitchen where you watch everything that's going on. There is also bar seating facing the kitchen. Whole the 1901 factory building that was here is gone, there are some notes near the restrooms indicating how some of that building was re-used in the present structure!
Our server Naulah was a gem and helped us decide, along with Chef Amy, on what to choose. The menu is varied and small plates and pizza seem to rule here alongside of pasta and several main dishes. We started with a bottle of Donnafugata Lighea 2012 which is a dry version of the fruity and aromatic Muscat called Zibibbo. It was fruity at the start, but once we married it to the various dishes it changed dramatically, even becoming more acidic at one point; quite an interesting grape for sure.
First came ROBIOLA ALLO SPECK which are fried potato sticks (think French fries) topped with gooey melted Robiola Cheese, a slice of speck and Garlic Sauce for seasoning. It's a divine take on cheese fries that easily wins.
LINGUA al VERDE was Will's give-in-to-me dish as I adore tongue. Chef Amy explained that she cooks the veal tongue sous-vide and then serves it simply over a salsa verde. All it needed was a twist of the pepper mill for some extra flavor; even Will admitted he liked this.
POLIPO was charred perfectly grilled octopus with potato, eggplant, roasted red peppers and an aioli that was the thing that made the wine get crispy and acidic; how neat was that?
TONNO di CONIGLIO is the new meat salad winner in the city. The rabbit is herb poached and served like pulled pork (which can involve an occasional tiny bone) along with Lamb's Lettuce, Hazelnut, Black Olives, Capers, Mache and a tad of Onion. I think even Samuel would devour this dish.
CAPUNET is another divine new find. Think Italian Egg Roll and you have Braised Duck with Cabbage in a Rice Flour Wrap and deep fried, but here served with COTOGNATA which is a very spicy sauce from anchovy & caper that will dazzle your mouth. This is one dish not to be missed, along with so many others.
SUBRIC are fritters made from a mash of eggplant, potato and cauliflower then deep fried and served with Bagnetto Rosso, while the superb CAVOLFIORE alla CAVOUR is a combo of cauliflower and broccoli-rabe roasted with parmesan, anchovy and sprinkled with hard boiled egg in a little cast iron pot.
I forgot to mention the wonderful bread which comes in many delicious forms from a seasoned, salty flatbread to breadsticks to various others which arrive with an irresistible cheese butter.
Our second wine was a Nebbiolo "Bric du Nota" 2008 from Scarpa in Piemonte which is where the restaurant gets its name from (Alba is a town there and where Chef Donna hails from). After decanting by our wonderful sommeileuse Jennifer it was drinking divinely.
The two pastas we ordered were very different and on the special menu, so you might not find them every day:
BUCATINI alla VONGOLE featured those hollow wide spaghetti strands that I often find myself sucking air through, which I do not like. The dish was cooked perfectly with Little Neck Clams in a rich white wine sauce, but in the future I shall steer away from hollow pasta!
FARRO E CICI was the winner with a Wheat Tagliatelle mixed with Shrimp, Chick Peas, Anchovies and Hot Peppers making for a zingy sauce that we both adored, especially with our huge big red wine.
We were full so one dessert sufficed and Nailah insisted on the POLENTA BIANCA which is a snow white rich polenta with a crunchy caramel top and a scoop of Chocolate Gelato. Take the gelato and palce it on the crunchy crème brulee like topping and you have a Corn Polenta Brulee a la Mode to die for.
We went home happy knowing that ALBA is in our future.