Chef Roberto Donna just celebrated his third anniversary at AL DENTE (www.aldentedc.com) just several blocks away from our home and we were thrilled to return this week for the first time in a while to ROBERTO's 8, his special tasting menu available on certain weekday nights only for up to 8 people and served at the kitchen table, a bar-like setup where you can sit and watch everything going on right before your eyes, and chat with the superstar chef himself all evening.
It was a special night as we recalled previous nights at Laboratoria del Galileo from years ago and laughed about chef's Iron Chef competitions on TV as well.
According to my count we had some 16+ courses (not including the amuse) and magnificent wines paired and poured generously with a smile by our most able server Nick.
Clara C Fiori Rose Prosecco was poured first with an amuse of Aperol Gelee, and a Crostini with Mozzarella di Bufala, Balsamic, Crystalized Basil & orange Peel. Simple yet an idea of the new fun Chef Donna is experimenting with.
Miniature Pizzettas arrived in tiny boxes with checkerboard paper lining them. It was so adorable, we didn't want to mess it up, but I quickly grabbed the yummy pie with Caramelized Sweet Vidalia Onions, Fontina Cheese, Truffle and a soft Quail Egg that exploded as you bit into the middle of the pizzetta.
Lobster appeared next with Artichokes and Red beets in Lemon Juice with Pickled Ramps, Pickled Radishes and a good sprinkle of sea salt for excellent crunch and flavor. We just thought it couldn't get any better until huge smoky domes were placed in front of the four of us (yes, 4 seats were not taken this night, so summer is a good time to go--just be sure to reserve ahead) and then lifted so the smoke wafted out and we were inn heaven (video on my FB page). Underneath was tender grilled Octopus with Orange, Fennel & Black Olive with some medium heat miniature peppers, so small they were barely 1/16th inch long. Our second wine was a yummy Di Lenardo Chardonnay from Friuli 2014 called "Father's Eyes" which paired so well with many of the seafood dishes that ensued.
Chef Roberto knows my affinity for Soft Shell Crab and this followed with a simple Pea Puree that was elegant and tasty so that the flavor of the crab shone.
Fried Head-On Shrimp in a quirky stand (also on FB) with a tasty Saffron dipping Mayonnaise was next and the huge shrimp were cooked superbly and the heads were as tasty as ever to boot.
Corn Soup was rich and creamy with chili flakes for a bite and slices of tender Calamari. I love the extra dashes of spice Chef Roberto uses these days which makes a big burst in your mouth.
Eggshells are used by so many chefs all over the world for serving dishes, but this night was a revelation with a filling of Burrata and Black Truffles; I can think of nothing more elegant and Italian, yet so exciting.
Our wine changed to Vin de Pays de Maures Grenache Rose 2014 which Will described as having a "Juicy Fruit" nose, but was a nice dry wine on the palate.
Frascatelli is a semolina pasta which I don't ever recall having before and reminds me of miniature gnocchi, yet lighter. These were in a white wine reduction with Manila Clamds, Confit Carlic and Parsley Puree that made for a superb flavor and probably one of the few new things I have eaten in ages.
If you are counting, number 9 was next with a traditional Spaghetti alla Chitarra, here made with amazing homemade pasta that I adored and just a hint of that peppery gypsy sauce and Pancetta and Asparagus.
I think my favorite wine of the night was the red Luceres Merlot/Cab Franc blend 2006 "Pogetto" super Tuscan-style that just was so soft on the palate. A dinner from Chef Donna is incomplete without his famous Risotto and this night we had it with Tomato & Taleggio Cheese Sauce that was indeed divine.
The red wine was a notice that meat was coming and our first taste was mouth-watering Suckling Pig with Orange, Cloves, Potato and Proscuitto-wrapped Endive....OMG, or to quote a famous opera character, "Sono in ciel..." I am in heaven.
Squab was next with Spinach and Dates in its own Jus that was as tasty as it gets and the dates were just the right touch; not too heavy, just lots of flavor.
Cheese is always good, and here Chef Roberto was at his finest with a Rocchetta Cheese served oozing all over a slate slab with Hazelnuts, Honey, a Crisp thin "flatbread" cracker, Mostarda di Cremona and Saba (yes that alcohol-free balsamic stuff we talked of just a week earlier--I still am not clear on how it is made).
Desserts began to arrive and never seemed to cease, but first a palate cleanser of Passion Fruit Granita which we all agreed was one of our favorite fruits. I know Samuel would have been thrilled.
A selection of desserts was next with Tomato/Almond/Pistachio/honey Tart with Caramel Sauce and Pistachio Gelato. But I quickly gravitated to the flavor-bursting Fresh Poached Cherries in Port Wine with Whipped Cream...ah, but then there was the Crème Caramel Panna Cotta. Which to eat and in which order? I can't recall seeing a bit of anything left on any of our plates.
The finale was an amazing Fig Tart with Vanilla Gelato and crumbles of Chocolate "Dirt" as chef liked to call it; easily the best and truly spectacular. Vin Santo, Dessert wine, Limoncello all arrived and there was a tasty Bicerin, which again I do not ever recall having. It is an Espresso shot infused with chocolate, rum and sugar and beats Turkish coffee by a million miles; yay, Piemonte! Yay, Chef Roberto.
Yay, Al Dente.