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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Al Dente

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2013 Top 100
Neighborhood: Glover Park

The Setup

Official Co-Writer/Fiance of DCWD Texas came home from work with an inexplicable craving for Italian food. Not only that, but we found ourselves in temporary possession of a friend's car while they were out of town. Those two factors combined into the perfect idea: Al Dente.

The Vibe

Al Dente, the restaurant formerly known as La Forchetta, is the latest stop on the Roberta Donna restaurant tour. For the uninitiated, Chef Donna is primarily known for two things: an incredible knack for developing big Italian flavors, and an unfortunate habit of getting himself into tax trouble or controversy everywhere he lands. The La Forchetta stop returns him to a place where he seems the best-suited: the kitchen, and his stay here has been remarkably free of any noise (other than the aforementioned name change, and the related flap over its similarities to another restaurant's).

There are a few cool things about the design of the Al Dente space, and some really bad things. On the former, the dining room features some nice features, with a square bar around the pizza oven in the center of the room, and another seated bar in front of an open finishing kitchen on the restaurant's right side. But there are some design flaws too: a set of hightops sit on either side of a room divider between the two bars, but the divider itself is an orange wrought iron grate of curlicues, meaning it's a very thin divide between you and the table on the other side of the divider, and no refuge from sound. So while sight lines to the open kitchen are unencumbered, it's a little loud and a little awkward. Service is a little slow and makes some interesting choices: we aren't even seen by a server until 10 minutes into the meal; and when the table over knocks over a glass, clean-up involves picking up the big pieces and placing them next to us at the open kitchen bar, where it stays for the entirety of the meal.

The Food

But could the food make up for these missteps? We decide to split two entrees: a salsiccia e rapini pizza (tomato, smoked mozzarella, pork sausage, broccoli rabe, and garlic) and a bowl of pappardelle in a wild boar ragu. The pizza is a highlight, combining smoky, earthy flavors on a nicely crisp crust. It compares well to other high-end pizzas around the city and is probably the most enjoyable part of our meal.

The pasta is also delicious, housemade as expected, and consequently is silky and light. The sauce, when it appears, is meaty and rich. But the accompaniments are sparse, and by the end of the dish, we are eating very lightly-sauced ribbons. A slightly heavier hand with the ragu might have prevented the beautifully thin pasta from sticking to itself.

In another service error, the drinks we order come well into the entree round, and might have provided some levity with a flavorful Green Hat gin cocktail perked up by pepper flakes. But the last sip brings an unexpected crunch: a small shard of glass has found itself in my drink. Perhaps what was more ignominious than this discovery was the waiter's terse apology.

The Verdict

Good food, but needs to shape up its operations a lot more.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
: Now that it's been repaired, head over to the National Cathedral to take a quick tour; try to spot the Darth Vader gargoyle.

Al Dente Ristorante on Urbanspoon

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