In a welcome departure from the whiplash-inducing openings of new restaurants on 14th Street, the residents of Mount Vernon Square have lucked themselves into harboring Alba Osteria, the best new Italian restaurant in the district.
Right off Massachusetts Avenue at 425 I Street NW, Alba Osteria features an interior that's any modern architect's delight. Floor-to-ceiling windows, interesting metal fixtures and crisp lines add brightness to the warm glow of the large pizza oven anchoring the restaurant.
Punches of citrus orange in the bar stools, chairs and banquette seating eliminated the dark stuffiness you can sometimes find in old-school Italian restaurants. The mood was romantic yet inviting, perfect for a date night in D.C.
A boutique wine list accompanied the even-better food service, with the focus on only those wines derived from the Piedmont region of Italy. I skipped the cocktails to focus on wines, but my absence was duly noted by the attentive bar staff and now I am mandated to return for the cocktail tasting menu, a hardship I gladly will carry.
Of course, it's also difficult for me to really complain about Italian food. Italian is my absolute favorite cuisine, so I'm naturally biased, but Executive Chef Roberto Donna and his team still managed to impress me.
From the appetizer portion of the menu, cordoned into sections for Piatti Freddi, Zuppe and Piatti Caldi, I absolutely adored the Pepperonata ($8), followed by either the Cotechino ($8) or Fegatini E Porcini ($8). The Pepperonata is composed of sweet and sour peppers, tomato and potato, and tasted so softly airy and rich I basically only left one serving for my friends.
Mmm, starches, what's not to love?
Also, while I am not a organ meats type of person, the Fegatini E Porcini -- sautéed chicken livers, Marsala wine, porcini mushrooms and polenta –- had a nice contrast in textures and tastes so as to almost mask the sometimes slimy texture I feel livers embody.
Truthfully, I would just order the Pepperonata and then order the Gnocchi Verdi ($9/$19) off the Pasta section or any of the pastas, which can come in a smaller appetizer portion ($9) or larger dinner size ($19). The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the softness of the spinach-potato dumpling was brought to fruition by the accompanying sausage ragu. I definitely want to return and just order a dinner size for myself.
However, if you really want to get your hands dirty and eat something fun and scrumptious, I recommend one of the wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas. We ordered the Salsiccia E Rapini ($12.95). Made with tomato, smoked mozzarella, pork sausage, broccoli rabe and garlic, I appreciated the juicy bubbles of baked mozzarella greasing into the perfectly cooked pork sausage and broccoli rabe.
Every taste was delightful and I think some of the pizza restaurants in D.C. better watch their backs for some stiff competition.
Otherwise, I think the Calzoni looked humungous and spectacular, though I was too full to try. But go ahead and order it if you're willing to skip dessert.
I much prefer extreme sweetness in my desserts, and the selections at Alba Osteria were more bitter and sharp, reflecting a more European sensibility to dessert than the American divine sugaryness.
Overall, a marvelous dining experience. Congrats to owner Hakan Ilhan for a job well done.