Alba Osteria – a Review

In Food, Italian, Mt Vernon, Review by RUNINdc

From the moment I stepped foot in this large and ultra modern restaurant on the corner of I St and 4th St NW, I was impressed with the decor, with the service and definitely with the food. The patio seating was impressive as well, unfortunately for me it was raining the day I visited. Inside there are these beautiful stained and frosted glass partitions breaking up the big space and separating the bar from the dining area. It sort of makes the trip to the bathroom maze-like but it also cuts down on noise transfer across such a huge space. The designer did a great job in my estimation. While it is modern I still felt comfortable which in my experience don’t usually go hand in hand.

What happened after sitting at the table I can only describe as almost magical. Until this dinner I had never even to think of multiple ways to say “melt in your mouth good.” And now I do, which is not an unpleasant problem to have in life. While we decided on our choice of entree and antipasti we were served some crunchy breadsticks and flatbreads with a wonderful pesto butter mixture presented in a cute little jar. I so want the recipe for this herbed butter that way I can make cartons of it and give it to friends as gifts. I would be the talk of the town!

Having decided on our options for dinner we asked Catherine, our lovely waitress, for advice on which wine would best compliment our meal. She decided on a 2009 Barolo which turned out to be just right to accompany several courses.

DSC_0301

Having decided on our options for dinner we asked Catherine, our lovely waitress, for advice on which wine would best compliment our meal. She decided on a 2009 Barolo which turned out to be just right to accompany several courses.

DSC_0273

The first of which was a complimentary charcuterie board possessing Raschera and Toma cheeses, both hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy that executive chef Roberto Donna is from, served with prosciutto, honied peanut sauce and a chopped salad alongside more breadsticks

DSC_0274

The dumplings were more of a mousse than dumpling per se but the flavor of the swiss chard and ricotta served with sauteed baby spinach on top was divine. The baby spinach was so delicate it literally disintegrated once you bit into it which was actually a rather nice adventure.

Happily I found these ones were soft and chewy. The prosciutto was melt in your mouth tender and thinly sliced. The Toma cheese I found nicely sharp and creamy while the Raschera, an aged semi-hard cheese, was mildly sharp as well and had a buttery finish that was pleasant. As for the honied peanut sauce it seemed odd at first but it was a nice bit of sweet amidst the savory choices and we even dipped our cheese in it with gusto. The small salad was tart with vinegar dressing, oil-cured kalamata olives, and julienned radish and carrots. The vegetables were tender crisp and the olives perfect. I am somewhat of an olive snob due to my Greek heritage. Oil cured kalamatas are my favorite by far and I suggest you try them if you like regular kalamatas. Lastly there were tiny pickled hot peppers which were exceptionally spicy and piquant. I loved them, but warn they are not for the faint of heart, or tongue.

DSC_0276

Served sliced ultra-thin and cooked to the point that it started dissolving once it was in your mouth.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 9.53.45 PM

The small salad was tart with vinegar dressing, oil-cured kalamata olives, and julienned radish and carrots. The vegetables were tender crisp and the olives perfect. I am somewhat of an olive snob due to my Greek heritage.

 

When our entrees were delivered I felt a bit jealous, wishing I had ordered the Filetto Alla Piemontese, a Beef Tenderloin atop potato subric (which is sort of like a croquette), then topped with a wonderfully thick and creamy marsala gravy and porcini mushrooms. Drool!

DSC_0278

Filetto Alla Piemontese, a Beef Tenderloin atop potato subric (which is sort of like a croquette), then topped with a wonderfully thick and creamy marsala gravy and porcini mushrooms.

The cooks accomplished cooking it rare as asked for which is always a good start, the rest of the dish was excellent as well. The marsala complemented the tenderloin very well and had just a hint of dryness of the wine on the finish.

DSC_0282

The caramelization on the fat in the quail and especially the pork belly with the sweetness of the accompanying fig jam was superb.

DSC_0310

Not that my dish of skewered quail, porkbelly and vegetables was bad by any means, it just wasn’t as mouthwateringly fantastic as the beef.

The porcinis were woodsy and fresh and balanced the dish finely. Not that my dish of skewered quail, porkbelly and vegetables was bad by any means, it just wasn’t as mouthwateringly fantastic as the beef.   The caramelization on the fat in the quail and especially the pork belly with the sweetness of the accompanying fig jam was superb. The fresh sage added a wonderful savoriness to the dish. The grilled fig on the skewer with the quail was delicate and absurdly delicious. I wished there had been more bits of the fig and less say of the onion or bell pepper. This was my first time trying quail and I found it was to my liking. I am not afraid of a little “gameyness” in a meat such as wild rabbit or deer. I’ve had gamier meets for sure. Overall it was a simple entree yet oh so good.

Chef Del cuisine, Amy Brandwein, is a master of her craft. The dishes she serves are fresh, lively, and cooked properly with ingredients that express the food of the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.

And finally we ordered desserts, Panna Cotta and Torta Gianduja. After all the other incredible foods we had already tried the desserts were no let down. In fact we both agreed they were the perfect end to the meal.

DSC_0314

The texture of the cake itself made me think of a molten lava cake but without the molten center.

DSC_0313

The Panna Cotta was served with Saba, a reduced grape juice that retains a slightly acidic flavor reminiscent of a balsamic glaze, and fresh fruit.

The Panna Cotta was served with Saba, a reduced grape juice that retains a slightly acidic flavor reminiscent of a balsamic glaze, and fresh fruit. It was so good that my friend finished it off. I was a little too stuffed already to finish my torta, which I assure you I would have finished if I could have. The texture of the cake itself made me think of a molten lava cake but without the molten center of course. The vanilla gelato was delightful and I could taste the vanilla bean but had no hint of the beans in the gelato itself. The “hot chocolate” was actually more of a drinking chocolate as it was much thicker than cocoa typically is, and oh was it incredible! I only wish more of the hot chocolate came with this dessert. I did not really perceive any taste of the apricot marmelatta in the dish but it did not suffer one bit for it. I must say Alba Osteria is the whole package when it comes to a restaurant: stylish, comfortable with plenty of seating, and the food is some of the best you are likely to find in DC. I give them an enthusiastic Four Stars!

DSC_0310Annamaria lives in Alexandria, Virginia having recently moved to the DMV from Ohio, and you could say she is a jack of all trades. She critiques local food and drink, mystery shops, writes and creates her own gorgeous knitwear. In her spare time she can be found at the pool or visiting one of her favorite watering holes in NW D.C. Twitter.com/meinemaria