I’ll admit from the start that I am a bit biased in my review here. For some time now I have been lamenting the Hill’s lack of a good Italian restaurant that doesn’t suffer from the Olive Garden-tendency to think that pasta should be hidden in large mounds of cream-based sauces and then topped with extra cheese. I’m not saying that we have no good options on the Hill, but the existing ones just fall a little short of satisfying my personal cravings. After spending some time in Italy, and going to school in the heart of the Italian section of the Bronx, I crave certain things in a good Italian restaurant. Yes, I realize that I am being a bit snobbish in my standards, but we all have something that we are overly picky with.
So I’ve been eagerly following the progress of Acqua al 2, whose first location was opened in Florence, Italy in 1978. (A second location in San Diego, California was opened in 2000.) In hearing that they would have a menu of Tuscan cuisine, I knew I was finally in for the kind of Italian meal I had been craving for so long.
While their tables were all booked up on Saturday – their opening night – my dad and I decided to stop by to just eat at the bar, where we were able to chat with Nathan Berger, the bar manager who also happens to be my next door neighbor. Despite getting a peek at a menu one night last week, I had no idea what to order because everything was making my mouth water.
Cold and hot appetizers include standard soups and salads but also items like grilled eggplant with house tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, sliced smoked salmon, or an assortment of salami, prosciutto, and fennel sausage with cheese on mixed greens. We split the Strozzapreti al Pomodoro, which is fresh ricotta cheese and spinach balls hand rolled and baked in their house tomato sauce then topped with Parmesan cheese. Something about that just called to me. I loved it and suspect that I will be tempted to order this every time I visit.
The primi piatti selection ranges from a long list of pasta dishes, as well as a few risotto and gnocchi options. I love pasta and had too hard of a time deciding which one to get so we chose the sampling option: for $16 you can get a sampling of five dishes that the chef picks. They recommend that two people share this, and you end up with 3-4 bites of each dish. Each tasting came out separately, and a bit slowly for my hungry stomach, but they were all fantastic and worth the wait.
Our tasting included the Farfalline alla Zucchini (bow tie pasta with zucchini, garlic, rosemary and a touch of Parmesan cheese), Rigatoni alle Melanzane (tube shaped pasta with a tomato eggplant sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese), Maccheroni alla Vodka (little penne pasta in a vodka sauce with a touch of tomato sauce), Riso ai Funghi Porcini (carnaroli rice with sautéed porcini mushrooms a touch of garlic and parsley), and the Fusilli Corti agli Spinaci (corkscrew pasta in a light spinach sauce). My favorites were the Riso ai Funghi Porcini and the Farfalline alla Zucchini, while my dad’s favorite was the Fusilli Corti agli Spinaci.
You also have the option to order a sampling of three secondi piatti for $30 but we decided to just split the Lombatina ai Funghi Porcini, which is a hand-cut veal chop sautéed in a porcini mushroom, white wine and garlic sauce. Other options include a range of steak and chicken dishes; in hindsight I wish I had gotten a peek at other people’s plates so I could say how large or small the dishes were, but I guess that just means I will have to go back. The menu also touts organically raised and grass-fed meats.
One thing the menu is missing is vegetarian options on the secondi selections, leaving anyone craving fish or something other than steak and chicken limited to small-plate options. The addition of a couple of fish entrees would go a long way.
So clearly I loved the food (and am really hungry after writing all of that), but what about the rest of the place? The restaurant is not large and while 100+ seats have been squeezed in a bit tight, I think there is a lovely intimate feel. The woodwork, copper bar and tin roof create a beautiful space, and the front windows are sure to become a favorite spot for folks coming in for a drink. The owners are in the process of obtaining permits for adding sidewalk tables, and plan to serve brunch in the near future as well. Appetizers range from $9-$14, primi piatti from $12-$14 ($16 for the sampling of five), and secondi piatti range from $15-$29 ($30 for the sampling of three). Because the primi piatti are small, you should plan on also ordering a secondi…which means that this is not exactly your most affordable restaurant on the Hill. However, I think that the food is very and worth the price, and the ambiance makes this a great place for a special date night. For my taste buds, this is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and I can’t wait for an excuse to go back to try some more dishes.
Acqua Al 2 DC
212 7th Street SE
Washington, DC 20003