Friday, June 3, 2011

Acqua al 2

Of the hundreds of restaurants we've tried in the DC area, I've always felt like there has been a hole in the "moderately priced good Italian food" category (with apologies to Filomena whose comically large portions of pasta offset the $30 price tag). Thank you Acqua al 2 for taking your cute Eastern Market restaurant and plugging it firmly into that hole.

Acqua al 2 is a restaurant concept started in Florence, Italy and brought to DC by two young, native Washingtonians. Chef Ari Gejdenson was recruited to play soccer internationally, and a stint in Florence helped spur his love of cooking. He returned to DC with friend Ralph Lee and opened Acqua al 2 last year, directly across from Eastern Market. The atmosphere is warm and inviting. Yes, the tables are too close together, but instead of feeling annoying, the intimacy lends a homey feeling as if you're all gathered in someone's living room. I suppose this nice image could be shattered by poor table neighbors, but we had a great experience.

The thing that I first fell in love with about Acqua al 2 was the sampler menu. If you can't decide on what to order, try the pasta sampler featuring five pastas selected by the chef. Don't have a big group to help you eat five dishes? No problem! Acqua will customize a sampler for a minimum of two people.

Rather than being served all at once, the pastas paraded from the kitchen in succession.

Each serving was enough for each of us to take a couple of bites. It was the perfect way to test drive the menu options without committing to a giant bowl of one flavor of pasta.

While none of the sauces were particularly adventurous, they were familiar and comforting and tossed over very fresh pasta. The vodka sauce on the penne (above) was the best rendition of the ubiquitous sauce that I've tasted.

The texture of the fussili (above and below) was delicate and didn't fall prey to the "heavy monster" as do so many other pasta dishes.

The pasta sampler was followed by the steak sampler. Yes, that's right, three kinds of steak! In the foreground is a slice of New York steak with a green peppercorn, brandy, Dijon mustard, and cream sauce. In the middle, as a light contrast to the cream sauce, is a New York sitting on a bed of arugula and cherry tomatoes topped with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Last, but certainly not least, is the filet topped with a blueberry balsamic sauce. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the blueberry sauce on the steak shot to the top of my favorites list. I used every scrap of bread on our table to soak up the remaining sauce and came very close to slapping away the hand of our very kind waiter who came to clear the plate.

I was so giddy over the notion of samplers that I found myself agreeing to try the dessert sampler without regard to how full I was. However, it proved to be a fantastic decision as these little bites of dessert were fabulous and the perfect size to cap off the meal. When we return to Acqua al 2 (that's "when" not "if") we're going straight for the panna cotta. It was silky perfection.

Over the course of our meal, I think I told B at least 5 times that I couldn't wait to add Acqua al 2 to our list of places to take visiting friends and family. Here's to hoping that future visits live up to the magic of the first. We'll let you know.

Second Thoughts from B

Let me point you, dear reader, to a post we wrote a couple months ago about Kora Restaurant. That's the post I put you to sleep with the lengthy math problem that detailed how a big discount from Village Vines can salvage a mediocre meal. Just think what such a discount does to a fantastic meal!

Kora is also the place where we tried the pasta sampler, which simply put, was a poorly executed good idea. Acqua al 2's version, while similar in concept, was in a whole different league. Cue Jules from Pulp Fiction (the PG version): "It ain't the same ballpark, ain't the same league, ain't even the same sport." Simply describing Acqua's pasta sampler with the same title is a travesty. It was that good. Still, it was also the most ordinary part of our meal.

Not surprisingly, J and I do a fair amount of research prior to our first visit to a nice restaurant. In the case of Acqua al 2, all I read about was this blueberry balsamic sauce. I don't know how to describe how awesome it is, but I don't have any doubt that J would have gulped down a shot of it if it came out as the next course. We must have gone through 2 bread baskets just to mop it all up.

And as good as it was, this is not a case of a chef getting lucky one time. The peppercorn mustard cream sauce more than held its own, as did the fab four that came out under the title of dessert sampler. Any of those three options could carry a restaurant.

Simply put, I couldn't be more enthusiastic about Acqua al 2. My only critique would be that the pacing of the pasta samplers was a bit fast for my taste. But I guess that's a good thing because if given the time, we would have found ourselves licking down the plates.
Acqua Al 2 on Urbanspoon

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