Italian Trattoria Forks Over Flavor With Robust Menu
Published: Saturday, June 23, 2012
Updated: Sunday, June 24, 2012 17:06
Although located in slightly unfamiliar territory — near American University — La Forchetta is definitely worth the trip for classic Italian dishes done right. This new Italian eatery is the best place you’ll find casual and inviting fare prepared by a James Beard Award-winning chef.
La Forchetta, only three months old, is the newest restaurant helmed by Roberto Donna, one of Washington’s most renowned chefs, who prepares dishes full of Italian flavors reminiscent of his Piedmontese heritage. Donna’s extensive list of achievements ranges from cooking alongside Julia Child to winning Battle Squid on “Iron Chef America.” But when it comes to Italian cuisine, Roberto Donna helped put the District on the map and made it the destination city for the finest in Italian dining — outside of Italy, of course.
What makes La Forchetta so special is that you can experience the best of Donna’s finessed cooking in an affordable and relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant welcomes diners with an open kitchen and a wall of firewood that cozies up the urban dining room, decorated with bold orange chairs and chic black chandeliers. But the 800-pound pizza oven in the center of the restaurant commands your attention, beckoning you to order one of La Forchetta’s artisan pizzas. The trendy space is truly a haven for college students, skillfully combining a modern and lively feel with heartwarmingly good home-cooked dishes: the dynamic duo.
Donna’s extensive menu is as artfully crafted as his well-known pastas. The traditional flavors of his menu take your taste buds on a journey through northern Italy, starting with creamy burrata cheese alongside a juicy stewed tomato framed by a rich olive oil drizzle. Next follows lightly fried zucchini blossoms bursting with silken, sweet ricotta cheese to give your palate the most heavenly bite of crunchy and smooth textures. My final pick from the array of appetizers are the mouthwateringly seasoned sauteed shrimp on a soft bed of creamy polenta, topped with two refreshing slices of lemon. The best way to approach the appetizer list is to order multiple dishes and share, offering some insight into the choice of the restaurant’s name, which means ‘the fork.’
The next dishes are where La Forchetta excels in tying together nontraditional flavors with the most popular Italian dishes. Perfectly al dente rice cooked together with an array of shrimp, cuttlefish, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes in an aromatic saffron spice blend take risotto to a new level. Taking advantage of the freshest seasonal ingredients, soft-shell crab is the highlight of the page-long specials menu. The soft-shell crab pizza, an unusual combination, is a gem that pizza lovers must try.
But the winning dish that La Forchetta has to offer is the dessert calzone filled with luscious Nutella and fresh bananas. If your sweet tooth craves a more traditional dessert, though, the glistening sugar-coated bombolini are an interactive masterpiece, requiring you to dip these crispy mini-donuts into a warm pool of melted chocolate.
La Forchetta has an immense number of Italian dishes to delight your palate, but this variety is also its downfall. After visiting the restaurant twice and paging through the seemingly endless list of menu items and specials, I have found the quality of the food inconsistent: My favorite dish one time can turn out to be my least favorite the next. To make sure you get a plate cooked to your satisfaction, I again recommend that you share appetizers, which are large enough to be small entrees. Even though this young restaurant has improvements to make, one thing’s for sure: Wherever Roberto Donna cooks, I follow.