Mangiamo: The Tastes of Italy in the District
Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, January 20, 2012 00:01
In the spirit of D.C. Restaurant Week, let's do as the Italians do: mangiamo! That is what my typical New Jersey Italian family does. My kitchen is overflowing with fresh bread from Marra's, pizza from Tony's, mozzarella from Lisa's, and the list goes on. I'd like to say I know my Italian food pretty well. You can only imagine the culture shock I experienced in D.C. when there was no local Italian deli or family-owned hole-in-the-wall pizzeria. Since then, I've been on the search for the best Italian food in D.C.
Pizza is my favorite food and I have to say Tuscany doesn't cut it. Il Canale takes the crown for the best pizza in D.C. The pizzas come bubbling out of the brick oven in the center of the restaurant. I usually play it safe when it comes to pizza, but let your guard down and indulge in the creative options available. Cooked to perfection with imported bufala mozzarella, ricotta, prosciutto, eggplant, cherry tomatoes and basil, it's no wonder why Il Canale is my favorite.
Their talent doesn't just end with pizza; their pasta bolognese tastes like it just came out of nonna's kitchen. The service is outstanding. The waiters I've met there are from Italy, so they love to share anecdotes about their families and life back home. They bring life to the already artsy, laidback atmosphere; it's the perfect place for a Friday night feast.
Cafe Milano is a family favorite. Start off with a pizza to share for the table. You can taste the fresh mozzarella on the thin-crusted wonder. For dinner, I recommend the ravioli filled with butternut squash and amaretto in a creamy Parmesan sauce. This unique dish literally melts in your mouth. Make sure you save some room for the best tiramisu in D.C. The atmosphere is fancier than Il Canale, but it still provides a relaxing environment.
This summer, my family and I chanced upon a restaurant called Acqua al Due in Florence. We fell in love. It was the best meal I've ever had. When I found out they had a sister restaurant with the same name in D.C., I almost fainted. Located down in Eastern Market, this restaurant is well worth the trip. Warning: the entrees are expensive, but with a big group you can order a handful of dishes to share. Begin the with the pasta sampler, which includes five types of pasta to share with the table. The servers bring them out one at a time, so you are able to savor and enjoy each bite. The chef typically picks which pastas you will eat, but don't be afraid to ask your server if you can customize your order.
As if you weren't already in heaven by this point, share the steak sampler with a friend. You are offered three different types of steak: balsamic glazed, classic and the restaurant's specialty, blueberry glazed. The blueberry glazed steak isn't as sweet as it sounds. The chef carefully prepares it so you get a fruity hint that isn't overwhelming. To cleanse your palate, order the dessert sampler and taste the rich homemade desserts over your authentic cappuccino. Acqua al Due takes the crown as the best Italian dining experience in D.C.
If you want to feel like you've just stepped off the Tuscan streets, venture down to I Ricchi. The menu provides you with authentic Tuscan options. My favorite dish is the panzotti fiorentini, homemade pasta stuffed with veal and spinach in tomato sauce. The flavor of the pasta is rich but nicely balanced with the light sauce. For dessert, order a coffee and biscotti. From the moment you are served to the classic Tuscan salt-free bread to your last sip of coffee, you'll enjoy a real Tuscan dining experience.