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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review: La Forchetta = Welcome back, Roberto

If you are at all food savvy about the DC scene, you know of Roberto Donna and his fab Italian food. The creator of Galileo 1 and 2 in the city and of Bebo Trattoria in Alexandria, Donna has carved a permanent place in the Washington food pantheon. Still a memory: a long-ago luncheon of fresh tomatoes with fresh mozzarella all drizzled with olive oil accompanied by a side of freshly made pasta. The closed-eyes scenario would have places this meal in some distant piazza. Instead, that was at Bebo, and it was a meal that will never lose its luster.

Also in a fond memory: working in the kitchen for a local food event at his first Galileo. It was in his Laboratorio, a focused place that catered to people wanting to learn about and eat top-quality Italian—and other—cooking. Giving instructions and directions to this novice staff, Donna made sure every element of the meal was a polished success.

So now again Donna creates big food news in a newly opened restaurant on New Mexico Avenue near American University. Called La Forchetta, this small eatery may not have quite the glamour of his earlier destinations, but it is very neighborhood friendly and, besides, it boasts an open kitchen. Want to see Donna at work? Just turn around in your chair and watch how he masterfully turns out pastas and an array of solid Italian (not Italian-American) cuisine.

Well, take a look at the menu. Dinner may offer your best picks because while lunch is generally a speedy meal and one that most American count on for a sandwich and/or salad, dinnertime allows patrons the leisure to relax over wines, cocktails, and luxurious pastas and main course meat dishes – and to say nothing of his awesome tiramisu.

Plan to bring an appetite or many friends so you can sample such antipasti as prosciutto-wrapped dates, which are actually stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese —-  triple treat -— and the fried egg with burrata cheese (the world’s richest, creamiest mozzarella) and then the crispy pork belly with cabbage, another gastronomic home run.

Famous for his pizzas, Donna offers both savory and sweet pies. You must have at least two pizzas, and his pizza bianca with mozzarella and ricotta is so mild you may want to kick it up with his pie topped with pork sausage and broccoli rabe. But as for the sweet: it’s a calzone filled with Nutella, banana, and pineapple, or your choice of other sweet fillings, such as orange marmalade and crumbled savoiardi cookies.

Also famous for his handmade pastas, Donna offers lusciously delicate gnocchi with a hearty pork ragu, but so heavenly are his “pasta pillows” you may want to order both, and perhaps add on his pappardelle with wild boar ragu. See why you must come with a crowd? Eat and be merry!

Main course offerings include beef short ribs with salsa verde (Tex-Mex?), braised pork shank (not available one recent night, but mighty tempting) and grilled hangar steak with broccoli and red chili. Not to miss: his selection of homemade sausages (several choice from duck to pork) cooked and served on skewers.

All of this leads straight to the king of desserts, his “hemisphere” tiramisu, the size of a large continent (hence, the name) and topped with thick fudge and accented by caramelized hazelnuts. It’s all you’d ever want to satisfy a sweet tooth, though you may be tempted instead by a dessert that is not so flamboyant. Perhaps the meringue with chocolate ice cream and an orange sauce.

Food here is so over the top that this may become your favorite go-to restaurant. Besides the food, the atmosphere is casual and neighborhood friendly, so couples and crowds can settle in for an evening of dining and companionship.

La Forchetta (3201 New Mexico Ave. NW); 202-244-2223.  Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-4pm. Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 4-10pm; Fri. & Sat., to 11pm; Brunch, Sat. & Sun., 11:30am-3pm. Entrée price range: $14.95-$19.95.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.