Monday, March 2, 2015

Al Dente Ristorante Food Review

Salsiccia e Rapini

A food critic has to think fast on his/her feet. Take this past Saturday for instance: I had an hour and a half to kill between basketball games at American University, and an unofficial date with Elevation Burger (and another new episode of House of Cards on my iPad.) Unfortunately, the dining hall was open, but not the restaurants. Time for Plan B, which meant walking a couple of blocks to nearby Foxhall Square and Al Dente Ristorante. Modern Italian fare and surroundings don't come cheap; but they beat the "you know what" out of Elevation Burger.

Late lunch usually means a sandwich and/or a cup of soup; but how do you say no to complimentary bread, Meatballs and piping hot 12" Neapolitan pizzas? Better yet, why say no? My server Natalia was super nice, sat me in a quiet corner (per my request) and happily accommodated my second request... to feed me in a hurry. I placed an order for Antipasti (Meatballs, Al Dente style, $9.95) and a Salsiccia e Rapini pizza (tomatoes, smoked mozzarella, pork sausage, broccoli rabe and garlic, $12.95.) No problem, followed by five of my favorite words, "Would you like some bread?" Is the Pope Catholic? Of course, and (as luck would have it) it's delicious. Extra warm, and plentiful (five slices for one me) it's served with olive oil on the side, and is especially good for dipping into Al Dente's incredibly rich tomato sauce.

Complimentary Bread

Said sauce is featured prominently in my Polpette app, four generous meatballs covered in parmesan cheese. They arrived hot (nifty cast iron container) and well-cooked. They weren't necessarily bursting with flavor; but the sauce was (seriously, seriously rich) so much so, I thought about switching my entree to lasagna or ravioli... if for nothing else, to get more of that sauce. As you might imagine, the bread loved it too. Not Top-5 per se, but darn close.


The pizza arrived shortly after (no stepping on dishes here, thanks Natalia) and looked amazing. It's nice and big (a legit 12") and beautifully colored. Once again, the sauce took center stage (blood orange) but the pork sausage is literally to die for. Plump and flavorful, there's lots of it too. Unfortunately, smoked mozzarella isn't one of my favorites; nor is a flimsy crust, which caved in towards the middle (keep that knife and fork handy.) The crust had a nice char, but messy pies are a big no-no in my book.

As luck would have it, all that bread (not to mention all four meatballs) filled me up; and I could only manage two slices of pizza (out of six total.) Normally, I'd take it home: Pizza is the one food, I would consider taking out with me... but I still had work to do courtside, so I left it there. One of the managers must have noticed, and stopped me before I had a chance to leave. "Was everything OK?" Good man. Attention to detail is one thing, but you could tell he was concerned I may have had a problem. I assured him it wasn't the pizza, but I really appreciated his interest. So much so, I didn't mention the flimsiness of the crust... especially since every other part of my meal was banner.

Al Dente is a welcoming, modern eatery... surprisingly airy and well-lit with gray, granite-like tables, lacquered orange chairs and handsome place settings. The wall art is relatively random, but hip enough for the New Mexico Avenue, NW clientele. Cool chandeliers too. Even the musical background ("Volare") is passable. Best of all, the food is tasty and the service, casual yet attentive. Needless to say, I look forward to returning.

Atmosphere: B (Plenty of room, modern but not too fussy.)
Service: B+ (Friendly, quick and attentive... Covers all the bases.)
Crust: C (Too flimsy for me.)
Toppings: B (Rich sauce and delicious pork sausage, but I'm not a big fan of smoked mozzarella... too bitter.)
Value: B- (Traditional items are fairly priced. Rest of the menu = definitely pricier.)
Overall: B (As far as late lunches go, it's hard to ask for/expect more.)