Monday, August 10, 2015

Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria Brunch Review

Prosciutto Pizza

It took me about five minutes to fall in love with Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria, and I hadn't even had my first (delicious) bite of food yet. Only a year-old, this U Street favorite won me over with atmosphere, attention to detail and the kind of superior service that instantly makes you feel like part of the family. Outside of hopping on a US Airways flight direct (OK, one stop) to Italy, it's hard to imagine a better way to digest "il bel paese."

Don't get me wrong: Alphonse won't necessarily make you forget Italy... but food this tasty has a way of blinding your senses (i.e. the way you feel after seeing Monica Bellucci for the first time.) Like most of the storefronts along U Street, it doesn't look all that spectacular from the outside; but once you're in... prepare to be wowed. Credit the owners (of Biergarten Haus and Russia House fame) for utilizing every inch of the space to the fullest. There's an open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by not one, but two bars, display cases full of scrumptious cheeses and meats (for sale, of course) and a gorgeous 800° brick oven in the back, adorned in Italian green, white and red. Across from that... a row of cozy, stylish black booths with blazing red back rests/seats. Lest you think the folks at Alphonse are the least bit pretentious, the tables are dressed in traditional red & white plastic tablecloths (as if you didn't feel at home already.)

Porchetta Hash

Music could easily have been lifted from one of my personal playlists... a catchy mix of 80's favorites (Eurythmics, Michael Jackson, Simple Minds) that lends an air of playfulness to an already comfortable atmosphere. Toss in a gorgeous tin ceiling, stylish light fixtures and 1,001 subtle details and you have... quite literally, the nicest Italian restaurant in town.

Sausage (and Peppers) Hot Sandwich

Good looks are important; but without stellar service, why come back? General Manager Todd and his able #2 Tucker are nothing short of fantastic. Menu knowledge? Check. Drink pairings? Check. Friendly and engaging, yet professional? Check, check, check. They even tell a mean story (ask about the oven) and won't leave you wanting for anything... especially delicious food.

Brick oven + Mount Vesuvius = Best pizza crust in DMV

Yes food (that's why we're here, right?) Sunday Brunch is an eclectic array of familiar favorites done really, really well. No bread to start (my lone complaint) but that leaves more room for Porchetta Hash, $15. It's a simple plate of food (poached eggs, pork belly and Yukon gold potatoes, with a zesty drizzle of hollandaise sauce) but it's so tender, so flavorful... you'll be tempted to lick your plate after. It's hard to muss up bacon, eggs & potatoes; but this dish is anything but pedestrian. I'd have it every weekend, if only Alphonse was closer to home.

So this is what a $10,000 slicer looks like...

From there, it's on to a $17 Prosciutto Pizza that puts almost every other pizza crust in town to shame. Its texture is perfect... a cross between a buttery cracker and a piece of warm bread from Grandma's oven. No noticeable char underneath, but the benefits of that super-hot oven (I'm told it can get even hotter than 800°) are obvious with each and every bite. On top, an intoxicating blend of vibrant arugula, housemade mozzarella and mounds of the finest quality prosciutto. The crust alone warrants a spot in our Top 5, but if they can duplicate this experience with sausage, onions and red peppers next time (and yes, there will be many next times) it won't stay at #3 for very long.

Greed got the best of me, and I ordered a hot sandwich as well... Sausage and Peppers, $12 with chips and a pickle. Once again, the flavors were spot-on with a generous amount of onions, peppers and pomodoro tomato sauce, in addition to a zesty housemade Italian sausage. The roll was nice and crusty too; and had I not already feasted on two of the best dishes in recent memory, I would have put it away in no time. As is, it made its way home for lunch the next day. As expected, Alphonse's food is just as delicious 24 hours later.

It's hard to imagine a better first impression; but believe it or not, it's likely to get better. Upstairs is Nonna's Kitchen, Alphonse's fancier, prettier sister. Two top-flight restaurants on the same block (yet alone the same building) seems unfair to the rest of the U Street Corridor; but who says life is fair? So long as the food is this delicious, I can live with the ramifications. The race for 2015's Restaurant of the Year just got a lot tighter.