Chef Roberto Donna is back with another Washington, D.C., restaurant. At Alba Osteria, located in the quickly developing Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood, the focus is on Donna’s roots and the traditional cuisine of the Piedmont region, including the town of Alba, in northwestern Italy.
The expansive restaurant is divided into smaller sections — a central bar breaks off into dining areas on each side, and there are several countertop locales, including one with hanging meats, salamis and cheeses on display, and another beside the enticing, glossy tile-adorned wood-fired oven. The bright orange chairs, large glass windows and the wine on display, from an extensive wine list, all also help make for an exciting, visually stimulating concept.
It’s an inviting space and it translates well for either couples or larger groups, casual small bites or multicourse feasts. That’s also the way the menu itself is designed, making it easy to sample a variety of dishes and to share plates with the table, and to either go light or go big in terms of how much you eat.
The menu is highlighted by the stellar house-made pastas, all of which are served in two sizes, one as a smaller sampling and the other as a full, family-sized table portion.
The dish you can’t leave without trying is the exceptional Agnolotti al Brasato, made with braised beef and beef jus, and sprinkled with bone marrow and Parmigiano Reggiano. The entire dish bursts with flavor and each carefully crafted individual Agnolotti in the bowl is to be savored.
Another standout pasta dish is the Mezzuluna, stuffed with burrata and ricotta and served with a creamy, buttery spinach, also topped with Parmigiano Reggiano. The entire dish is “hay-infused” – it’s actually served in a steamer over hay – offering an amazing, unique aroma and an earthy contrast to the richness of all that cheese.
For the more adventurous, consider the Trofie Alla Finanziera, chestnut trofie pasta served in Marsala sauce with sweetbreads, veal brains, and chicken liver.
Before you get to the pasta though you’ll want to begin with several of the starters. With over 20 small plates, broken down into hot and cold dishes, and soups, there’s something for everyone. A few noteworthy choices include the melt in your mouth veal carpaccio, topped with a simple dressing of lemon, herbs and olive oil, and the Barbabietole, a beet, arugula, pistachio and Pecorino salad.
Beyond that, there’s pepperonata, fritters, meatballs, and plenty more for the adventurous foodie, such as Batsoa, fried pig’s feet with salsa verde and pickled vegetables, and Fegatini e Porcini, sauteed chicken livers with Marsala sauce, polenta and porcini mushrooms. Of course, there are also several eponymous Piemontese dishes – traditional takes on spinach, served with garlic, lemon and Parmigiano Reggiano; ratatouille, with cauliflower, squash, onion and anchovy; and crostini, served with a sweet gorgonzola, ricotta, stracchino cheese and sausage.
When you just can’t resist a charcuterie plate, and I usually cannot, then take your choice of a dozen Salumi and Formaggi, including the house-made, hand-sliced salami. It’s all served on an imported Italian wooden platter with several accompaniments, including hazelnut honey and sweet, fried bread, a fun and different twist to the typical cheese plate.
There are only a select few true entrees on the menu, along with about a dozen Neapolitan-style pizzas from that wood-fired oven and several daily specials. Foie gras can also be added to any dish on the menu.
Beyond the modern interior, Alba Osteria certainly succeeds in making you feel as if you stopped into a local, family-run Italian restaurant nestled away somewhere perhaps beyond the hills of Turin, with delicious and authentic Piemontese countryside cuisine, rich, big flavors, and simple dishes focused on only a few standout ingredients.
Alba Osteria is located at 425 I Street, N.W. For more information, visit them online at AlbaOsteriaDC.com.