The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2019 Fall Dining Guide.
“During times of unrest — political, economic — food has a way of soothing us,” says chef-owner Michael Schlow. No dish at his neighborhood Italian restaurant addresses the issue better than his chicken Parmesan. Forget the oversauced, heavily cheesy stereotype. Schlow’s version is built for today. The breading — panko ground with bread crumbs, rosemary and thyme — is a mere veneer, while the sauce picks up brightness from San Marzano tomatoes, garlic and basil. And the cheese (mostly Parmesan, a bit of mozzarella) comes across as a suggestion rather than a shout. Hearty? Yes. Heavy? The $22 entree is just right on a cold night, better with a vegetable rather than pasta.
Schlow says he’s not trying to duplicate anyone’s Italian American memories; who dares compete with mama? He just wants to make “one of the best versions you’ve ever had” of, say, veal marsala or shrimp piccata. The former relies on cremini instead of button mushrooms, plus a dry marsala, and the latter, bright with lemon and capers, slips in a white bean puree for a creamy mouthfeel. Sunday might be the best night to visit. That’s when bottles of wine are half-price.
Alta Strada: 465 K St. NW. 202-629-4662. altastradarestaurant.com/washington-dc .
Open: Dinner daily, brunch weekends.
Prices: Dinner mains $18-$28.
Sound check: 75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.
Alta Strada makes the everday seem special
Boston chef Michael Schlow has made Washington a more eclectic place to eat with the likes of the Riggsby, a supper club in Dupont Circle, and Tico, a roll call of Latin-influenced small plates on 14th Street NW. Still, the creation of his that calls to me most right now speaks with an Italian accent. This is the pizza-and-pasta joint more neighborhoods wish they had, intimate enough for date night, especially if you land a Chianti-colored booth, but priced for everyday consumption. Eggplant Parmesan, tangy with tomato and crisped with frico, is $12 and plenty of appetizer for two. Specials are indeed select. A favorite takeaway: Grilled prawns on a nest of greens, jazzed up with cherries and charred corn, felt like the summer vacation I didn’t take.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
Some days, all you want is a good plate of pasta and a nice glass of wine. Alta Strada, from Boston chef Michael Schlow, delivers. His Bolognese, draped on a generous mound of tagliatelle, is rich with minced chicken liver and tastes better in the company of a Valpolicella blend with the raisiny charm of Amarone. The dining room, done in Chianti-colored booths and walls a shade of olive, provides the perfect backdrop for herby chicken Milanese served with a bountiful arugula salad and pizza baked in a gas-fired oven within view of diners. Go for the daily pie, maybe ’nduja (hot, soft salami) on a margherita base. And stay for dessert. Alta Strada reveals a sly sense of humor with an orange creamsicle reimagined as panna cotta.
The following was originally published May 6, 2016.
Alta Strada invites diners on a Roman holiday
Michael Schlow’s definition of a neighborhood Italian restaurant is a place where you don’t need a reservation to score a table and it’s not a problem if you want to order your pizza or pasta to go. And just like the Boston-based chef’s pet wine bar in Rome, the youthful Alta Strada in City Vista asks diners to put their trust in the establishment. House wines, for instance, are merely “white” or “red”; producers and vintages go unmentioned.
Weary of restaurants whose reservations policies or tabs (or both) make them as accessible as North Korea? If you’re hungry for something new and inviting, Alta Strada is where you want to park your Vespa. The March baby, Schlow’s third Washington eatery, is easy to access, easy to read and easy to like. Its interior comes in mouthwatering shades of Chianti (booths) and olive (walls), along with some fanciful painted figures above the open kitchen courtesy of Schlow’s artist-wife, Adrienne. The menu, executed by Boston transplant Michael Zentner, appears familiar but slips in some nice surprises, one of which is tagliatelle Bolognese.
Yeah, yeah, every Italian kitchen serves the stuff. But rarely is the topping for the pasta as rich as this sauce, its recipe based on the classic at the revered Ristorante Diana in Bologna, Italy, which combines minced veal, pork, beef, chicken liver and pancetta and is shot through with fresh rosemary. You need only a bite to know why Bolognese is the top seller at Alta Strada, which counts older siblings with the same name in Wellesley, Mass., and Mashantucket, Conn.
“They share DNA,” Schlow says, but they’re not identical. The Washington branch has an edgier design and a more adventurous menu.
Maltagliati with winy braised rabbit and fava beans has been a close second-favorite among diners, Schlow says. Another hit is the grilled octopus, served as a salad with chickpeas and red onions, with a bite from Calabrian chilies.
Fit a pie from the gas-fired oven into lunch or dinner. Schlow’s ideal pizza bridges Neapolitan simplicity and the crisp crusts associated with Rome. A recent spring fling at Alta Strada joined asparagus, ramps and barely set organic eggs — one per quadrant, with brilliant orange yolks — on a thin base that crackled when you bit down.
Crunch is a sound the owner also offers with his meatballs, shaped from beef, pork and veal shoulder, and fried so their bread-crumb veneer practically registers on a decibel meter. A tangy tomato sauce reverberates with crushed red pepper. Swabbing ensues.
There’s more to hold your interest: well-made Italian cocktails, amusing Italian turns on Oreos and even a second restaurant at the same address. Just weeks after Alta Strada rolled out, the suave Conosci Crudo Bar followed next door. “D.C. loves a secret,” Schlow says of the destination within a destination.
True, but right now, Alta Strada deserves center stage.