Small-setting Italian dining -- you know, just like the Italian mother you never had used to make -- is having a bit of a moment in Washington.
Nonna's Kitchen, led by chef Justus Frank, formerly of Fiola, is three weeks into service above sibling Alphonse Italian Market and Osteria on U Street. The 22-seat dining room features a rotating series of tasting menus, each focusing on a different region of Italy. The current five-course menu highlights Tuscany, with dishes such as swordfish carpaccio, pappardelle with wild boar ragu and roasted lamb. Plans are to change the menu every five weeks or so, according to general manager Frank Carswell.
At the heart of Nonna's is an open kitchen. "It's very much come and eat," Carswell says. "But it's also dinner and a show."
Carswell says diners will be encouraged to ask questions about the dishes and their ingredients. That give-and-take will be made even easier, he says, because of the small staff that will become well acquainted with the menu thanks to its extended life.
During each region's tenure, only small elements of the menu will change, Carswell says, "but the big picture will be the same the whole month." Diners will have a choice between two dishes for every course except dessert. The tasting menu, the only option at Nonna's, is $90.
Over in Mount Vernon Square next month, expect to see the debut of La Tavola da Roberto Donna at Alba Osteria. The 10-seat chef's experience, priced at $65, will offer a family-style meal prepared by longtime Washington chef Roberto Donna. The first dinner takes place Dec. 18 with a Feast of the Seven Fishes theme.
The dinners will probably occur at least twice a month, Donna says. Diners will sit together at a communal table, with Donna coming out to explain the dishes as they're served.
At sister restaurant Al Dente, Donna will continue to cook for Roberto's 8, his eight-seat, 12-plus-course experience held three nights a week. The difference? Roberto's 8 is "a little bit more sophisticated," with smaller plates, while La Tavola will consist of more rustic, shared dishes. Menus will have some kind of theme, Donna says, typically centered around an Italian region or ingredient.
"I want them to feel like they're leaving my house," Donna says of the experience he hopes diners will walk away with.
And because these things always seem to come in threes, Bryan Voltaggio's Aggio recently launched its own regional tasting and family-style menus. Both are available at the Baltimore and Washington locations of the restaurant.
Aggio's first regional tasting menu features Piedmont. Available through Dec. 30, the $95 meal runs six courses with such dishes as mushroom risotto, roasted pheasant and hazelnut feuilletine with devil's food cake and marscarpone gelato. The Sunday suppers include sharable dishes, including spaghetti and meatballs, for up to four people. A three-course menu will also be available.