This winter I’m glad to have a little bit of Alphonse in my life. Toasty and inviting with cozy booths and a big glowing wood fire oven in the back, this U street Italian deli and restaurant is the perfect spot to thaw your toes and fill your belly.
Comfort food appears before you’ve had a chance to shed layers. On our first visit we were greeted with cheddar rolls, on another with a cast iron skillet full of fresh garlic knots.
Now that you’re off to a warm start, skip the antipasti and go straight for the hot stuff. Nonna’s eggplant parmesan is, for better or worse depending on your mood, just as Grandma would make it: thick slabs of eggplant, a thick layer of cheese, and generous pools of olive oil in chunky tomato sauce.
The pizzas are solid, particularly the classic margherita, but pastas are where it’s at. On both visits we thoroughly enjoyed ravioli with creamy mozzarella filling and a bright, lemony arugula pesto. Tossed with toasted hazelnuts and sweet mushrooms, this dish is pretty much perfect.
And on our second visit we fell in love with pillowy gnocchi and woodsy roasted mushrooms in a salty cacio e pepe cream sauce.
To dessert! Here we have a tie between cara cara orange-scented cannoli drizzled with valhrona chocolate (drool) and super creamy tiramisu (also drool). The first time around, the cannoli’s citrus-dark chocolate-cream combination blew us away.
But on visit number two, tiramisu took center stage with its goopy yet silky texture and fresh cream flavor complemented by just enough sweetness:
With these two desserts engaged in a nightly battle for excellence, your only choice is to order both and let ’em duke it out. Either way, you win.
Don’t be put off by the small number of vegetarian options at Alphonse. The menu changes frequently; right now there’s a baked campanelli with fontina that beckons. Plus, given our success with pastas so far, next time we’ll try the perennially available spaghetti chitarra (the margherita of pastas?) instead of overlooking it for more exciting prospects.
Speaking of exciting prospects, sophisticated sister restaurant Nonna’s Kitchen right upstairs serves five-course tasting menus that draw inspiration from different regions of Italy. With advance notice, the chef, formerly of Fiola, will whip up a vegetarian version of the menu. This might be tough for some of the more meat-centric regions (when we were there it was Piedmont in the north), but we’ll be keeping an eye out for a more amenable lineup.
1212 U St NW