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Assaggi Osteria, Downtown McLean - A Sibling of Bethesda's Assaggi Mozzarella Bar


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McLean is a fairly nice locale with a dearth of particularly good restaurants. Aside from one entree salad at J. Gilbert's that I happen to like, there is nothing in McLean that makes me want to head there for dinner. Or, at least, there wasn't anything in McLean worth the trip until Friday night.

Assaggi Osteria in McLean (in the same shopping center as the Balducci's), related to the Assaggi Mozzarella Bar in Bethesda, is conducting its soft opening this weekend. One of the people involved in opening the McLean location is a client of mine, and I scored an invitation to the first night of the soft opening (12/11). The meal was complimentary, though my wife and I paid for drinks and tip.

I must note that I am generally disinclined to go to Italian restaurants. I'm not a huge fan of pasta, and I don't like cheese. But my wife, who lived in Italy for a year, craves both pasta and cheese, so this was a good opportunity to appease her Italian craving. And appease the craving it did; my wife used phrases like "this is heaven," and "oh my god," and words like "fantastic" and "amazing."

Before discussing the food, I will state for the record that the service is still working out some kinks. Our waiter, who was extremely pleasant, probably pointed out and explained 75% of the menu options, some unnecessarily. (I think most diners now know what gnocchi is.) This was likely connected to the fact that we were participating in the soft opening; I doubt the waiter will always be inclined to take up so much time going over the menu.

On a somewhat more substantive note, the timing of the food service was off; our bread came out 20 or more minutes after we were seated, and every course took an eternity to arrive. Ultimately, our dinner became a two-and-a-half hour affair. But I cannot believe that this will be how the restaurant normally operates, and I think a restaurant's opening-night service and timing should be afforded a great deal of leeway.

On to the food. Normally, I wouldn't remark on the bread because I tend to avoid the bread basket when I know I'm in for a three-course meal. But I was famished when the bread basket arrived, and gave it a whirl. I am in no way exaggerating when I say the bread was amazing. Hot, crusty, tender, flavorful; the bread was perfect, and we couldn't stop remarking on it.

I started with a half-order of the sweet potato ravioli sprinkled with crushed amaretti cookies. Not an original menu item by any means, but the execution was notable. The ravioli were small, hot, and, if I had to guess, pan-fried. The sweet potato filling was satisfying, and the brown butter sauce was delicious, neither too thick nor too thin, making every bite a pleasure.

My wife started with the carciofini salad, a mix of greens, artichokes, sunchokes, and cherry tomatoes, tossed in a simple vinaigrette (possibly with a faint lemon undertone). For an upcharge, the restaurant offers either buffalo mozzarella or burrata on the salad. My wife asked for mozzarella, and thought she received it, though we noted on the check at the end of the night that the waiter entered burrata on the ticket, so she is now unsure which she had. Regardless, she, for lack of a better expression, flipped out over how good the cheese was. The only pauses she took in eating the half-ball of cheese was to remark about it being utterly fantastic and heavenly. She hadn't had cheese on par with Assaggi's since she lived in Italy, and she is already planning on bringing her family to Assaggi to try the cheese.

The entrees were very good, though not quite on par with the appetizers. My wife had the cavatelli with broccoli, which she enjoyed and about which she made uniformly positive remarks. We both felt that the menu could benefit from one or two more vegetarian entrees, including a simple pasta with red sauce.

I had sea bass, but I'm not sure which preparation I ended up with. There were two striped sea bass entrees on the menu, and I believe the special was also a sea bass. I ordered the sea bass dish that should have come over a ragu of vegetables; I specifically avoided the sea bass dish that came with chopped potatoes and olives because I dislike olives. I ended up, however, with the latter dish, which I opted not to send back because (i) it was 10:00 p.m. by that point, (ii) I was not hungry enough to worry about the sides, and (iii) I'm not ungrateful for a free meal. I tried to spear a few of the chopped potato chunks, but they were so undercooked that getting a fork into each chunk was difficult. That is, however, a problem that I'm sure the kitchen can and will quickly remedy. The sea bass itself was very good; nothing innovative or amazing, but well-cooked, tasty, and worth ordering again.

Dessert was top notch. My wife's deep dish of tiramisu consisted of a top layer of thick, sweet, frosting-like cream with layers of cake and rich espresso flavor beneath. She enjoyed it, though she didn't have room to finish it. I had a small, round, pumpkin-filled sweet cake served with cinnamon ice cream. It was an elegant little treat to end the meal.

The restaurant's interior is classy, though not regal. The combination of bright yellow walls, dark wood trim, floors covered in a cork-like carpet, and white tablecloths leaves a slightly generic impression. Don't get me wrong; it looks and feels like a nice restaurant, one appropriate for business dinners or first dates. It just needs a little more personality, which may come with the addition of artwork on the walls.

Assaggi in McLean impressed us, and I am sure it will become more impressive as it gets some time under its belt.

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We just made New Year's Eve reservations for Assaggi Osteria, because we live in McLean and the options are very, very limited. Fingers crossed.

Without wanting to condemn with faint praise, this is the best Italian restaurant in McLean. We went there last night and had a mostly positive experience. The Cozze e Fregola with mussels and fresh tomato on fregola was excellent. The mussels were plump--though one had not opened--and the fregola and broth were, respectively, chewy and subtle. Also very good was the Paccheri Corti with shrimp, mussels, and oyster meat. Again, the broth was exceptionally sweet. The La Chitarra with blue crab meat and a light spicy tomao sauce was good. Pasta cooked al dente, sauce a bit bland, crab OK. This dish was a bit needs a bit of work. Our salads were disappointing.. The Carciofini was essentially a pile of bagged hydroponic arugula (they could have gone next door and bought the real thing at Balducci's)--tasteless--and the Finicchio e endiva seemed to lack the advertized fennel. The wait staff was professional and attentive, although we felt a bit rushed. The ambience is very appealing. Unadorned walls painted a soft orange. The restaurant is divided into a large and small room to accomodate--surprise--large and small parties.

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I agree with demvtr's observation that Mclean is not a restaurant destination, though I'm more positive about J. Gilbert's and would acknowledge the excellence of Inox at the Tysons end of McLean. I'm less positive about Asaggi Osteria, which strikes me as a run of the mill neighborhood restaurant with destination restaurant prices. At dinner on New Years with an out of town guest, we found the food, the service and the decor mediocre. Our bread also arrived late but was tepid at best. Seafood was fresh and good quality, but the preparations were lackluster. An order of seafood risotto was al dente, not one of my goals for risotto, and had little evidence of cheese. We're accustomed to restaurants where we can't wait to share the food that arrives, but there was no sharing last night. We left full but not excited or inspired and concluded that Asaggi Osteria is not competitive with other available options for Italian food, among them the restaurant's Bethesda sibling.

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The restaurant was in the Le Mistral space (formerly Forbidden City), next to McKeever's pub. The place was packed last night but we had a really disappointing dinner. La Chitarra spaghetti with "fresh" crab meat tasted and smelled fishy - my wife told me to stop stirring the pasta because the smell was overpowering. Her gnocchi with veal ragu was mushy and doughy. The frittura mista and prosciutto di parma were edible but nothing exciting (the fried plate lacked flavor although the seafood were tender and properly cooked).

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I ate here the other night with a friend and thought it was pretty good...nicely charred halibut in a black olive sauce, grilled squid with butter beans as an appetizer. The wine list is good (if longer than it needs to be, maybe), and the wait staff was good in an old-fashioned way. It's on a kind of lost and lonely corner in McLean, but the atmosphere leans toward warm and soothing. I'd go back, though I'm not over the moon about it.

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I agree with that post. We had a very nice lunch there yesterday - a lentil starter, swordfish with kale, a lovely cioppino, great bread, nice wine selection and the pleasant atmosphere all made a nice first impression. There is a $14 deal at lunch with either soup/salad/dessert and one entree from a fairly long list of choices. The cioppino alone was $14 so the deal is a good one.

I thought the service and room were just fine, the wine list interesting and reasonably priced. The quality of ingredients and sincere effort to provide "authentic" Tuscan cuisine, including an array of unusual pasta choices, lead me to say I will definitely return and would recommend A.O. based on my initial experience.

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Uh, sorry. Totally different experience today for lunch than our initial visit last week. Night and day. Loud Italian pop music, oblivious wait staff. Unfortunately, the only good aspect of the meal to report was a simple salad of greens. Soup of the day - minestrone with red beans - had all the charm and taste of being dumped out of a Campbell's can. Frozen chicken cutlet was quickly deep fried and it tasted precisely like that. A pasta dish was an overdone, flavorless glop.

Odd to experience such extremes within one week at lunch. The new spring menu was initiated today so perhaps confusion reigns in the kitchen. Or the B Team was in. Or, it was just an off day. Today clouds my initial rave and readers should have a wary eye. That said, I really do want the place to succeed. It has a lot of potential to shine in the tundra of McLean restaurants - based on my initial experience.

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I took Siena (2.9 year old) out for lunch today to use a $20 certificate. I ordered the ciliegine, or fried mozzarella balls, fried calamari, a side of green beans, and spaghetti alla vongole with Manila clams. Siena wouldn't touch the mozzarella balls but she enjoyed the calamari, green beans, and ate all the clams. The only bad thing I had was a glass of prosecco for $11 - terribly sweet and overpriced Spumante. The fried mozzarella and calamari both came in two sizes, and the small is enough for me to share with Siena. I have another certificate which I will gladly use.

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I took Siena (2.9 year old) out for lunch today to use a $20 certificate. I ordered the ciliegine, or fried mozzarella balls, fried calamari, a side of green beans, and spaghetti alla vongole with Manila clams. Siena wouldn't touch the mozzarella balls but she enjoyed the calamari, green beans, and ate all the clams. The only bad thing I had was a glass of prosecco for $11 - terribly sweet and overpriced Spumante. The fried mozzarella and calamari both came in two sizes, and the small is enough for me to share with Siena. I have another certificate which I will gladly use.

Wonder if Siena will be more excited about the ciliegine once she's 3.1 or 3.2 versus the tender current age of 2.9 (aka 2 yrs and 46.8 weeks)? :wacko::)

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We've eaten at Assaggi Osteria in Mclean innumerable times since it opened.  We've been there through all the ups and downs- and there have been a lot of downs- but now I'm wondering how much longer it's going to last.  It was always on the expensive end of things but these days the drinks are watery and the prices are comparable high end DC, not neighborhood McLean.  The most recent crew, as well as Francesco, the long standing manager, has departed.  The wall of wine has not been replenished and there are a lot of holes up there.  Some of the wines by the glass are unavailable.  On Friday night the only special was a pasta dish with prawns which as it turned out was four slightly past their prime shrimps on top of pasta.  No fish special, no meat special.  I wonder if the pizzeria next door has drawn off the main restaurant. 

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