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Al Dente (was La Forchetta), Wesley Heights - The Return of Chef Roberto Donna


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When Antica was first announced, there was a small amount of internet buzz, but that has turned into silence. A few months ago, I saw the space - a pretty large space - under construction, and it looked pretty gutted. Does anyone have any updates?

If anyone here doesn't own a fainting couch, I suggest going out and getting one because you're going to need it. B)

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Three predictions of no particular importance:

1) The food here will be excellent. Chef Donna has always been a tremendous talent in the kitchen.

2) The place will be packed on day one

3) Judging by the pictures in Eater DC, this will be one of the loudest restaurants in DC. I like the design, but it appears to be all small tables, tight confines, and hard surfaces.

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Three predictions of no particular importance:

1) The food here will be excellent. Chef Donna has always been a tremendous talent in the kitchen.

2) The place will be packed on day one

3) Judging by the pictures in Eater DC, this will be one of the loudest restaurants in DC. I like the design, but it appears to be all small tables, tight confines, and hard surfaces.

You forgot one. Someone will wax poetically about the greatness of RD and his past restaurants and what specific dishes are to be ordered when dining here. :ph34r:

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Here's a sneak peek at the menu for Forchetta:

Gnocchi, tomato home made pork sausage ragu, pecorino cheese $16.95

Agnolotti "Gobbi" all' Astigiana, filled with roasted veal, pork, sausage, tossed in butter sage, roast ju, parmesan $18.95

Pasta pillow filled with ricotta and spinach, mascarpone sauce $18.95

Cavatelli, broccoli rabe, pear tomato, shrimp, basil, olive oil $19.95

Pappardelle, wild boar ragu, parmesan $19.95

Lasagna al forno bolognese meat ragu, tomato sauce $17.95

Timpano of maccheroni, sweet crust torte of maccheroni pasta, tomato sauce, mozzarella, little meat balls, eggs, basil $18.95

Calamarata pasta, squid, shrimp, mussels, cherry tomato, garlic, basil $19.95

Whole wheat cappellini, tomatoes, sweet basil, garlic, olive oil $14.95

Risotti

Shrimp, zucchini, saffron, sun-dried tomatoes $19.95

Gorgonzola dolce, pistacchio, parmesan $17.95

Pork sausage, porcini mushroom, rosemary, tomato $18.95

Fresh asparagus & asparagus puree $16.95

Corhish hen cooked "al mattone" (under a brick) lemon & fresh herbs $16.95

Beef short ribs salsa verde $19.95

Beef hanger steak, broccoli rabe, red chili, garlic, olive oil $19.95

Organic veal skirt steak, smoked mozzarella, polenta $19.95

Braised pork shank, parmigiano reggiano potato puree $18.95

Veal scaloppine topped with eggplants, mozzarella in cream sauce $19.95

Spiedini di Salsiccia

Luganega, veal and pork sausage grilled with potato and rosemary $14.95

Pork sausage and chicken cubes grilled with onions, bread, peppers, sage $14.95

Duck sausage grilled with shallots, apples, peppers, polenta $16.95

Contorni

Eggplant parmigiana $6.95

Broccoli rabe, red chili, onion, garlic, olive oil $6.95

Sauteed spinach, garlic, olive oil $6.95

Scarola e fagioli, braised escarole with cannellini beans $5.95

Potato puree with parmigiano reggiano $6.95

Polenta with smoked mozzarella $5.95

Pizza

Calzone

Toppings

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You forgot one. Someone will wax poetically about the greatness of RD and his past restaurants and what specific dishes are to be ordered when dining here. :ph34r:

You forgot another one: the service will be terrible. That menu does get the salivary glands going, however...

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We don't know how much or how little participation he will have on the business side. If he isn't hiring the staff, then the service my not be terrible.

Did the owner get to have a pizza place around the corner of every other office in town by not paying taxes, rent, etc?

I don't know.

I do know that my sole meal at G3 still haunts my memories. And I have no idea if I will go to La Forchetta when it opens.

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Yet another: failure to pay staff, vendors, landlord and tax authorities will result in handwringing cries of how wasted culinary talent was (literally and figuratively). Party on chumps!

Whoa, whoa, whoa. As this owner has nothing in common with Donna's other ventures, I think it's premature to speculate as above - although I was going to ask (jokingly) when the DR.com discounted meal days were.... :rolleyes::ph34r:

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Had a late dinner at La Forchetta tonite. I am thrilled to have this place in my neighborhood. It is a great space with a big outdoor patio. I think they did a terrific job on the decor - big beautiful concrete bars with a large attractive pizza oven in the center of the main bar. Very attractive metal work and furnishings, including swivel stools that bear an uncanny resemblance to Estadio's (in all fairness they are much nicer - wider and more comfy and they return to the neutral position). Just overall a pretty place with good energy and a good vibe. I was not very hungry and I was trying not to be a terrible Jew (NO BREAD or PASTA), but I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate, particularly the pasta fagioli, the house made roasted red peppers and anchovies, and an amazing cartoccio siciliano (basically a fried soft canoli shaped pastry stuffed with sweet ricotta) - OK, not such a good Jew.. The owner, Hakan Ilhan, came over to say hi - he strikes me as a serious restaurateur who will do whatever is necessary to make this place a success. Roberto was at work in the kitchen and say what you will, he is a beast of a chef. I predict this place will be a huge success and that with Hakan overseeing the business side this venture will not have any of the problems that plagued this great chef in the past. Welcome back Roberto - thrilled to see you cooking in DC again and wishing you and Hakan great success. You will see me again soon.

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Had a late dinner at La Forchetta tonite. I am thrilled to have this place in my neighborhood. It is a great space with a big outdoor patio. I think they did a terrific job on the decor - big beautiful concrete bars with a large attractive pizza oven in the center of the main bar. Very attractive metal work and furnishings, including swivel stools that bear an uncanny resemblance to Estadio's (in all fairness they are much nicer - wider and more comfy and they return to the neutral position). Just overall a pretty place with good energy and a good vibe. I was not very hungry and I was trying not to be a terrible Jew (NO BREAD or PASTA), but I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate, particularly the pasta fagioli, the house made roasted red peppers and anchovies, and an amazing cartoccio siciliano (basically a fried soft canoli shaped pastry stuffed with sweet ricotta) - OK, not such a good Jew.. The owner, Hakan Ilhan, came over to say hi - he strikes me as a serious restaurateur who will do whatever is necessary to make this place a success. Roberto was at work in the kitchen and say what you will, he is a beast of a chef. I predict this place will be a huge success and that with Hakan overseeing the business side this venture will not have any of the problems that plagued this great chef in the past. Welcome back Roberto - thrilled to see you cooking in DC again and wishing you and Hakan great success. You will see me again soon.

Caponata (which has chocolate in it), pillow pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta (heavy cream, too) and one of the best desserts anywhere: a pineapple pizza. Serious. All three are superb. And, we've just started working our way through the menu!

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Has Chef Donna made restitution of the unpaid tax money?

As someone who has been critical about Chef Donna's business dealings, I would have no problem eating at this restaurant. This is not Galileo IV, or il Radicchio II. The restaurant is owned by a successful restauranteur who has had no business dealings with Chef Donna in the past. Chef Donna is in charge of the kitchen, which he is fabulous at. In order to make restitution, has has to work. I wish him and the restaurant nothing but success.

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Has Chef Donna made restitution of the unpaid tax money?

[Good morning to you, too. Nice first post. Substantive, detailed - just what we're looking for here.]

As someone who has been critical about Chef Donna's business dealings, I would have no problem eating at this restaurant. This is not Galileo IV, or il Radicchio II. The restaurant is owned by a successful restauranteur who has had no business dealings with Chef Donna in the past. Chef Donna is in charge of the kitchen, which he is fabulous at. In order to make restitution, has has to work. I wish him and the restaurant nothing but success.

Absent information to the contrary, likewise. How many kitchens in this town have felons working for them? Plenty. And I applaud them for it.

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This little tidbit, which seems to have escaped our attention, is awesome.

Let's find out who that graphic designer is and storm his house with pitchforks and torches. Maybe if we kneecap all of Hakan Ilhan's contractors and employees, he'll be left with nothing. That'll show him. Let's go after his GM next.

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This little tidbit, which seems to have escaped our attention, is awesome.

In this day and age, anyone who doesn't take 5 seconds to google their business name before they invest money it is taking a big $$$ risk that is completely unnecessary. Especially if you are going to be doing your own trademark filings with the PTO instead of hiring a lawyer - and clearly do not understand trademark law. This quote "And we were able to get the initial approval for La Forchetta for the United States. Nobody else will be able to use it" - uh yea thats not how it works. Its baffling how many people do this.

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Artists have been forever getting their ideas stolen and represented by plagiarists as their own. It's just easier to find out about it these days, with the internet.

We went to La Forchetta last night, and sat at the pizza bar. I liked it (both the food and the ambiance) more than J did, but it was decidedly a mixed bag. Admittedly, they are just getting going, but the service was rocky to put it kindly. We were seated promptly and had our menus, but it was quite a while before we were able to order. We were brought a bread basket, but the bread was cold. We noticed later that unlike us, other diners had been given olive oil to dip their bread in, and that one of the pizzaolos was putting the contents of someone else's bread basket into the pizza oven to warm it. We ordered the parmesan budino as a starter, and when it came it was too gooey to eat with a fork. We asked any number of servers and runners for spoons, but by the time we finally got them (one spoon had to be returned because it was dirty), the pudding had cooled considerably and was barely warm. This took a really long time. The pudding was, even so, delicious.

We shared a housemade pasta and seafood dish that J thought perfect. I would have like the pasta a bit less al dente. But the clams, mussels, squid and cuttlefish in tomato sauce were perfectly cooked and flavorful.

We ordered a pizza al uovo: tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, basil and egg. The pizzaolo cracked the egg on top (and forgot the basil), then put it into the oven. When it came to us, the egg was cooked through, and we had to point out that there was no basil on the pie, despite the menu calling for it. When I have had pizza with egg before (at Pizzeria Mozza in L.A.), the egg wasn't cracked onto the pizza until it was almost completely baked--it was briefly pulled out of the oven, the egg cracked onto it, and then put back into the oven for a few moments, so that when it came out of the oven and was presented, the yolk was still molten and spread onto the surface. This pizza was very good, mind you, but in my mind not as good as Two Amy's--admittedly, I have not had pizza at many of the newer places in town and across the river, so my opinion is not an educated one. I have had Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza pies in Los Angeles on more than one occasion, however, and La Forchetta's aren't even on the same planet, both in terms of the quality and flavor of the crust, and the creativity of the toppings.

We also shared zuppa inglese for dessert, and it was the best thing we ordered: rum-soaked poundcake in chocolate custard, whipped cream, candied orange peel and warm vanilla creme anglais to pour over top. We drank a passable sangiovese blend which was the least expensive by-the-glass offering at $5.95. All in all, the prices aren't bad: the budino was $9, the seafood pasta $20, the pizza $13 and the dessert $8.

I'd go again. I'm not sure it's a destination place, but it is reasonably close to our house. J thinks he'd rather spend the same money at BlackSalt, or even less during Happy Hour. We'll see.

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Went this past Saturday for lunch before work at Freddys.....saw Karen the GM as we walked in and its good to see her in a more managable, stable setting that she can do her job and not worry about issues that we had in the past. Spoke with Roberto for a bit, who is sporting some sweet Ferrari red glasses, then joined my GF at a window table. The space is a blend of mostly modern, with some butt ass ugly black, plastic chandeliers that harken to the dark ages, mixed in with modern, high intensity lighting. The actual bar is small and hidden behind the pizza oven, while there are 2 counter areas, one around the pizza oven and the other sitting at the kitchen prep area, where you can dine whilst veiwing people at work. The menus kind of clash with the writing because of the background graphics on the menu paper and could be hard to read for some. Overall though, I like the space and color.

The menu has decent heft and offerings, with Chef also having many specials that are verbalized by the server....and while I consider 3-4 items to be specials, I consider more than that to either be overkill or require an additional menu. They asked and I gave them my thoughts....While we know Roberto can cook, I think too many options can be overkill. We started with Burrata that was accompanied by a roasted tomato that had been ice cooled immediately after being removed from the oven and drizzled with olive oil and basil, and a spinach salad with pear and bacon.....both quite good and simple. Next we had a pizza with sausage, mozz and broccoli rabe that was cooked pretty darn well. Unlike 2 Amy's which is either spot on crisp or soupy ass wet , this pie fell in the middle with the best of both worlds. Dessert was a very unique twist on Tiramisu served as a huge moon size round and a side of hot chocolate that is to be poured in the center of the cake after making a hole in the top....was very good, but I think that the server should do this for the guest, rather than telling you how to do it. Then again, some may not want it done that way. Gf had assorted gelato and sorbet which was very good as well.

All in all, I enjoyed it very much and look forward to trying the huge servings of pasta that I saw at neighboring tables being consumed by two men in their fiftys that reminded me of the old poster with the spaghetti bowl on top of the babys head while he was in a high chair :D They were messy but were seriously loving it. I'm glad its next to my Gf's place, I know it will thrive, and I will be back often.

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You forgot another one: the service will be terrible. That menu does get the salivary glands going, however...

Service could charitably be described as "choppy" at lunch yesterday, despite the place never being more than one-third filled. Hopefully this turns out to be nothing more than a new place finding its sea legs.

The menu has decent heft and offerings, with Chef also having many specials that are verbalized by the server....and while I consider 3-4 items to be specials, I consider more than that to either be overkill or require an additional menu. They asked and I gave them my thoughts....While we know Roberto can cook, I think too many options can be overkill.

Our waiter did not describe any specials but did refer us to the back page of the menu for a nearly full page listing of small plates and mains identified as Specialties of Chef Roberto Donna (this may be a direct result of your comments). These were in addition to the rather full menu found on the preceding pages. I had a wonderful soft shell crab with garlic and tomatoes on top of some nicely firm capellini, but not too al dente. As noted above by Joe H, the pillow pasta is also very good and received high marks from our table. The pizza was fine, with no visible char, but I think the pizza will have a hard time competing with the pasta here as the star of the show. Do not forget to try some of the salads. They are sizeably portioned and one order could easily be split between two diners. We enjoyed the chopped beet salad and spinach salad for the table as a starter. We will definitely be back to sit at the bar to watch the pizza being made and to sample more of the menu.

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Just got this email...

From: la Forchetta <info@laforchettadc.com>

Date: Thu, May 31, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Subject: From your Chef, Roberto Donna ...

To: s.s.johnston@gmail.com

Ciao My Longtime Friends of Galileo,

I am cooking again in DC. Stop by for lunch, brunch or dinner at La Forchetta:

3201 New Mexico Avenue, NW.

www.laforchettadc.com

Reservations: 202 244-2223

I look forward to seeing you!

Grazie!

Roberto Donna

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Lunch yesterday was lovely.

I don't like the space at all--very bright, hard surfaces, and I imagine it can be very loud when full.

But the dish I tried was just about perfect. I tried the agnolotti--the pasta was light, the filling was great and the sauce was sopped up with the decent but not great bread. My +1 had the minestrone and was very happy. We didn't even peek at the dessert menu.

Service was warm but not too efficient. We never had refills on water and had to hunt the server down for more soda.

So not perfect by any means but I'd go back for the food happily.

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Had dinner at La Forchetta tonight, coincidentally just as the Tom Sietsema review came out. We followed some of his recommendations i.e. the squash blossoms- which sounded like a winner, but tasted somewhat ordinary to me. We preferred the polenta fries and meatball appetizer. The cavatelli didn't fare so well in the review, but I ordered it anyway. I wasn't blown away but I liked it. Two of my dining companions had a special pasta- fettuccini with porcini mushrooms. They both enjoyed the dish, but didn't think it lived up to the reputation of the chef. Still, we were enjoying our meal until we decided to order dessert. Le Pizze Dolce with orange marmalade, pineapple, and Savoiardi cookies was a total fail. This dessert pizza was rubbery and had far too much and too sweet orange marmalade. It was literally dripping in it, which made it impossible to eat. Our server noticed the less than half-eaten dessert and asked how we liked it. We shook our heads in dismay. He walked away, which we thought was odd, but when he returned later with the bill he told us they removed the charge for the dessert. We appreciated the gesture. f I lived close by I would surely go back, but I don't find it much of a dining destination.

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Still, we were enjoying our meal until we decided to order dessert. Le Pizze Dolce with orange marmalade, pineapple, and Savoiardi cookies was a total fail. This dessert pizza was rubbery and had far too much and too sweet orange marmalade. It was literally dripping in it, which made it impossible to eat. Our server noticed the less than half-eaten dessert and asked how we liked it. We shook our heads in dismay. He walked away, which we thought was odd, but when he returned later with the bill he told us they removed the charge for the dessert. We appreciated the gesture. f I lived close by I would surely go back, but I don't find it much of a dining destination.

You should have followed Sietsema's rec and ordered the zuppa inglese. It is delicious.

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My +1 planned a date night last night for which I had no input, and we ended up at La Forchetta for dinner after visiting The Glass Forest in the Palisades (now that was interesting). Since we live in NE we rarely make it over to this part of town, so it was nice to try Donna's new endeavor. He was highly visible in the kitchen during the evening, but since we were seated outside (on a surprisingly mild August night), we only glimpsed him a couple of times.

As mentioned above, the "Specialties" now have their own section on the back of the regular menu. When we visited there were perhaps 7-8 different appetizers and 5-6 entrees on the special menu. The main menu was also quite extensive, with small bites, cold appetizers, hot appetizers, pastas, pizzas, calzones, entrees, etc.

My +1 did a bit of research in advance (since I am usually the one reading about our restaurants before we visit) and had a few recommendations from the Washingtonian and the Post. We were welcomed with a basket of bread consisting of some flavorful focaccia and some brown bread that we didn't like as much. This was accompanied by an offer of olive oil onto our bread plates. Service was good the whole night with water being refilled quickly and consistently.

We started with Pork Belly (sauteed apples $9.95) and a dish from the special menu - Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (ricotta, mint, lemon - not sure of the price since it's not online). The pork was delicious with a crisp exterior and melting center. I feel like I have had a lot of subpar pork belly recently that didn't live up to expectations, but this version was very good with a nice flavor from the apple puree. The zucchini was also very nice with two stuffed flowers accompanied by 4 sticks of battered zucchini. Some may consider it overly salty, but we both liked the flavor a lot.

For entrees we had Gnocchi (basil pesto, fava beans, string beans $17.95) and Calamarata Pasta (squid, shrimp, mussels, clams, cherry tomato, garlic and basil $19.95). Both were very generously portioned, with the calamarata especially having a very large amount of seafood scattered throughout. And while we though the pasta itself was very good in each dish, especially the pillowy soft gnocchi, I think we were a bit underwhelmed with the flavor. The pesto was a bit thin, and the tomato sauce with the other lacked a distinct garlic and basil flavor promised. Both could have used a bit more seasoning from salt and pepper as well.

Overall we came away impressed with the portions and the prices (nothing on the regular menu is over $20), but were more enamored with our small plates than with our pastas. We likely won't hurry back based on location and distance, but if we were to return I think we would look to make a meal of the antipasti.

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Name change announced today: La Forchetta is now Al Dente.

"Washington, D.C. (August 16, 2012) - La Forchetta, the new Italian hot spot owned by restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, is pleased to announce a new distinctive name for the authentic neighborhood oasis, Al Dente. Executive Chef Roberto Donna will continue to provide guests with his legendary cuisine with the same menu and prices, serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch on both Saturday and Sunday.

Hakan Ilhan stated that the decision to replace the restaurant's name was due to another business in the Washington area with a similar name expressing concerns about possible confusion between the two establishments. Patrons of the 146-seat restaurant, with its exhibition kitchens, pizza oven, inviting bar and expansive 30-seat outdoor patio, were invited to partake in the name selection process by submitting suggestions to the restaurant's website. It was Ilhan who actually came up with the name Al Dente, which he had been considering since April, but was open to exploring other options."

New Website

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Expanding to a 2nd location.

http://www.bizjourna...eye-street.html

Even with Fabio (Roberto's very good sous chef), they won't be able to handle this complex of a menu at two locations. So, I predict some simplification.

I recently visited Al Dente and upgraded them to a well-deserved Italic rating in the Dining Guide. I'll be "pleasantly surprised" if they're able to maintain this after expansion.

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FWIW, Roberto's Timpano is the single best dish that I have had in any restaurant anywhere in the last year or more. I'd actually put this-in its own way-on par with his "Duck Stew." A Great Dish that in two hours of sitting at the end of the bar watching every dish prepared, only two other people ordered. Under the radar? Probably. I'm also guessing that it is an exceptionately time consuming dish to make. Another outstanding dish is his version of soft shell crab. Remarkable that so many tend to order the same things.

Timpano. Go. Truly, a Great Dish.

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FWIW, Roberto's Timpano is the single best dish that I have had in any restaurant anywhere in the last year or more. I'd actually put this-in its own way-on par with his "Duck Stew." A Great Dish that in two hours of sitting at the end of the bar watching every dish prepared, only two other people ordered. Under the radar? Probably. I'm also guessing that it is an exceptionately time consuming dish to make. Another outstanding dish is his version of soft shell crab. Remarkable that so many tend to order the same things.

Timpano. Go. Truly, a Great Dish.

Better than Fiola's veal chop?

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