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Joe H

Alba Osteria, Piemontese Cuisine at 4th and I Street near Mount Vernon Triangle - Chef Amy Brandwein Departs for Centrolina

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Today, Monday, is opening day for Alba.

 

We went to Alba on Thursday night for their "friends and family."  We found it to be extremely imaginative with a number of dishes that I think are extraordinary for North America.  I believe that it presents a new depth of Italian to Washington, D. C. that most have not seen before.  I'd even suggest it is a real credit to D. C. that we have a restaurant like this.  The setting is familiar and reassuring but a number of the dishes are a very real adventure.  

 
For anyone reading this who might have shared in one of the Laboratorio dinners I organized a number of years ago:  do you remember the "duck stew?"  Roberto has a dish called trofie all finanziera which is a type of pasta with what is essentially "duck stew" sauce.  Remarkable.  Also, an intensely delicious agnolotti al brasato (another Laboratorio dish), tamarin and an amazing chicken soup.  Yes, chicken soup. It is even called this on the menu. Intensely reduced, deeply flavored chicken stock with cream, white wine and cubes of chicken breast and veggies with little "nuggets" of a pasta.  Topped with homemade croutons. If it were not for our passionate waiter we would not have tried it.  "Chicken soup" sounds so simple, so "Carnegie or Stage or Katz' deli like.  But this was incredible.  Better than any New York deli-all of which i have had chicken soup at.  Others saw us, asking what we'd ordered.  Pretty soon there were a half dozen or more bowls around us with another half dozen spoons for others so they could try, too.  Roberto has never had chicken soup before-this is his first time presenting it.
 
It will become a signature.
 
Chicken soup.  Trofie finanziera.  Agnolotti al brasato.  Tamarin.  For starters and a bit of direction.
 
Alba is an adventurous, exciting restaurant that gives full credit to the piedmont region where Roberto is from.
 
And for anyone going, you'll see thematic features (various metallic structures and designs) throughout the restaurant which are from the Crayola factory which closed in Sandusky, Ohio in the late '50's.  Alba recovered them from salvage and restored them where today they help create the unique but reassuring ambience of the room.  Sandusky is also the home of Cedar Point, the greatest amusement park on Earth.  It was once called 'the amazement park."
 
There is both literally and figuratively a bit of the amazement park in Roberto's new Alba!
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The preceding was a paid political announcement.  :).  Unfortunately, we were unable to make it and now I'm kicking myself for missing the soft opening.  Sounds great (and if I'm correct, this is a spin off from Al Dente).

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Is this a change of employer or as suggested a spin off of Al Dente? If a spin off, will he be moving between places?

Any chance he is current on his payments?

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MDT, same owner as Al Dente, but other than pizza the menu is totally different.  The focus of Alba is to introduce many of the dishes of Roberto's youth, the Piedmont area of Italy, to the D. C. area for the first time.  This is why I describe some of this as an adventure.  To the best of my knowledge a number of these have not been done in the U. S. before.  There are tastes that are really interesting including finanziera sauce and the agnolotti al brasato mentioned above.  My analogy with Laboratorio is a fair one:  a number of these are the kinds of dishes that he might have presented there.

I should also mention that many dishes have two sizes with the opportunity to order smaller portions and do a real sampling of the menu.

There is a kitchen bar in the rear of the restaurant where a half dozen seats partially encircle the pizza oven.  To the immediate left of this is the actual kitchen.  Similar to the kitchen bar in the rear of Estadio I am also guessing these will become destination seats to watch preparation.

It will be interesting to read what others think of Alba.  I ask for anyone who reads this and goes, please consider one of the dishes I mentioned above.

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Did he ever resolve the alledged financial mess he was in?

Roberto Donna is a brilliant Chef and deserving of all the claim, accolades, and lifestyle his talents can provide. More deserving are those whom he has wronged financially during his 20+ years plying his trade in Washington DC.

I can't wait to go to this restaurant and heap praise upon the food, if it is as delicious as Joe H describes (and I am sure it is.) But that absolutely won't happen until I have heard some verification that serious restitution is being made. To date, I have heard of none.

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My wife and I went to Alba tonight, and had a terrific meal.

I started with the aforementioned chicken soup, Zuppa della Regina. It was sublime. My wife had the Ratatuia Piemontese, which consists of grilled cauliflower, cardoons, kabocha squash, garlic cipollini onions with an anchovy sauce. She loved it.

For the pasta course, I had the chestnut troï¬e with a finanzieria sauce. Trofie are hand rolled noodles, and the finanzieria sauce is made from organ meats - hearts, livers, brains, etc. It was amazing. My wife had the special pasta of the day, which was calamarata with a Neapolitan fish sauce consisting of mussels, clams, shrimp with a tomato base.

For mains, I had coniglio ripieno, which was rolled with a spinach crepe, and each roll (there were three of them) were wrapped with pancetta. Then all three were placed on a bed of polenta with raschera cheese. My wife had the fish of the day, which was branzino with a tomato based sauce. Both mains were also incredible.

Finally, for dessert, I had the coppa di Torino, and she has the torta gianduja.

We had a nice bottle of Arbeta Gavi (2012).

A very nice meal, and we will be back again.

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One thing I don't get about the article how they're saying that Amy Brandwein is 'temporarily' reuniting with Roberto Donna, and how the article says, quoting the owner "For now, at Alba, he says, 'it's going to be Amy's show.'"  Is she only there to get the kitchen up and running?  Is she there for a while? 

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One thing I don't get about the article how they're saying that Amy Brandwein is 'temporarily' reuniting with Roberto Donna, and how the article says, quoting the owner "For now, at Alba, he says, 'it's going to be Amy's show.'"  Is she only there to get the kitchen up and running?  Is she there for a while? 

I think the "temporarily" refers to Donna, who is going back to Al Dente after helping to get the kitchen at Alba off the ground.

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Really enjoyed our meal there. The dishes run a little small but the pricing is very reasonable. It's like a casual Al Dente with a Piedmont twist. Highly recommend the Fegatini e Porcini just for the creamy polenta alone. The agnolotti al brasato was outstanding as was the gnocchi verdi. It's funny, we didn't even get a chance to try any of the pizzas because of all the other dishes we ordered - that's how big the menu is. The Polenta Blanca was one of the best desserts I've had recently. A little twist on creme brulee that was accompanied with some ridiculously tasty chocolate gelato. Great to have Chef Brandwein back in the kitchen, too!

More here - Alba Osteria and Amy Brandwein are a Perfect Match

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I'll just quickly pile on, we ate here on Friday with a group of five and had a very good experience across the board. Food was good, service was attentive, and I really don't have anything bad to say. 

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Had brunch here two weeks ago.  The Tajarin is one of the best pastas I've had in DC.  The zuppa alla cavanesana is clever and looked very tasty.  The lamb sausages and pancetta are very tasty, and the egg dishes were properly prepared.  The $30 bottomless brunch (which we did not opt for) is really a great deal if you come with a healthy appetite for food and drink.

Need to come back soon for dinner to sample more pasta offerings.

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Really really terrible service ruined what would have been a very pleasant meal for the boyfriend and me last night at Alba Osteria.

We arrived shortly after 8pm and sat at the bar. The restaurant was nearly empty and the bar was a little over half full though it seemed that many parties had been there for some time. Even though there were three bartenders working, it took five minutes for us to be acknowledged and given menus. Then two minutes later, a second bartender asked for our order. Since we barely had a chance to look at the wine list we asked for a few minutes. It did only take us a few minutes to figure out our order but we had to flag down the second bartender to put in our order. Fortunately, the wines came quickly. Unfortunately, service disintegrated at that point. The two appetizers (cauliflower and meatballs) came out quickly and they were promptly followed by a half order of the tajarin. But the pizza was nowhere to be seen and no one stopped by to ask us if we were waiting for something, needed something, were enjoying ourselves...no one stopped by. At. All. We finally saw a pizza come out and hoped it would be ours. Much to our dismay, it was placed in front of two women who arrived much later than us. The women poked at the pizza and were about to dig in when another bartender came out and said that the women didn't order that pizza, they had ordered the one he had in his hand. We observed as the bartender we mostly dealt with took the pizza to various people at the bar (but not to us) and asked them if they had ordered a pizza. When she couldn't figure it out, she placed it below the bar as another bartender went back to the kitchen to figure out what went wrong. He came out and informed our bartender/server that the pizza was for us. Our bartender/server asked us if we ever received our pizza and we said no so she proceeded to place the pizza in front of us like we didn't see what had just happened! Both my boyfriend and I objected and told the server/bartender that we did not want a pizza that was nearly eaten by another couple and then taken around to other patrons and finally placed below the bar for several minutes. She said "oh okay" and walked away. No offer of offering a replacement, no question about whether we wanted to order something else or whether we wanted our check. Nothing. The three bartenders working proceeded to completely ignore us for what seemed like a very long time. Unless we yelled and rudely hailed one of them over, we could not even get their attention so we could get our check and leave.

Finally fed up, I went to the hostess stand asked to talk to the manager. I explained the situation to him and noted that this was the worst service I have ever received in the District. I was livid. In the end, the manager brought out two pizzas in to-go boxes and comped our meal. My boyfriend really wanted to just pay the bill and get out of there but since the manager went to the kitchen and the servers remained clueless to what had just happened (seriously) we couldn't get our check. By the time the manager came back with the pizzas and apologized again, we were too irritated to remain in the restaurant so we accepted his apologies, thanked him for comping our meal, and sped out of there.

As for the food, it was not bad. The cauliflower appetizer we ordered was really good. While dry, the meatballs were flavorful and tasty and I rationalized that maybe it was just a bad batch. The tajarin we ordered was delicious and I agree with Astrid above that it was one of the best pastas I've had in DC. The pizza...I had a slice when I got home (about a five minute walk) and it was just okay. The cheese and toppings were good but the crust was too chewy.

Had we not had such a terrible experience with the service, I think my boyfriend and I would have put this spot in our neighborhood rotation. But even if I wanted to give this place another shot, I don't think I could convince my boyfriend to ever set foot in that place again. And I don't think I could take a guest there with my current reservations about the service.

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Really really terrible service ruined what would have been a very pleasant meal for the boyfriend and me last night at Alba Osteria.

Man, this is a brutal example of how terrible service can absolutely ruin a night out. The restaurant didn't make a penny of revenue, and gave you what sounds like $50-70 of food, and still it wasn't enough to keep you from fuming.

If only the manager who had comped your meal would have spent the energy training the staff, and clamping down on service - everyone would have been so much happier.

This pains me to read because it's such a simple fix, but that fix must come from the highest levels of management and ownership.

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This reminds me of a hilariously bad night of service that my girlfriend and I had at Sushi Seki in New York, which I might post about in the relevant thread if I remember to do so.

Having a service experience like that really sucks, and I sympathize.

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Really really terrible service ruined what would have been a very pleasant meal for the boyfriend and me last night at Alba Osteria.

We arrived shortly after 8pm and sat at the bar. The restaurant was nearly empty and the bar was a little over half full though it seemed that many parties had been there for some time. Even though there were three bartenders working, it took five minutes for us to be acknowledged and given menus. Then two minutes later, a second bartender asked for our order. Since we barely had a chance to look at the wine list we asked for a few minutes. It did only take us a few minutes to figure out our order but we had to flag down the second bartender to put in our order. Fortunately, the wines came quickly. Unfortunately, service disintegrated at that point. The two appetizers (cauliflower and meatballs) came out quickly and they were promptly followed by a half order of the tajarin. But the pizza was nowhere to be seen and no one stopped by to ask us if we were waiting for something, needed something, were enjoying ourselves...no one stopped by. At. All. We finally saw a pizza come out and hoped it would be ours. Much to our dismay, it was placed in front of two women who arrived much later than us. The women poked at the pizza and were about to dig in when another bartender came out and said that the women didn't order that pizza, they had ordered the one he had in his hand. We observed as the bartender we mostly dealt with took the pizza to various people at the bar (but not to us) and asked them if they had ordered a pizza. When she couldn't figure it out, she placed it below the bar as another bartender went back to the kitchen to figure out what went wrong. He came out and informed our bartender/server that the pizza was for us. Our bartender/server asked us if we ever received our pizza and we said no so she proceeded to place the pizza in front of us like we didn't see what had just happened! Both my boyfriend and I objected and told the server/bartender that we did not want a pizza that was nearly eaten by another couple and then taken around to other patrons and finally placed below the bar for several minutes. She said "oh okay" and walked away. No offer of offering a replacement, no question about whether we wanted to order something else or whether we wanted our check. Nothing. The three bartenders working proceeded to completely ignore us for what seemed like a very long time. Unless we yelled and rudely hailed one of them over, we could not even get their attention so we could get our check and leave.

Finally fed up, I went to the hostess stand asked to talk to the manager. I explained the situation to him and noted that this was the worst service I have ever received in the District. I was livid. In the end, the manager brought out two pizzas in to-go boxes and comped our meal. My boyfriend really wanted to just pay the bill and get out of there but since the manager went to the kitchen and the servers remained clueless to what had just happened (seriously) we couldn't get our check. By the time the manager came back with the pizzas and apologized again, we were too irritated to remain in the restaurant so we accepted his apologies, thanked him for comping our meal, and sped out of there.

As for the food, it was not bad. The cauliflower appetizer we ordered was really good. While dry, the meatballs were flavorful and tasty and I rationalized that maybe it was just a bad batch. The tajarin we ordered was delicious and I agree with Astrid above that it was one of the best pastas I've had in DC. The pizza...I had a slice when I got home (about a five minute walk) and it was just okay. The cheese and toppings were good but the crust was too chewy.

Had we not had such a terrible experience with the service, I think my boyfriend and I would have put this spot in our neighborhood rotation. But even if I wanted to give this place another shot, I don't think I could convince my boyfriend to ever set foot in that place again. And I don't think I could take a guest there with my current reservations about the service. 

As the owner of Alba Osteria,  I want to thank you for taking the time to discuss your experience on DonRockwell.com, it provides a great service to the food industry. I was disappointed to learn of your experience at our bar, it is not how we want to treat anyone in our home. We take full responsibility for what happened and 100% acknowledge the responsibility I have to our staff and customers to remedy the situation. Amy and Roberto have come together to create an exciting and wonderful menu, it is my personal duty to ensure the service is on par with their work. I am aware how detrimental poor service can be for any dining experience and we appreciate the feedback since it is the only way to know the areas where we need improvement.

I will say honestly that over the past few months, we have had our share of challenges.  We are continually working to improve our current staff and also actively hiring new members. The training in regards to service, food and wine knowledge is an ongoing process and we are working hard at it everyday.

In your case, we fell very short and your experience has been reviewed and discussed with our bar manager and the rest of our management team. All the issues mentioned in your comment are completely unacceptable,  for a dish to be passed around and for you not to receive the proper help is simply not correct. I understand that sometimes the situation cannot be corrected with a complimentary meal and it is not your responsibility to forgive our mistakes. We are committed to achieving a top notch service team and ensuring we provide the best setting for authentic Piemontese Cuisine in DC.  We have hired new parts to our management team and are working furiously to find the right people for our family. 

We apologize that we failed you and we would like to show you our better side. It would be our pleasure to properly welcome you for dinner, please contact me at Hakanilhan2@gmail.com if you would be so kind to give us another chance. 

Thank you again for taking the time to write about us and it is my absolutely my mission to make sure our service is meeting the quality our diners deserve. 

Hakan Ilhan 

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Thank you again for taking the time to write about us and it is my absolutely my mission to make sure our service is meeting the quality our diners deserve. 

Hakan Ilhan

Hakan,

Thank you for the post and the apology, which I fully accept. I'm sure I will go back to Alba Osteria eventually as restaurants do change over time. In the case of Alba Osteria, I truly hope things improve. The food is very good and the tajarin is a very special dish. Alba Osteria is a great addition to the neighborhood and despite my rant, I do want it to succeed.

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Thank you again for taking the time to write about us and it is my absolutely my mission to make sure our service is meeting the quality our diners deserve.

Hakan Ilhan

Hakan,

Thank you for writing this classy response. Although it makes me cringe, it also makes me (and hopefully others) actively want to come into Alba Osteria. Your post alone has moved it onto my short list.

Funny, I was this close to coming into Al Dente with my son last night; unfortunately, Choong Hwa Won seized the evening, due to me being a bit underdressed and not having a reservation.

Cheers,

Rocks

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I don't necessarily think that what a restaurant serves at Zoofari is all that representative of what you would experience eating in the restaurant, but for what it's worth, the dish that was served at the Alba/Al Dente booth, a shrimp and noodle dish was outstanding and one of my few favorites of the evening in an otherwise sort of lackluster performance by many of the restaurants.

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I had a very good lunch there with a group of 7 last week.

We worked our way through 4 appetizers and 5 pastas:

Ratatouille Piemontese (Artichokes - Asparagus - Cipollini Onion Tomato - Peas - Garlic - Anchovy Sauce)

Meatballs (Fried Lamb, Veal & Pork Meatballs Onion Mint - Spices Bagnetto Rosso)

Roasted Beets (Arugula - Pecorino - Pistachio - Balsamic - Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

Santena (White Asparagus - Peas - Speck Crunchy Bread Crumbs)

Tagliatelle Agliata (Egg Yolk Pasta - Walnut Sauce - Parmigiano Reggiano)

Agnolotti (Braised Beef Short Rib - Beef Jus - Parmigiano Reggiano)

Gnocchi (Potato Dumpling - Sausage Ragu)

Mezzeluna (Hay Infused - Burrata - Ricotta - Parmigiano Reggiano - Spinach - Butter)

Trofie alla Finanziera (Chestnut Troï¬e Finanzieria - Sweetbreads - Veal Brains - Chicken Liver - Marsala)

Other than the Beets, which were ordinary, and the Meatballs, which were too dense, I'd order everything else again. In fact, I'd have a hard time not ordering the Ratatouille and Santena every time, as well as the Mezzeluna, which was absolutely incredible. Served in chinese dumpling steamers, that was the best pasta dish I've had in a long while. Others liked the Trofie just as much, but I found it a little strong in the offal flavor - it needed more balance.

Note that the Mezzeluna and Trofie are not on the lunch menu, but on request, they seem to be willing to serve anything off the dinner menu at lunch.

Less than $20/person before tax and tip. Not a cheap lunch, but an outstanding one. If I worked in that area this would be a go-to for a special lunch. And since it's the same prices at dinner (with an expanded menu), you can have an outstanding meal here without breaking the bank.

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