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Al Crostino, Al Tiramisu's Sibling at 9th Street and Florida Avenue, and Running The Westchester's Dining Room in Cathedral Heights


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Weekly Dish says...

GRAPE EXPECTATIONS: Fast approaching its 10th year in business, the spirited Italian restaurant Al Tiramisu (2014 P St. NW; 202-467-4466) is also poised to become a parent, according to its owner, Luigi Diotaiuti . The restaurateur recently revealed that he's opening a second place to eat in Washington, in the space recently claimed by Opera at 1324 U St. NW. "Al Tiramisu wanted to have a son," jokes Diotaiuti, who has christened the offspring, a wine bar, Al Crostino . As the name suggests, the script will feature a variety of crostini -- slivers of toasted bread with savory toppings -- as well as cheese and sausage platters and 30-plus Italian wines by the glass. A handful of entrees (zucchini-crusted fish, a veal chop sauced with balsamic vinegar and honey) will round out the small menu, which will be executed by Diotaiuti's brother, Giovanni , who cooked at Al Tiramisu in its early years. Soft yellow paint and white trim will replace Opera's green palette, says the owner, but otherwise, the two-level interior will not change much. Diotaiuti hopes to offer wine classes in the small loft and plans to serve dinner daily any day now, if everything goes according to plan.

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We were loyal Kuna fans if for no better reason than they were so darn nice and it's around the corner. We kept returning through Opera's menu identity crisis and towards the end, it was pretty much back to the Kuna menu. But maybe the change turned enough people off that it tipped the balance to close the place. It was pretty empty whenever we went during the week. Makes me sad.

But I'll be eager to check out the new joint. It's supposed to open next week. (An edit to Tom's item: That's no "soft" yellow on the walls...stoplight yellow is more like it.)

Anyone know where Mark Giuricich of Kuna will go?

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Anyone know where Mark Giuricich of Kuna will go?

Seems like that is the big question.

I perceived the Kuna=>Opera transition as greed-motivated. Like "I'm packing 'em in and I can't justify simply raising prices, so I'll just reposition the whole place."

If I'm off-base, feel free to correct me, but that was how I took the change and it upset me enough that I never crossed Opera's doorstep. I contemplated it, but knowing that 1. I'd need a reservation to do so and 2. it would be more $$ than the gem that was Kuna, I lacked motivation. And I really, really enjoyed my meals at Kuna, samples of wine and chats with the owner.

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Well, you certainly didn't need a reservation since the place was regularly empty. Every time we went to Opera, the menu got closer and closer to Kuna's. By our last visit, the top of the menu read Opera AKA Kuna...and all the pastas were back. Who knows, the whole thing could've been about money, but it seems strange they couldn't have given it a few more months if they were trying to increase profits. Whatever the reason, I'm eager to give Al Crostino a try, even though that yellow paint is a little harsh. I loved the dark, coziness of Kuna. :P

Hey, maybe Mark will go to Urbana! :wub:

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What were the prices like when the menu read "Opera AKA Kuna"? Did they resemble that of Opera or Kuna?

Well, you certainly didn't need a reservation since the place was regularly empty. Every time we went to Opera, the menu got closer and closer to Kuna's. By our last visit, the top of the menu read Opera AKA Kuna...and all the pastas were back. Who knows, the whole thing could've been about money, but it seems strange they couldn't have given it a few more months if they were trying to increase profits. Whatever the reason, I'm eager to give Al Crostino a try, even though that yellow paint is a little harsh. I loved the dark, coziness of Kuna.  :P

Hey, maybe Mark will go to Urbana:wub:

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Pastas were hovering around $15, a little less than the Opera entrees. Desserts were the same as before.

Kuna's prices had been on a steady creep it seemed, even before Opera. I remember reading an old review of Tom's that praised them for the wine menu with no bottles over $26. It had been a while since there had been any bottles under that price!

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We're dining there this Friday. Any recent reports?

My first visit a few weeks back had me proclaiming I'd found my new neighborhood go-to spot. We had the delightfully salty duck prosciutto and a lightly dressed salad with toasted pine nuts and crostini topped with a creamy cheese mousse; a mushroom ravioli in a simple butter and sage sauce, pillowy spinach gnocchi with ricotta with a summery tomato coulis, and fresh linguine paired with plump shrimp and cherry tomatoes. Then a cheese plate with a creamy taleggio, a stinky gorgonzola and a nutty fontina followed, along with an excellent limoncello panna cotta and a crème caramel topped with an amaretto cookie crust.

Then...we went back and checked out the entrees. The ribeye, the salmon and the white fish with zucchini. (Can't remember what the waiter said the fish was...) It was all very tasty, but most came with sauteed greens (spinach I assume) that were drenched in butter. At first I thought this was a good thing. By the time we finished, and for several hours after that, I felt like I'd eaten four sticks of butter...probably because I had.

I'll probably stick to the grazing strategy next time, with a cheese and meat plate and a few pastas...

Edited by oliveDC
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Stopped by Al Crostino with a friend tonight, and ran into a handful of other friends at the new and improved bar. Definitely a nice way to start things off - a feeling like this is a good addition to the neighborhood. Overall, the food we ate isn't the stuff that's going to set the world on fire, but we liked it just fine.

Friend and I enjoyed a cheese plate - taleggio, parmesan, robiola. All very good and served with a good Italian bread, plus two accompaniments (figs and I think some sort of pear jelly?). We also had a pasta each - I, the spinach gnocchi with tomato coulis, and my friend the penne with some sort of goat cheese and tomato sauce going on. Sorry, but the menu is not yet online.

Neither dish was much more complicated than something that could be made at home, but both were tasty and I liked the lighter, brighter setting (versus the previously dark brown walls). Salt alert: the tomato coulis suited me fine, but was definitely on the salty side.

Service was exceedingly friendly from Luigi who made me feel like a regular on my first visit to our server Stephanie.

We skipped dessert in favor of some ice cream across the street at Maggie Moo's.

[a note on that: I think I hate the place (Maggie Moo's), but I keep going there. Why is that? I hate all of the cutesy names. The ice cream is fine, but whatever. And yet I keep going.]

Edited by JLK
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Then...we went back and checked out the entrees. The ribeye, the salmon and the white fish with zucchini. (Can't remember what the waiter said the fish was...) It was all very tasty, but most came with sauteed greens (spinach I assume) that were drenched in butter. At first I thought this was a good thing. By the time we finished, and for several hours after that, I felt like I'd eaten four sticks of butter...probably because I had.

I'll probably stick to the grazing strategy next time, with a cheese and meat plate and a few pastas...

I was at Al Crostino on Saturday and had a lovely meal: a perfectly prepared crabmeat-stuffed salmon dish served with sauted greens and scalloped potatoes. The salmon was rolled w/ crabmeat, then cooked in a sweet bun shape, and it was juicy, plump, and sweet (mmm the thought of it makes me hungry). Greens--not spinach but something tougher like kale--were deliciously sauted in olive oil w/ a touch of sea salt (I was glad not to taste any butter in my greens). The potatoes were a tad bit too salty for me, but I might be biased since I am not a fan of potatoes in general. My company had linguini w/ shrimp and tomatoes which was tasty. Tapanade served with bread before the meal was a nice change from the regular g'ole olive oil, and panna cotta was delicious as well.

We had a very friendly server who had fabulous recommendations, but the hostess was somewhat abrasive about not having made reservations.

I am definitely going back to try their crostini, mushroom ravioli, and zuchinni-crusted fish.

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I am definitely going back to try their crostini, mushroom ravioli, and zuchinni-crusted fish.

I'd avoid the mushroom ravioli - dry filling with no mushroom taste. The place is a charmer, though, and it was a nice variety of crostini (anchovy & mozzarella, vegetable, rabbit ragout(?), and a couple others that escape me) for $6.

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Respectfully disagree regarding the mushroom ravioli. I had a half portion of them (plus a half order of the penne with sun dried tomato and goat cheese, beautifully presesented on a long rectangular plate) and thought they were very tasty, nicely flavored.

I also love the sauce on the penne - although it's vegetarian in nature, it somehow strikes me as meaty, perfect for scooping up and putting atop a slice of bread. The penne itself was about two stops before al dente. The chef wasn't paying attention on that one.

As for the cheerful host, Luigi, I'm starting to think he takes ecstacy. He's that friendly. Our bartender (we dined there at the counter - so much nicer than the one Kuna had) who I think is named Jon-Maria was also very engaging.

Edited by JLK
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I just sent this email to Luigi - I was impressed by the service (actually the server, Stephanie, she was the Greatest!) and I thought the food was comparable to Dino's - very different atmosphere, but still both are wonderful neighborhood/trattoria Italian.

Email to Luigi:

The reason I'm sending this email is to give you the Biggest compliment I could ever give a restaurant - your

Server Stephanie at Al Crostino was so warm and welcoming and helpful, that I feel she should be made an honorary

Italian! In over 19 years of eating out in DC, I've never had a server who was not only bubbly and funny,

but extremely helpful and entertaining - really setting my date and I at ease!

Oh, and the food was really great - I had the mushroom ravioli in butter and sage (simple, yet very satisfying!), and the to-die-for veal chop - I almost ate the bone! My date had the special ravioli with scallops, and the carpaccio (we both thought there was too much Arugula on the carpaccio, but I guess that takes the place of the salad, and the carpaccio was perfect).

We also split the scallops in green (?) sauce which Stephanie said we had to try, and she was right, they were very sweet,

and the sauce was very subtle and didn't take away from the shellfish's sweetness. We also split the dessert which was ice cream with a blueberry and caramel sauce (I think I got the explanation wrong?), and it was very rich and delicious.

Believe it or not, the room was a bit too noisy - not so much the people, but the acoustics are very poor on the 2nd floor - so poor, that I think the lights were effected because they kept blinking and dimming almost like a disco! Stephanie made us feel right at home and we actually had a great time talking to her and sharing lot's of stories about the neighborhood in general.

Keep doing a great job and keep Stephanie, she makes the place really special!

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Has anyone been to Al Crostino recently?  Thinking about giving it a try this weekend and just wondered if there were any other suggestions/feedback, in addition to that posted above.  Also, what sort of price range are the entrees?

Thanks!  :P

We went there last Friday night and had a great meal. I agree with the service comments above; we may have had the same server, but I honestly don't remember her name.

The food: we had the crostini and shrimp/calamari-on-a-stick for starters. Crostini were great (from my dim memory: anchovy/cheese, ragu(?), squash(?); ah, hell, I really don't remember). I'll pass on the shrimp/calamari next time. I've definitely had better.

Two specials for entrees: housemade scallop ravioli and venison chop. Ravioli were fantastic. Venison chops themselves were excellent mid-rare as ordered, as was the sauce (red wine reduction of some variety), but I felt the broccolini that they were served over clashed with the rest of the dish. Dessert was a passable tiramisu. I should have gone with a cheese plate.

Now the prices. Entrees typically $13-20 for pastas/mains. That night I was distracted and broke my cardinal rule about asking for specials prices when they are not offered. Ravioli special was $18, in line with the regular meny items. Venison chops (and I assume the veal chops offered that evening)? $30 :lol: . We dropped $130 for the two of us including tax, 2-3 drinks a piece (I really liked the wine-by-the-glass offerings BTW), and a generous tip for said excellent service. Since it's in the 'hood we will definitely be back often to the bar for snacks and wine. I wouldn't put it in the same class as Dino, though. I don't think the food reaches quite to the same level.

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I recently had a pasta special at Al Crostino that I am still craving: butternut squash ravioli in a walnut cream sauce. Rich, delicious and (I think) $13.

My portion of seven or so not-large ravioli was long gone while my friend was still enjoying her penne. I easily could have put away two orders. :lol:

By the way, our server very clearly noted prices when describing the evening's specials. I wonder if this change has taken place at Al Tiramisu as well.

Edited by JLK
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Somewhat off-topic question: did the owners of Kuna/Opera ever resurface?

On-topic question: does Al Crostino take reservations? I just called and no one answered. The restaurant is not on OpenTable.com. AlCrostino.com reveals no such information.

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Somewhat off-topic question:  did the owners of Kuna/Opera ever resurface?

On-topic question:  does Al Crostino take reservations?  I just called and no one answered.  The restaurant is not on OpenTable.com.  AlCrostino.com reveals no such information.

es, they do. You can leave your request on their answering machine or speak to Claude, the manager, directly. She's great.
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Jlock and I went to Al Crostino for the first time last night, and I couldn't have been more pleased with the experience!

When we showed up, I was in a terrible mood, they were busy with a big party, and I didn't like our table at all. I thought the evening was shot, and I almost went elsewhere. They would not let me leave unhappy! And, I didn't.

The food was great: Everything was perfectly ripe in the caprese salad. The roasted mozzerella, eggplant, and zucchini was a great combination of flavors. Interesting how two mozzerrella based dishes could both be so good, but taste so different. Although I typically don't like fried food that much, I ordered the veal milanese. Maybe I was trying to keep my misery going. Well, it didn't work. I loved it! The tiramasu was excellent also, so we tried to finish our night with that.

But, we still could not leave. The rain had started pouring down so hard, there was no way to go. We tried getting a cab, but that wouldn't work, so we decided to wait it out inside. Not a bad option at all!

Then out came the cookies, and the lemoncello, and some more wine! All in all, an amazing meal (both in food and service) that left me thinking it had been a great weekend!

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Jlock and I went to Al Crostino for the first time last night, and I couldn't have been more pleased with the experience!

A new manager there (at least I believe he is manager) is Marcello. He's quick, boisterous, and has excellent taste in food and wine. Years ago, I was at dinner with my wife and my mother at the restaurant Marcello ran then. We had a problem with my mother's meal and the manner in which Marcello handled it was classy, honorable and effective. Marcello's actions had me going back to that restaurant constantly, and he's probably one of the first "industry-types" I became friendly with since I moved to DC.

If you return to Al Crostino, get to know Marcello. He's definitely one of the good guys we all appreciate here on DR.

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Does anyone go here anymore? I was there a few years ago and I am thinking it might be agood place for a group (10). Any thoughts on recent meals?

Alternatively, do you think Marvin could handle 10 people at once? My U St. pal insists it is too zoo-like for a big group.

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Does anyone go here anymore? I was there a few years ago and I am thinking it might be agood place for a group (10). Any thoughts on recent meals?

Alternatively, do you think Marvin could handle 10 people at once? My U St. pal insists it is too zoo-like for a big group.

We were in Marvin about six weeks ago at about 5:00-5:30. There was a line waiting to get in. Shortly after we sat at the bar a party of about 20 came in and were seated immediately. I assumed they had a reservation. They seemed to be well taken care of. The place was full (at least downstairs) by the time we were halfway through our meal. Didn't appear to be any problems handling the crowd.

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Al Crostino soft opened in its new location on Thursday, July 10, 2014.  From its July 9 posting on its Facebook page:

To all al crostino fans we are opening for our soft opening..Thursday - Sunday @ 5pm a la carte menu 30% off your check please email your reservation at jknicolai@gmail.com or call us @ 202.797.0523 we are now located @ 1926 9th street NW.

Washington City Paper's article here.

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