By: Gigi Grimes
PSA: It’s no longer necessary to go to Italy to get great Italian food. It’s right here in DC. No, I’m not talking about the Italian Embassy (though I do hear they know how to throw a good party); I’m talking about Acqua Al 2, a restaurant that made its way to DC from its beautiful home in Florence, Italy. The restaurant, originally started in Florence in 1978, opened in DC in 2010, bringing its authentic Italian atmosphere and food to the Eastern Market area. With brick walls, dim lighting, and wooden tables and chairs, the restaurant evokes a cozy, genuine Italian vibe. Upon arrival, the restaurant and bar were packed, so I would suggest making a reservation in advance.
Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable, listing several specials of the day and giving us tips on the menu. The menu was quite large including a tasting section, a variety of antipasti, pasta plates, seafood, and meats. The decision process before ordering was definitely not easy.
To start, my mom and I shared a cheese tasting plate with six different types of cheese, some pears, and a fig jam and truffle honey. The chef definitely has an excellent taste for cheeses, as each one was uniquely delicious. Surprisingly, I even enjoyed the blue cheese, which I normally don’t like. The plate was the perfect size to share, not too filling but not too little.
Next, we each selected our own entrees. I chose one of the specials for the day: house-made pappardelle pasta with a meat ragu sauce, and my mom selected one of the house-made gnocchi’s with a Parmigiano, parsley, and basil sauce. Though the restaurant was extremely crowded, our food arrived in a very timely manner, almost as if the kitchen had predicted what we would order. Each dish was plated beautifully and in the simplistic Italian way, letting the food speak for itself. The house-made pasta definitely made the difference in my pappardelle dish. The pasta, cooked to perfection, tasted fresh and almost healthy. The ragu sauce had the classic Italian comfort food feel yet had an herb combination in it that made it feel less heavy than a traditional ragu. I was in love. My mom’s gnocchi was equally pleasing, with each piece almost like “a little pillow,” as she described it. Though her sauce was creamier than mine with the Parmigiano, the basil and parsley lightened it, creating an excellent balance between the heavier potato gnocchi and the light sauce.
When the waitress returned to ask if we wanted to try a dessert, we eagerly said yes. The dessert menu consisted of very traditional Italian desserts: tiramisu, cheesecake, flourless chocolate cake, and crème caramel. Our waitress recommended the tiramisu highlighting that it was a restaurant classic, so we decided to try it. Let me say that I have been to Italy twice and have tried tiramisu at many different restaurants—this was the best tiramisu I have ever had. The ladyfingers were soaked in the perfect amount of espresso, the flavor was present but it wasn’t overbearing. My favorite part was the cream used to ice the tiramisu—it was almost a thicker whipped cream with hints of vanilla and crème fraiche, it was the best icing on a tiramisu that I have ever tried and it made all the difference. It was the perfect way to seal an excellent dinner.
When the bill arrived, we were once again pleasantly surprised. For a starter, two entrees, a dessert, and a couple glasses of wine the bill came out to be about $40 per person, which felt like a steal for the all of the delicious food we had just eaten. Though it’s a bit of a drive from Georgetown (about 20 minutes), I would definitely recommend Acqua Al 2. The combination of the rustic environment and delicious, authentic Italian food made the experience unforgettable and a great way to get to explore a different part of DC. So when midterms and finals make you stressed and you need a little vacation, treat yourself and take a trip to DC’s version of Florence to grab an amazing Italian dinner at Acqua Al 2.