Poised to open in D.C.’s Mt. Vernon Triangle is restaurateur Hakan Ilhan’s latest project, Alba Osteria. The neighborhood eatery will offer a contemporary take on classical Italian fare, with a heavy focus on Italy’s Piedmont region.
The interior is a dynamic space with various nooks and crannies to match a wide array of dining preferences and desired levels of interaction. In the center of the restaurant, a four-sided island bar will allow patrons the opportunity to enjoy happy hour drink specials, along with the full menu or bar bites. Shelves of vertically displayed wines partition off a private room, which will also host wine education classes. A chef-focused exhibition counter, complete with a gleaming, Ferrari-red meat slicer, could be the perfect spot to munch on some salumi and formaggi with a great view into the semi-open kitchen. And for the truest of foodies, a circular pizza bar will provide a space to sit and watch as the wood-fired dome oven churns out mouthwatering Neapolitan pizzas every 90 seconds. The oven is the kitchen’s beautiful centerpiece. It’s also certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization that strives to maintain the standard for authentic Neapolitan pizzas by establishing guidelines for Italian restaurants around the world.
At the helm of the kitchen is James Beard Award winning Chef Roberto Donna, formerly of D.C.’s Galileo (which closed amidst some controversy), once named one of the “10 Best Italian Restaurants in America” by Wine Spectator and one of the 20 finest Italian restaurants outside of Italy by the President of Italy. Donna believes that there is no such thing as a unified “Italian cuisine.” Instead, there are many distinct cuisines within Italy unique to each region. “If you asked my grandmother from Piedmont what they’re cooking over in Bologna, she would not know or care, really. People tend to eat the traditional dishes of their own region,” Donna said in an interview.
At Galileo, Donna experimented with featuring the culinary traditions of different regions of Italy. Via his restaurant, he educated his D.C. clientele about the diversity of Italian cooking back in a time when there wasn’t too much authentic regional Italian cuisine available in the city. At Alba Osteria, he has decided to return to his Piemontese roots and to showcase the food he grew up eating. What does this mean for future restaurant patrons? Seafood will not be featured heavily on the a la carte; fish dishes will only appear as specials. Why? Because Piemontese cuisine doesn’t rely much on seafood and it would be dishonest to offer it as a traditional part of the cuisine. Instead, there will be many vegetable dishes on the menu, as the fertile Po valley is particularly known for its produce. The house-made Gnocchi Verdi (spinach-potato gnocchis) will be airy light and melt on the tongue. Meat dishes will feature beef tenderloin, veal cutlet and rabbit, as well as the less conservative Batsoa (fried pigs feet), Busecca (tripe), and Lingua al Verde (veal tongue in a green sauce). Guests also will have the option of adding some duck liver onto any dish for an additional price, because – well – why not?
Just as the dish titles appear in Italian and maintain a sense of authenticity, the portion sizes as Alba Osteria also will reflect Italian eating culture. Daily specials will appear in “Italian sized” portions, which translates to somewhere between a small plate and an American entrée portion. A variety of fresh, house-made pastas will be served in either the former or an American “regular” size.
As wine plays a fundamental role in Piemontese culinary tradition, it also will be an integral part of the experience at Alba Osteria. The restaurant will house a boutique selection of Italian labels along with some local varieties and will have four wines on draft. A plan for wine pairing dinners and tastings is also in the works.
Alba Osteria will officially open to the public on Dec. 30, just in time to ring in 2014 with some Piemontese flare.
Lili Kocsis is a self-proclaimed gastronome. She graduated from Harvard University in 2011 with a BA in linguistics. She dedicates her spare time to purposeful travel, food photography, and writing about regional cuisine under the penname MyAmusedBouche.