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Al Dente chef Roberto Donna will reunite with Amy Brandwein, his former chef at tax-plagued Galileo, at a new northern Italian restaurant called Alba Osteria, opening Dec. 30.
“It’s different,” Donna says. “Before she used to work for me, now we work together… We’re really a team.” Their boss? Hakan Ilhan, who also owns Al Dente plus more than 20 fast casual restaurants.
“We have the same philosophy toward things,” adds Brandwein, who will be chef de cuisine and most recently worked at now-closed Casa Nonna. “He is obviously a pioneer of authentic cuisine in D.C. and actually throughout the country. And I really care about preserving authenticity of food in any kind of culture or cuisine.”
Specifically, Donna and Brandwein are trying to authentically represent the cuisine of the Piedmont region of northern Italy. The restaurant gets its name from the Piedmont town of Alba, where Donna comes from. The area is known for olive oil and butter sauces rather than tomato-based ragus. On Alba Osteria’s menu, for example, there’s a pasta with veal ragu that’s made with vegetables but no tomatoes. And while dry pastas are common in southern Italy, Donna says Alba is known for fresh pastas rich in eggs (22 egg yolks per pound of flour). Another classic pasta dish from the region is the chestnut trofie pasta “alla finanziera” with a stew of veal brain, sweetbreads, chicken heart, cockscomb, and vegetables cooking in marsala wine. All the pastas are available in half and full portions.
Because Piedmont is a land-locked region, the menu will be light on seafood, but Brandwein will add some daily fish specials. Neapolitan pizzas also make up a large portion of the menu, with a wood-fired oven from Naples in view of the dining room. Brandwein and Donna will make salami, pancetta, and lardo and hope to expand the charcuterie offerings made in-house as time goes on. Alba Osteria will also have smaller plates like fried pig’s feet, sautéed chicken livers with polenta, and veal tongue in green sauce that are meant to appeal to the neighborhood’s younger crowd accustomed to the shared plate way of eating.
“[At Al Dente], it’s pretty much a neighbors’ place, and we have to cater to them. Here, of course we want to be a neighborhood place… but it’s… I don’t know, I don’t want to offend anybody,” Donna says.
“More singles, I’d say. Right?” Brandwein chimes in.
“Younger clientele,” Donna says.
“Urban,” Brandwein says.
“Yeah, it’s a more urban, millennium….”
“…customer base than Al Dente. So I think they eat in different ways.”
In keeping with that idea, Alba Osteria has a prominent 62-seat bar area, with local craft beers and four wines on tap plus more than 200 exclusively Italian bottles (including a strong base of Piedmontese wines). During weekday happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., you can get draft beers for $4 and select wines by the glass for $5, plus complimentary Mortadella and bar bites ranging from $5 to $12.
On the splurge side, Alba Osteria will feature a 12-seat chef’s table in the same vein as Roberto’s 4, the four-seat tasting menu restaurant within a restaurant at Al Dente. Donna and Brandwein will switch off who prepares the multi-course meals and collaborate sometimes as well.
The rest of the orange-accented space way is set up in such a way that different areas can be sectioned off to accommodate large private parties. Wood-paneling and window partitions come from a demolished Crayola factory in Ohio. The official private dining room is walled in by metal crates filled with wine, which make it feel a little bit like a banquet hall set from Game of Thrones.
Check out more photos below.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, this story initially stated that the opening is Dec. 20. It is Dec. 30.
12-seat chef’s table:
Private dining room:
Alba Osteria, 425 I St. NW; (202) 733-4454; albaosteriadc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman