Savor a Snow Day at Alba Osteria

Written by Anita

February 15, 2014

Record cold weather calls for stick-to-your-ribs kind of food. At Alba Osteria, you’ll get just that. Chef Roberto Donna hails from Piemonte, one of the northernmost regions of Italy cupped by the majestic Alps. (Torino, at its heart, was home to the 2006 Winter Olympics.) Chef Donna’s latest endeavor focuses on the region’s cuisine and specifically that of Alba—home of the wild white truffle. Chef de cuisine Amy Brandwein (who started her career at chef Donna’s Galileo and most recently served as executive chef of Casa Nonna) skillfully executes this homage to chef Donna’s native fare.

Start your meal with a selection from the salumi and fromaggi counter. We especially savored the Salame Cotto D’Alba, a housemade poached pork and beef cold cut, handsliced wafer thin and piled into airy mounds. Served with piquant pickled vegetables, zesty mustard, and sweet hazelnut honey, it is delicate yet satisfying.

Although the menu offers an assortment of cold and warm appetizers, the snowscape outside suggests that warmth is needed. Served in a cast iron pan, the fegatini e porcini perfectly fits the bill. A mélange of plump chicken livers and savory porcini mushrooms sautéed in sweet marsala wine tops soft polenta in this stellar selection. At $8, it is both large and hearty enough to serve as a small meal.

Pasta is a prerequisite for any Italian meal, and the selections at Alba Osteria can be procured in both small and large portions. (We recommend sampling a couple of small ones.) The mezzeluna (a dumpling-like half-moon ravioli stuffed with burrata, ricotta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano) is traditional to the region.  Boiled in a hay-infused broth, it is finished with buttery spinach leaves. The trofie alla finanziera consists of hand-made chestnut pasta twists crowned by an offal sauce of cock’s combs, veal sweetbreads, veal brains, and marsala wine. Termed “bankers’ sauce” because it was available only to the upper class, it exudes opulence. (If you crave even more richness, you can add duck foie gras to any dish for an additional charge.)

We’ll have to go back to sample some of Alba’s other riches, including mains like the Coniglio (rabbit Milanese with fontina cheese and prosciutto), the rolatine di vitello (veal with prosciutto, pork stracotto, salami, chiodini mushrooms, and potato cream), or its assortment of Neapolitan pizzas.

If you’re able to save room for dessert, don’t miss the polenta bianca—a sweet polenta baked in a cast iron skillet that is reminiscent of both crème brûlée and bread pudding. Or sample some of Alba Osteria’s housemade gelati.

Want to warm up yourself? Then stop by Alba Osteria for happy hour, lunch, dinner, or brunch. The restaurant offers half-price wine bottles every Monday and Tuesday (a climate controlled room holds much of the restaurant’s extensive collection), and industry night every other Sunday from 10pm to 1am.  Its weekday happy hour in the expansive bar area already draws a crowd. (No wonder; tweet #AlbaOsteriaDC and receive a complimentary small bite from the kitchen!) Or check out its Saturday and Sunday brunch, featuring bottomless brunch food and drinks (including a Prosciutto Bloody Mary) and live music. Stay tuned to GregsListDC for information about the restaurant’s upcoming wine dinners. And here’s a warm thought: summer will bring an outdoor patio….

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