21 January 2012

Fresh pasta, friendly ambiance at Lavagna, DC

I read about Lavagna last summer in Roll Call. Roll Call is a newspaper that reports on Congress and also serves as sort of a community paper for Capitol Hill. It’s well written and I sometimes get insights about life on the Hill that lead to fun or unusual experiences (at least for a business traveler like me).

Unfortunately, if you tried the link for the Roll Call article, you discovered that you have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. And quite to my surprise, I couldn’t find a review of Lavagna in the Washington Post. There are some reviews on Yelp. I wrote one, and gave it a better review than the average.

One of the things that intrigued me about Lavagna is that the owner, Stephen Chueng, is Asian. The Roll Call article explains that he got his start in the restaurant business at his parents Chinese restaurant. I thought, “That’s kind of interesting. I wonder how he does with Italian food.” (I suppose that’s an unkind stereotype. Sorry. I’m not Italian, and I do pretty well with Italian food, so I guess I shouldn’t have wondered. But I did.)

So on my first trip to DC in 2012, I had a free evening. So I invited a colleague to join me and give Lavagna a try. We both really enjoyed the experience.LavagnaDC2

I’m not sure, but I think the host who greeted us was the owner. It was early (6:30) on a Wednesday night, and it wasn’t at all crowded. He offered us a table at the front of the restaurant by the window, looking out onto the street. Very nice ambiance.

Lavagna, you quickly learn, is both an Italian town and the Italian word for slate. All of the menus are hand-written on individual slates. When I told my wife about it, she wondered how come the chalk didn’t rub off or become illegible. Well it wasn’t written in chalk but some kind of marker that I assume would wash off the slate.

Our server was very friendly and helpful. The previous week was Restaurant Week in DC. She told us that Lavagna had extended their Restaurant Week deal – three courses for a fixed price plus an up-charge for a glass of wine.

That’s what my friend had. Her starter was a cheese and olive plate. It had a nice selection of cured olives and a cubes of a couple different hard cheeses. For her entrĂ©e she ordered rigatoni with Italian sausage and vodka sauce. I got a taste and thought it was very good. For dessert she ordered bread pudding made with brioche. The portion sizes were very generous, and she took about half of the meal home.LavagnaDC1

While I was tempted by the Restaurant Week deal, the chef’s special tasting menu featured osso buco, and I can’t resist ordering it when I see it on the menu. My starter was a ravioli stuffed with pear, cheese, and walnuts. The fresh pasta was very tender and delicious. I loved the osso buco. (I just realized that osso buco usually is served with a gremolata on top. But that detail was missing at Lavagna.) It was served with saffron risotto that was very flavorful. My dessert was gelato flavored with espresso and toasted almonds. I’m not normally a big fan of ice cream, but this was very good.

I ordered the wine pairings that were selected for each course. I think it was about a 2- or 3-ounce pour for each kind of wine. I liked their choices, but I probably would prefer to select my own wine in the future.

Lavagna is a friendly, casual restaurant with a welcoming and relaxing ambiance. I probably would not choose it for a business dinner. But anytime in the future, when I have a free evening to dine with friends in DC, I’d definitely consider a return visit.

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