27 March 2012

Why can’t we have Italian restaurants like Acqua al 2 in Minneapolis?

I have a friend in DC who follows my blog. She saw my post about Lavagna in January and commented on another Italian restaurant nearby. She told me that Acqua al 2 has three locations in the world – DC, San Diego, and Florence (Firenza) Italy.

So at the end of March, when I had a free evening in DC, I went there for dinner. What a fabulous recommendation.

The ambiance is very casual. The clientele was very eclectic. I was in my business suit, and there were a couple other tables of business diners. I even saw one or two ‘Member of Congress’ lapel pins. But other diners were very casual, i.e. jeans, and there were a few families with kids.

My server was great. He was very knowledgeable and attentive without hovering. Whenever I asked about menu items, he took the time to describe the item and his guidance helped me make good choices for my meal. If I were to quibble, however, one aspect of the service was not so great. Some of the other service personnel were nowhere near as professional. Probably my biggest annoyance was timing. I wanted to have a few minutes to relax with my drink before my food arrived. But my starter course arrived immediately after I just started my drink. I just took my time with that course, and I could sense that they were ready to bring my entrée. Still, it was only a minor issue.

Of course, the best part of the evening was the food. I started with one of the evening specials called burrata pompelmo. My server described the burrata as a ball of double cream mozzarella. It was soft and creamy and delicious. It was dressed with a honey and olive oil dressing and served on several sections of grapefruit (pompelmo). Then it was sprinkled with cracked pepper and toasted pignolis.

The special main course for the evening was branzino, and it sounded great. But they have three different versions of veal chops on the menu, and I love veal chops. So that’s what I had. My entrée was called ‘lombatina al pepe verde’ or veal chop with green peppercorns. The veal was cooked perfectly medium rare. The sauce was a creamy mustard sauce with green peppercorns. Fabulous.

In Minneapolis, we have some very good Italian restaurants. But we just don’t have anything in the same class as Acqua al 2. For example, the last time I had a veal chop at D’Amico Kitchen (which is a very good Italian restaurant), it was thin and overcooked.

My big splurge at Acqua, however, was the glass of wine I had with dinner. I don’t know how my server detected my vulnerability, but he recommended a $22 glass of amarone. My brother told me once that he was a big fan of amarone, but I’ve never tried it. Maybe it was fatigue from traveling all day. But when he suggested that it would complement the veal well, I said ok.

It was a fabulous wine. He described it as having a big flavor, and it did. But it was not at all tannic. It was just big and full-bodied and delicious. So when I was walking back to the hotel, I did a little mental calculation. A 5-oz. pour (and this was a generous pour) yields 5 glasses from a bottle. So at $22 a glass, they were getting $110 for the bottle. I checked online and found amarone Masi in a range of $45-$60 a bottle. I’m sure a lot depends on the vintage and other considerations. But that’s only a 100% mark-up on the bottle price, which I think is pretty reasonable considering.

Anyway, I appreciate my colleague’s recommendation, and I can’t help wishing that we had an Italian restaurant like this in the Twin Cities.

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