18 September 2012

Return visit to Lavagna, DC

I was in DC earlier in September – the only trip I have planned for the month. I’ve written before how the Barracks Row part of Capitol Hill is attracting lots of creative eateries. So on this most recent trip, I had made up my mind to try someplace new. I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway for a reception. So I planned to just wander up the street and look at a few menus.

My plan fell awry, however, when I walked by Lavagna. I ate there last January, and really liked it. Nothing that I’d seen while wandering so far looked better. So I abandoned by plan to try someplace new and got a table at Lavagna.

Some things have changed since I ate there in January. For example, in my original post, I mentioned that ‘Lavagna’ not only is the name of a town in Italy, but it’s also the word for ‘slate.’ When it first opened, Lavagna posted its menu on little chalkboards. But no longer. The owner, Stephen Chueng, was circulating through the restaurant chatting with customers. I asked him about the slate menus. “Too difficult to manage” was the short version of his answer.

One thing that has not changed is the three-course special – a starter or half-order of pasta, a pasta or entrée, and dessert for $27. It’s a great value and convenient way to sample the variety of the menu. They also offer flights of Italian wine for $10.

I went with the suggestions that the owner gave. I started with an artichoke bruschetta. The toasted bread was layered with a creamy ricotta and topped with artichoke puree and tomatoes. The artichoke was like a pesto and not at all chunky.

For my second course, I went with his recommendation to try the ravioli ricotta. The way he described it, it was a whole egg yolk and ricotta inside the ravioli. When the ravioli is cooked to al dente, the yolk is warmed but stays soft, so that when you cut into the ravioli, the warm yolk flows out creating a rich sauce. The whole dish is topped with parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and a marinara sauce.

When my meal arrived, I cut into the ravioli with eager anticipation. But alas, the yolk was overcooked. The flavors were delicious, but when Stephen Chueng stopped over to see how I liked it, I pointed out that the yolk was not soft. He insisted on taking it away and bringing me a new order. When the replacement arrived, this time the yolk was soft and runny as intended, and it really did make a difference. As I was finishing the dish, the chef came out and personally apologized for the first mishap and asked how I enjoyed the dish. It was excellent.

For dessert, I had a choice of tiramisu, panna cotta, or gelato. I went with the panna cotta, and really enjoyed it. I ended with a nice cup of espresso.

I was happy to have had a repeat visit at Lavagna, even though I started out with the intent to try someplace new.

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