Al Tiramisu, Dupont Circle

Sometimes, when you read restaurant reviews, a reviewer will close with “I’ll be back soon” (and then they never end up going back). But I really, really want to go back to Al Tiramisu soon, and here’s why:

I’d been here 2-3 times in the past, but it had been at least several years, probably more than five, and my knowledge of the restaurant is both hazy and outdated. This is a local haunt Tom Sietsema enthusiastically recommended for awhile, but based on his 2012 Fall Dining Guide, it’s not currently one of his 40 favorites.

When local restaurant aficionados hear mention of Al Tiramisu, the first thing many of them say is, “Watch out for the specials!” A few years ago, Al Tiramisu developed a reputation for reciting a list of specials without prices, and when the bill arrived, sticker shock ensued. This had happened to me also, and even Tweaked had mentioned it on eGullet back in 2004. I heard awhile back that they were no longer doing this, but thinking about it, I haven’t heard much at all about Al Tiramisu lately. It has faded into the dusk of modernity.

Or has it? This past May, The Reliable Source ran a column about George Clooney “secretly” frequenting Al Tiramisu on a regular basis. (I assure you that, perhaps more often than not, it’s the restaurant owners themselves who contact this column, hoping for a bit of free publicity). The chef, Luigi Diotaiuti, is not a man who shies away from celebrity or publicity - witness this gallery on their website.

I had a late lunch at Al Tiramisu yesterday. They are in a minority of fine-dining establishments (and yes, Al Tiramisu absolutely qualifies as fine dining) in that – to the best of my knowledge – they don’t lower their prices (and presumably don’t reduce portion sizes) for lunch.

As a solo diner, I was thoughtfully seated at a corner table, looking outward. There was one other table of extremely knowledgable gentlemen discussing political policy (this is a quiet restaurant when it’s empty, and I could not help overhearing – plus, their conversation was both intellectual and fascinating). I was offered “bottled, or house” water, and asked for ice water (which sounds so much more elegant than “tap water,” don’t you think?) and a Diet Coke ($3.50) which I sipped while perusing the fairly limited menu. I’d made my decision, closed the menu, and the server came to take my order.

“We also have some specials today,” he said, and then proceeded to rattle off what must have been close to a dozen specials, in various categories, not mentioning anything about prices. In Al Tiramisu’s defense, with a recited list of specials this long (and believe me, it is long), it would be somewhat awkward to include the price after each. I can easily see disagreement with this opinion, but aside from that, I think a better solution might be to have a typed list of specials, with prices. That could be a nuisance for the restaurant to have to produce every day, plus some of them will invariably get 86d as the day progresses, but when you’re dealing with rat-a-tat recitation of this length, half of it goes in one ear and out the other, and the list, as a whole, is not very useful to the customer.

I had decided to order either pasta or risotto, so at the end of the recitation, the only thing I remembered was that there were two pastas and one risotto. I asked about the prices of those three items. Along with the five pastas on the regular menu, there were eight total, all of them being homemade except the linguini. And here were the prices (most rounded up by a dime for ease of presentation):


Guess which ones the three specials were?

Deciding to stick with my original game plan, I ordered the Ravioli Ripieni di Ricotta e Spinaci in Burro e Salvia ($20.90), round ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese in a butter and sage sauce.

As I waited for my meal, sipped my Diet Coke, and continued perusing the menu, out came a basket with four slices of bread accompanied by a generous tub of olive tapenade. Although this came from a standard “Italian loaf,” the quality of this bread was noteworthy. And not only was it very good bread, the olive tapenade was just about as good as olive tapenade can possibly be. Italian bread and olive tapenade doesn’t sound all that exciting, but these were exceptional.

Then the ravioli came – eight of them on a round plate, nice and hot, and bathing in a large amount of butter and sage sauce. The sauce would make or break this dish. Unfortunately, it was so good that I now had the conundrum of how to allocate my four slices of bread: tapenade, or sauce swipe?

I employed my recently developed injera strategy, maximizing the amount of tapenade employed with each bite of bread, and doing the same with the butter and sage sauce. The raviolis themselves were of Cesare Lanfranconi quality, and what I was experiencing was a meal of very simple ingredients, expertly prepared and cooked. This was old-school, traditional Italian cooking that, in the hands of a lesser talent, can be (and almost always is) heavy, leaden, and absolutely not worth the calories; these were heavy, yes, but so balanced and delicious that I threw caloric concern to the wind, and finished every crumb of my bread, every speck of my tapenade, and every drop of my sauce. It was as if a pack of jackals had scavenged a carcass, and there was nothing edible that remained in front of me.

Several minutes earlier, one of the gentlemen had ordered a tiramisu, and it sounded perfect to me at the time; but there was no room, and no need, for any dessert after this meal – one of the most satisfying vegetarian (forgot about that, didn’t ya!) meals I’ve had in memory. After such a perfectly executed, teasingly small example of what this restaurant may be capable of, do you see why I really, really want to go back to Al Tiramisu soon?

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