- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

Al Tiramisu is tiny. Two steps down from P Street NW, just west of Dupont Circle, these are the digs where Galileo (the
restaurant) was born and where BeDuCi followed for a few years. A little bar just inside the entrance precedes a small front room and a narrow continuation toward the kitchen.
Bright yellow walls, elegant grappa bottles, and blue, yellow and white faience plates, jugs and bowls act as decoration. Al Tiramisu is cozy and charming, and chef-owner Luigi Diotaiuti consistently serves excellent authentic Italian food.
Tiramisu, which in Italian means "pick me up" or, literally, "draw me close," is Mr. Diotaiuti's message to his patrons to come and enjoy his cooking; it works literally as tables are close together, and when the restaurant is full, it's noisy. There's conviviality in the air and diners don't seem to mind the din at dinner.
The cordiality of the waiters contributes to the jovial ambience. They are discreet yet friendly. On a busy weekend night, one waiter managed to accommodate a diner when she asked to try each of the house red wines before ordering a glass. He brought her three glasses, each with a thimbleful of wine. The sangiovese won. Aside from half a dozen wines by the glass, Al Tiramisu has two wine lists: one for the great (and expensive) wines and vintages; the other with lower priced choices, many in the $30 and $40 range. All are Italian.
Al Tiramisu is one of the few restaurants in the area where the lunch and dinner menus are identical. So are the prices. That means lunch is on the high side (although prepared with equal care as dinner), and dinner is what the English call less "dear."
Mr. Diotaiuti hails from Basilicata, the region of Italy between Catania, Calabria and Apulia, more or less in the instep of the boot. He grew up in Tuscany and arrived in Washington in 1990. Here he worked at Donna Adele and Primi Piatti, among other places, and opened Tiramisu in 1996. Since then, he has been keeping patrons happy. He seems omnipresent in his restaurant, recognizable in his brightly colored chef's pants and shirt with bow-tie pasta buttons.
If the test of an Italian restaurant is its risotto, then Al Tiramisu comes through with flying colors (red, white and green). At a recent meal, two of us shared the porcini risotto of the day. This is risotto as it was meant to be: lusciously creamy, with a lovely deep woodsy flavor from the mushroom. Each kernel of rice retains its integrity. Perfection it wouldn't have been prepared better in Italy.
Fish is outstanding at Tiramisu. A special of the day, a mixed grill of calamari, octopus and shrimp, was flawless: the calamari meltingly tender, the octopus firm without being tough and the shrimp tasting like fresh grilled shrimp. They were grilled just long enough to be cooked through, yet without any of the tough results from overgrilling. The seafood grill was served on a bed of mixed sauteed vegetables, primarily onions, zucchini and eggplant, all delicious.
Fresh sardines on a bed of arugula received equal care in their preparation. Half a dozen small fish, split down the middle and grilled, were delicious. Nothing is simpler than fresh fish with a touch of olive oil and a sprinkle of lemon, and, when done right, nothing is better.
Dover sole in the same preparation, although close to double the price of almost every other main course ($30), was equally successful. Accompanied by a few asparagus spears, the sole is another splendid highlight.
The only disappointment was an appetizer of sea scallops. The scallops, on the tough side, are paired with "wild mushrooms, shaved parmesan and porcini olive oil." Sounds delicious. In fact, the scallops, in a nondescript sauce with a few slices of porcini, are served in a scallop shell surrounded by a large portion of lettuce, the whole topped with a thick slice of Parmesan, not a shaving of the cheese. It fails as a combination of flavors and textures.
An appetizer of bresaola on a bed of arugula with tiny rosettes of creamy, housemade, mozzarella is excellent. Bresaola is air-dried beef, sliced paper thin like prosciutto. The arugula was dressed in a light vinaigrette and the cheese, mild and creamy, was a perfect foil. It's a fine version of a classic appetizer.
Pasta gets considerable care, and sauces are not the usual ones. Agnolotti are stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a butter and sage sauce; gnocchi made of ricotta are sauced with fresh cherry tomatoes. Penne are combined with cherry tomatoes, asparagus and smoked mozzarella; wide noodles are topped with a mushroom ragu. Best of all, for anchovy lovers, is a dish of capeletti (little hats) with broccoli rabe and anchovies. It's a perfect marriage of bland pasta, bitter vegetable and salty fish. Delicious.
Al Tiramisu is proud of its fresh truffles. The white truffle season is ending, but they still perfume an occasional pasta dish. Black truffles appear on the menu from time to time, too.
Meats include a filet of beef, grilled duck breast, saltimboca (veal with Parma ham) and a marinated grilled chicken breast. But it's the fish that draws the applause here.
With a few exceptions, desserts are made in-house. Be sure to try the obvious one. Tiramisu at Al Tiramisu is an airy confection combining sponge cake, cream, coffee, a touch of liqueur and a dusting of cocoa powder. Irresistible. So is this happy little restaurant.
RESTAURANT: Al Tiramisu, 2014 P St. NW; 202/467-4466
HOURS: Lunch noon to 2 p.m Monday to Friday; dinner 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PRICES: Starters and salads $7 to $12; pastas $15; most main course $16 to $18; desserts $7.50
CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards
PARKING: Difficult street parking, especially on weekend nights; valet parking nightly $5
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible (two steps without ramp)

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