La Forchetta: A celebrity chef makes a comeback in DC
Photos: Joshua Lanier/DC Spotlight Newspaper
July 1, 2012
By Alex Barron
The management at La Forchetta, the stylish new trattoria in the the posh Wesley Heights neighborhood of Northwest D.C., has a bit of a challenge on its hands. It needs to appeal at once to the sophisticated palates of families and older couples from the affluent surrounding neighborhoods, while hopefully keeping prices low enough and an atmosphere relaxed enough to draw students from American University (just a few blocks northwest). It’s difficult, but not impossible. For years now, Chef Geoff’s — which shares a plaza with La Forchetta — has been adeptly catering to both populations. After a debut year filled with press accolades, and more importantly local support, it seems that La Forchetta has taken a cue from its neighbor and has enjoyed much of the same success.
The dining room’s interior is industrial and modern, featuring exposed pipes, steel beams and concrete counter-tops with orange sculptures acting both as room dividers and accents of color. Unmistakable warmth (both literal and atmospheric) emanates from the brick oven at the center of the action. Wedges of wood stacked behind the hostess’ table at the entrance create a contrast between the modern and the rustic.
Chef Roberto Donna is already well-known to DC foodies, namely because of his elegant Galileo (now closed, but formerly one of DC’s best) and for his 1996 James Beard Award. While La Forchetta isn’t as formal as many of his previous ventures, it represents resurgence for Donna, who has essentially lain low since Galileo’s abrupt 2009 closing. Appetizers tend to be satisfying slaw salads, composed of simple, fresh ingredients, a pile of Sautéed Spinach, Garlic and Olive Oil ($7.95) or Escarole and Cannellini Beans ($5.95) provides a welcoming invitation to the meal. On the heavier side are golden brown Fried Cod Fritters ($7.95), paired with savory Mantecato cheese.
The main event is the pasta though, and anyone dining at La Forchetta would be well advised to save room. Portions are generous and — since Donna has a particular talent for stuffed pasta — filling. One would be hard pressed to find a better bowl of gnocchi in the District. Donna serves up his variety ($17.95) slathered in a creamy, pungent pesto sauce, which soaks completely into the fluffy pillows of pasta. Gobbi ($18.95), a relative of ravioli, are stuffed with tender veal and a tomato sauce heavy on sage. Cavatelli with Asparagus, Cherry Tomato, and Garlic ($18.95) is hearty and tasty.
With pasta this good, some may be tempted to forgo entrees altogether, but there are more than a few great main dishes to be found. Grilled Sea Scallops ($16.95) are served atop crunchy zucchini and soft cheese, a texture trifecta. Sautéed Soft Shell Crab ($22.95) is breaded with polenta and complemented with stringy stracciatella cheese. Homemade sausages ($15.95) are thick, juicy and creatively seasoned; the pork sausage has a sprinkle of nutmeg. Pizzas are brim with toppings and inventive energy; the Seafood Black and White Pizza ($15.95) are topped with squid ink, buffalo mozzarella, clams and shrimp.
For dessert, an inspired tiramisu is fun to eat. A dome of cake arrives alongside a small pitcher of cream, and diners are encouraged to employ the do-it-yourself approach. With a hole in its top and chocolate spewing from within, this tiramisu is a sweet volcano of a dessert.
The extensive menu pairs nicely with a business casual atmosphere that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If the management at Chef Geoff’s is worried that La Forchetta may become a potential competitor, they needn’t fret. In Robert Donna’s newest venture, they appear to have a cooperating partner with the mutual goal of creating a thriving foodie corner in a relatively obscure patch of Northwest D.C. These are two spots that both college kids and their parents will be able to easily agree on.