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Potenza Write-up

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tastytamarind May 28, 2009 09:51 AM

Went to Potenza last weekend with some food-adventurous out-of-towners. There were five of us, and they gave us a nice round booth by the window. The ambiance is great; warm and intimate without that mahogany-grandfather feel, well-lit but not overly bright, with a beautiful and somewhat prominent display of grappa (that happened to be next to our table, so we were ogling the skinny-necked bottles all night).

The Potenza bread basket was fine, though considering the rumors about its amazing bakery, I was underwhelmed.

We started with several salads, all of which were pretty nice: arugula salad was standard, romaine salad also, though anchovy toasts on top were appropriately fresh and briny tasting; one of our romaine salads came without one of the toasts, and the waiter rushed back with two extra, a nice touch; and my pear salad with polenta croutons, blood oranges and hazelnuts, was a good idea in theory but just fine in reality. My big gripe with the salad was that it was advertised as having a vinaigrette, but it came with a cream-based dressing. Lots of DC restos do this, including Founding Farmers: if you advertise vinaigrette, it should be an oil-based dressing, not mayo-based. That said, salad was fine.

Four of us had pasta, the other had pizza. The gnocchi were just right -- soft and pillowy but not mushy -- and the cream sauce was good, if that's your thing. The pici with tarragon pesto were a bit bland, most of the pesto coating the plate instead of the noodles. They were also a bit dry. The ravioli were very nice, the marinara sauce tasting of fresh tomatoes and subtly seasoned. My tagliatelle with boar ragu was both a hit and a miss: the ragu was great -- boldly seasoned, with great meat -- but the tagliatelle was SO broad, and SO thick, that I had to slice through each piece with a fork and knife. I like tagliatelle that's about 1-1.5 inches broad; this was closer to three inches, for real. And it should have been put through the pasta maker several more times. Because it was so thick, it was also a little too underdone (and I like al dente, but this was overkill).

The pizza was fine. Sauce was good, but the pies here pale in comparison to Two Amys, or even Paradiso.

Our desserts were very good: cannoli were filled with coffee-injected cream that was just the right consistency, thick without being cloying. The donuts were also good, and their cherry sauce was plenty tangy.

As indicated by the anchovy toast moment above, service was great; very attentive but not intrusive. Our waitress was the blond Czech woman, and I'd highly recommend her. The wine we had was also spectacular: Primativo Vigne Vecchie. At $40, not at all unreasonable.

In all, I'd give Potenza a B. Ambiance was really nice and service was great, but the food still needs work. I'm hopeful that a few months will let the place iron out its kinks.

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  1. j
    joann.hill12 RE: tastytamarind May 28, 2009 05:45 PM

    Thanks so much for the detailed review. I've been meaning to try it...

    1. Bob W RE: tastytamarind May 29, 2009 01:48 PM

      I grabbed a quick (but it should have been much quicker) lunch at the bar at Potenza today with visiting brother Orson W.

      First impression: Very nice space, very interesting (Tuscan?) menu.

      We got three meats from the salumi selection, three grilled vegetables, and a funghi pizza.

      Overall, I'd agree with the B rating. The details:

      Bread basket: OK. the focaccia was pretty spongy and tasteless but the breadsticks were outstanding. World class! Very nice dip for the bread.

      Meats: We got proscuitto, speck, and bresaola. We told the bartender probably five times that we wanted the sopressata instead of the bresaola, but still ended up with bresaola. She tried taking our order without writing it down, but after getting interrupted several times she finally returned with a pen and paper. Suggestion: Start with the pen and paper.

      The meats were good, but pretty skimpy for $16. There were some very nice pickled veggies as well.

      Grilled vegetables: Three for $9. We got asparagus, cauliflower, and artichokes. These were petite and tasty. Not quite as overpriced as the meats.

      Pizza: I'd give it a pretty good. For the neighborhood, good size for $13. Crust was very nice but the mushrooms were less exciting than I was expecting.

      Coffee: Very good.

      Service: needs work. Getting someone's attention is not easy. One problem is that there are a couple of huge posts right in the middle of the bar. (These posts are all over the restaurant, but the ones in the bar are most unfortunate.) Everyone was friendly in a sort of perfunctory way.

      Overall, good addition to the neighborhood. I plan to check out the very promising carryout section across the lobby from the restaurant.

      1. j
        joann.hill12 RE: tastytamarind May 31, 2009 10:15 AM

        My husband and I ended up at Potenza last night after the opera since it was one of the few places serving food after 10pm--HUGE bonus points--since we often have difficulty finding good places open late after a show.
        The space is great and the service was very good. The food was good, nothing spectacular, but good.
        We both had the octopus for our appetizer. It was charred and served with a tomato, cucumber, and red onion salad. It was pretty good. I recently had the (AMAZING) octopus at Proof and now everytime I order octopus, I will forever compare it to the one at Proof. Potenza's could not even compare...
        My husband had the pappardelle with wild boar ragu and portobello mushrooms. This was very good.
        I ordered the antipasti salad with salami, provolone, treviso, red onions, red peppers. I know, not a very exciting choice, but I didn't want anything too heavy since it was so late. It was pretty good--a very large portion, filled with salami and provolone.

        Overall, I agree with the B rating. Great ambience and service, and the food was above average. I don't think I would go out of my way when returning, but will definitely keep it in mind if I happen to be in the neighborhood or need somewhere that serves food late.

        2 Replies
        1. re: joann.hill12
          ktmoomau RE: joann.hill12 May 31, 2009 06:28 PM

          I will have to taste the octopus at Proof, just so you know if you are ever at Liberty Tavern in Arlington they has a great grilled octopus too.

          1. re: ktmoomau
            j
            joann.hill12 RE: ktmoomau Jun 1, 2009 03:51 PM

            Good to know--thanks for the tip!

        2. w
          WestIndianArchie RE: tastytamarind Sep 4, 2009 08:13 AM

          Anyone been for lunch?

          1. g
            Gigi007 RE: tastytamarind Nov 11, 2009 12:24 PM

            Had dinner at Potenza Sunday night. I too agree with the B rating mentioned by other posters.

            On the whole, we enjoyed our first experience at Potenza.

            We liked:
            - the decor and welcoming service
            - the wine list (I had a very nice, slightly spicy Chianti)
            - our young, efficient server, who was very eager to please
            - the pasta (I had the spinach papardelle in a veal ragu sauce, which was one of the ngihtly specials. The dish was quite hearty, and while the sauce wasn't exactly to my liking (it had little tomato sauce, lots of veal, and didn't come together; rather disjointed for some reason) ,the spinach papardelle was perfectly cooked. My dining companion had the ricotta-filled mezzaluni, which was delicious although a dffferent sauce might have worked better
            - the truffled cauliflower
            - the housemade gelato (I'd give it a B, maybe a B+)

            We didn't like:
            - the incredibly noisy atmosphere.
            - tables that were too close in proximity with one server almost falling on top of us
            - the arancini. Made with wild boar sausage, rice, and provolone, in my opinion, they were too dry, and instead of sticking together fell apart. I prefer the anancini at 2 Amy's that are more like the ones I've had in Italy.

            All in all, it was a good meal for the price. Including tax and tip, two appetizers, two glasses of wine, two pasta dishes, and two desserts came to $100. I'm not sure if I'd make a special trip back to Potenza, but definitely would eat there again if I'm in the neighborhood or especially if I'm downtown at luncthime. I would be also be happy go back for drinks and appetizers at the bar.

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            Potenza
            1430 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

            1. g
              Garlic Guy RE: tastytamarind Nov 11, 2009 04:34 PM

              Hi, everyone. I hope this doesn't derail the thread or anything, but I attended a work-related happy hour at Potenza in July. We ended up being served a few platters of vegetables, cheese, bread, and related products, which I thought were terrific. The platters each had a head or two of roasted garlic. It turned out to be the best roasted garlic I ever had, but I couldn't figure out what they did to make it so good. If any of you tried the roasted garlic and have deciphered the secret, I'd appreciate it if you could let me know. Thanks!

              Back to the topic of the thread: I had lunch at Potenza a while back and very much liked it. I had the veal, which I thought was excellent, though I tend to be pretty accommodating when it comes to veal. i don't recall it seeming particularly loud , but I think we were there a bit on the early side.

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              Potenza
              1430 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

              1 Reply
              1. re: Garlic Guy
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                startsev RE: Garlic Guy Nov 12, 2009 05:52 PM

                I ate at Potenza a few months ago and was pleasantly surprised by the pizza. The crust was crispy and delicious ,which is more than I can say for pizza I had recently at both Two Amy's and the recently opened Pizza Paradiso in Dupont. I will definitely go back for the pizza. The gelato, however, was pretty awful.

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                Two Amys
                3715 Macomb St NW, Washington, DC 20016

                Potenza
                1430 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

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