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May 28, 2009 09:51 AM

Potenza Write-up

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

    1. 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. 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

          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.

        2. The original comment has been removed