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Monday, October 20, 2014

Peachy's Picks Washington, D.C.: Al Tiramisu Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

Owner Luigi Diotaiuti

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If you think this is just another Italian restaurant review, think again.
It's true: Whom You Know has reviewed more Italian restaurants than any other cuisine, and Chef Luigi Diotaiuti impressed us in every aspect of fine dining on our recent trip to Washington!  Even the lemonade is amazingly superior, and it was the best lemonade we had all summer.  From the moment we chatted with Luigi, who is the sole owner on the phone to the conclusion of our review, we were convinced we found a winner.  So far, so great Al Tiramisu!
Luigi is of course Italian, and hails from Lagonegro.  This means black lake, just like Dublin means black pool.  (And Deegan means descendants of those with dark hair...)  Al Tiramisu literally means "pick me up," as in "cheer up."  Hence, their logo of the Jester!  It's true, you will be cheered up.

Like our friend Joe Farruggio of Il Canale, Luigi is another Washington restaurateur that runs marathons.  And when you see his menu, you'll be tempted to begin your Al Tiramisu dining marathon.  The menu changes seasonally at Al Tiramisu four times annually, so it's possible a new menu has debuted for fall since our visit and if we were there this minute we'd be back.  They have specials every day, and Al Tiramisu began in March 1996.
Peachy began angelically from a dietary and nutritional standpoint: she ordered the Rucola con scaglie di Parmigiano Reggiano (Arugula salad, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.)  It was fresh and flavorful, and if you've been reading carefully you know she is an advocate of the simple done well.  Bloomberg, the angel on Peachy's shoulder, does travel with her to Washington.  He was pleased with her selection.
We love when people listen and put dressing on the side.  
For her pasta course, Peachy chose Linguine alle Vongole, and it was perfectly al dente!  Fresh clams in all their succulence delicately danced on our palate and our resident Garlic-Enthusiast-In-Chief was so pleased with the Garlic aspect of this fine course.  Every bite was just as decadent as it looks and we would absolutely order this again.  And, to be honest, every pasta item on this menu looks like it is to-die-for.
Chef Luigi has a smashing personality to go with his uber-talented culinary skills and every course he personally introduced to us.  We'd like to hear more of his stories next know who loves stories.  Once we saw this fish, we knew we had to try it.  Not every venue has fish like this, and did you know Al Tiramisu uses several different fish companies: one in New York, two in Philadelphia and three to four in Washington, D.C.  We asked Luigi to pick his two best fish, and that is what we tried.
Peachy Deegan was thrilled to try the local Red Snapper.  It was gorgeously presented in all its glory in an appropriately fashioned teardrop-shaped dish.  Peachy could not have been more pleased with her entree, and though we believe Red Snapper is the most common of the Snappers in the Continental USA, common would be the last adjective we'd pick to describe the superior flavor and freshness.  The potatoes and sauteed vegetables were every bite as delicious as the excellent Red Snapper, which swam down in our culinary history with honors. 
It insisted on a close-up.
You want to eat the fish!
Finally, for dessert Peachy selected the Semifreddo al croccantino: Semi-frozen custard with carmelized mixed nuts.  An absolute dream that you will be delighted to find room for, the Semifreddo was every bit as creamy and captivating as it looks.  The ambiance and atmosphere at Al Tiramisu is elegant without stuffy and absolutely immaculate.  There's not one thing we didn't like except for maybe that it's not down the street in Manhattan.
Our esteemed panelist adds:
Just off Dupont Circle sits an enclave of culinary excellence in Al Tiramisu. For many years proprietor and head chef Luigi Diotaiuti has delivered the perfect complement to romantic dinners and DC power lunches, and in the process has delighted the palettes of Washingtonians with his constantly evolving menu options. Al Tiramisu’s menu changes four times each year, with the season, and herein lies the secret to much of Al Tiramisu’s success: the quality of the cuisine is constant while the offerings evolve with the times. 
On our recent visit, our experience opened with a sampling of the Arugula salad with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and the breaded grilled calamari skewers, with roasted potatoes and mesclun salad. Both were excellent in design and, most importantly, taste, but the calamari skewers took this introduction to Al Tiramisu to the next level. The calamari was perfectly seasoned while avoiding the excessive oil that too often, these days, obscures the essence of calamari, compromising the original flavor. In this interpretation of the popular appetizer, the roasted potatoes provided the perfect base for what proved to be the best calamari we’ve had in several outings. 
For our second course we followed the recommendation of the wait staff and tried the Round Ravioli filled with Swiss chard and caciocavallo cheese. The caciocavallo, a standout and one of Earth’s top five cheeses that isn’t used often enough in Ravioli dishes, provided a potent flavor that was flawlessly married to a subtle butter and sage sauce. At this point it became clear that Al Tiramisu’s well-deserved reputation owes much to the genius of uniting traditional staples with modest applications of seasoning. In this way, the food very much speaks for itself, with no small amount of help from the talented kitchen staff. 
Third courses are either the charm or the death knell of fine dining – and Peachy found herself in the rare position of being overwhelmed by the options. This third course provided a key decision. For if there has ever been a restaurant in our nation’s capitol that seemed to promise perfection in its preparation of red meats, it is Al Tiramisu. One survey of the menu – and two courses into this experience – and it was clear that one couldn’t go wrong with the slow braised beef short ribs or the grilled lamb chops. However, we like to take chances on talented chefs, and so we opted for the adventure that is fish. We had good reason for this decision. Luigi always maintains at least two options. Each day there is a fresh local fish (on this visit it was the Red Snapper) and also, in a welcome bit of decadence, he imports a fish directly from Italy. In this case the Italian option was the bone-rich-but-worth-every-conscious-bite Dorada. Dorada is typically found in the Mediterranean Sea and thus we were pleasantly surpised to sample it a few blocks from the White House. The Red Snapper was very good – moist and well seasoned – and the Dorada was the unexpected delight of this three course lunch. 
There is something about Al Tiramisu that speaks to the essence of fine Washington dining. It is an experience that provides equal parts culture and culinary excellence; and as “Tiramisu” is the Italian phrase for “Pick Me Up” – this house of simple civility at the edge of DuPont Circle is perfectly captured in its name. For lunch, Al Tiramisu offers the ideal mid-day pick me up, and for dinner you may very well need to be picked up after a glance at the dessert menu. 
We concluded our experience by sampling the most popular dessert which is, of course, the Tiramisu classico. We can honestly say that the espresso dipped ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese is worth swimming across the Potomac to sample…and the semi-frozen custard with carmelized mixed nuts (the wait staff’s recommendation), provided an utterly superb and fresh adventure into the otherwise well-trodden ground of custard. 

To say we recommend Al Tiramisu is an understatement – rather, we insist upon Al Tiramisu. In its tenth year on DuPont Circle, Al Tiramisu has proven that culinary craftsmanship, when engaged in seasonal reinvention, is the definition of dining excellence.
Peachy Picks Al Tiramisu!
Al Tiramisu is Highly Recommended by Whom You Know.

Luigi we can't wait to see what you do next!

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