Three things immediately stood out to me upon entry into North Italia: a spacious and welcoming layout, contemporary and chic décor and an enticing truffle aroma that greeted me as soon as I stepped through the door. The trendy and modern take on Italian cuisine truly creates the feeling of being in a hip lounge in Los Angeles or Manhattan as sounds of music playing over the speakers and vibrant conversations combine to create a lively atmosphere.
North Italia is located in a prime area, just a few blocks over from the Foggy Bottom metro station. It’s no wonder the restaurant looks fully packed with patrons when you first enter. In spite of the crowd, the hosts were surprisingly very accommodating and did their best to get my party in, even without a reservation. While it’s nearly impossible to get a table anywhere else in Washington, D.C., on a Friday night without a reservation, the odds are slightly better at North Italia.
To start off your evening, the restaurant offers a happy hour that is completely worth the price with a very vibrant atmosphere. It’s obviously a spot that many students and employees finishing up their workday come to enjoy at an affordable price, with glasses and appetizers starting at $5 each.
The food is nothing short of excellent and did not disappoint. Fresh and prepared in-house, it made for a purely sensational experience. To start, the white truffle garlic bread offers a new spin on traditional garlic bread with succulent homemade ricotta that melts in your mouth. The garlic is not overpowering, however, as the olive oil balances out the flavor. The arancini, a dish of fried and stuffed rice balls, is cooked to perfection with just the right amount of risotto inside and topped off with a red sauce that creates the perfect harmony of zesty and sweet flavor.
Of course, the pizzas and pastas are the star entrees. The broad pizza selection includes fig, mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage and a beguiling “Chef’s Choice,” but I’m a complete sucker for anything with mushrooms and found the funghi pizza to be cooked and presented to absolute perfection. The roasted mushrooms, cipollini onion and smoked mozzarella are paired to create a light yet satisfying pizza that is rich with flavor and cheesy goodness.
Among the pasta selections, which are homemade and can be made gluten-free with multiple vegetarian options on the menu, the Bolognese is the house specialty. It’s the perfect meal for a student away from home who finds themselves craving a hearty, homemade meal, as the meat sauce is fresh and delightful and brought back some of my own childhood memories eating my mother’s Bolognese.
The least expensive of the entrees, a $22 chicken parmesan, is out-of-this-world fantastic. The aged provolone and mozzarella are gently grated and melted over the chicken, and the rigatoni with cream sauce provides a different take on chicken parmesan, which is traditionally served with spaghetti and marinara sauce.
North Italia provides a fine dining experience that doesn’t break the bank. The service was completely flawless, as servers and managers were prompt and considerate. The continued check-ins were appreciated, especially given that the restaurant usually appears as though it has reached its maximum capacity. The trendy atmosphere appeals to many age groups, as its patrons include young 20-somethings, families, businesspeople, coworkers coming in for happy hour and tourists. Ultimately, though, it’s the food that lives up to expectations. There is a place for anyone and everyone at North.
Natalie Keramati is a graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. DINING ON A DIME will appear in print and online every other Friday.