A traditional Italian restaurant with a simple menu, Alta Strada serves up custom Italian dishes that, despite their light and fresh flavors, fall flat in comparison with other Italian eateries in Washington, D.C.
The third Alta Strada restaurant run by acclaimed chef Michael Schlow, the new location in City Vista, led by executive chef Michael Zentner, will join Schlow’s two others in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Upon entering Alta Strada, the decor is immediately underwhelming. With brand new furnishings, the restaurant lacks the warm, homely ambience that is typical of other Italian restaurants.
The first dish I ordered was the classic margarita pizza ($15). The small, round, thin-crust pizza was cut into four slices and topped with traditional tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Biting into the warm slice of pizza, I was surprised by a hidden basil leaf under the layer of fresh cheese — a much-needed flavor and welcome addition. The tomato sauce tasted fresh, seasoned with a slight hint of red pepper, and was served in perfect proportion to the crust and the cheese. The pizza crust was crisp on the outer layer, but moist and soft on the inside — a pleasant way to finish off the slice. But while the margarita pizza was tasty as promised, it simply did not stand out. There was no component that set this pizza apart from others. While the pizza was by all means tasty, it was far from remarkable, especially considering the restaurant’s proclaimed philosophy of blending modern and traditional flavors.
15After the pizza, I sampled the cavatelli pasta with broccoli rabe, crumbled prosciutto and rosemary ($18). Aesthetically, the dish was beautiful. The generous serving of al dente cavatelli was mixed with the bright green broccoli rabe and bits of prosciutto. The broccoli was cooked perfectly, and made for a nice addition of green vegetables to the pasta dish. The prosciutto added a rich and salty dimension to the dish. However, while the ingredients individually were cooked to perfection, they did not blend well together as a whole. Ultimately, the light butter sauce on the cavatelli made the dish too salty to finish.
My friend ordered the agnolotti pasta with asparagus, mint, pecorino and pistachios ($18). Agnolotti are small pieces of flattened pasta dough, traditionally folded over a filling of roasted meat or vegetables. The dish was served with a beautiful, bright green asparagus puree and a light butter sauce. The puree had a slightly bitter taste of an asparagus with a smooth consistency. The agnolotti combined with the puree and the roasted pistachios had a unique, yet comforting taste. The generous shavings of sharp pecorino cheese on top of the dish added another level of flavor to the dish. While the agnolotti pasta was not what I expected, it was my favorite meal that we ordered.
Despite its promising concept, the lack of decor creates an environment that does not seem conducive to providing the traditional and authentic Italian flavors that the restaurant promises. While the diner is guaranteed a variety of classic Italian dishes, Alta Strada in City Vista was deficient in all aspects. The menu reflected a more modern twist on Italian food and the pizza and pastas were simply average. With an additional crudo bar opening soon, hopefully the restaurant can redeem itself and incorporate more of the traditional Italian comfort it promises.