At Argia's, chef Ryan Baldini and proprietors Pragun and Salina Rana strike a balance between serving fine northern Italian cuisine and fostering a laid-back dining atmosphere. Many of Ryan's dishes, such as his grilled beef tenderloin and range of handmade pastas, come in solo portions or shareable famiglia servings that sate larger parties. For a taste of the kitchen's signature dish, guests can pry open a Prince Edward Island mussel—shipped to the restaurant daily—and sop up its juices with housemade bread still warm from the oven or a pet sea sponge in need of a soak. Outside, the clinking of wineglasses rings out across a patio enclosed by fragrant herbs; inside, a rustic Sienese-style mural matched with eye-catching frescoes conjures an air of the Italian countryside.
Perhaps it was being asked to cook at the James Beard House twice that gave Pizzeria Orso head chef Will Artley the nerve to take over a pizzeria where pies compete with a menu of his best small plates and entrees. Or maybe it was the time he was invited to cook at the White House. Whatever gave Will the courage, the second-place Chopped finisher’s culinary high-wire act is a thrilling one. The Neapolitan-style pizzas may share the limelight, but they are worthy headliners. They’re forged from fresh, naturally leavened bread and cooked for 90 seconds at 800 degrees in a handmade volcanic-brick oven. Toppings run the gamut from traditional margherita pies to meatier options loaded with ham, sausage, and prosciutto. Tasty shareable plates populate the equally ambitious antipasti selection, which includes grilled octopus, spinach gnocchi served with bacon and tomato, and oven-roasted meatballs. Button-upholstered booths populate Pizzeria Orso's dining room, resonating comfy vibes that underscore the menu's commitment to serving gourmet cuisine in a casual environment. Exposed wooden beams recall Old-World rusticity, and the open space grants just about every table an unobstructed view of the massive brick oven so they can flee if it becomes sentient and starts demanding the ingredients for s'mores.
It's rare to hear the words "gourmet" and "kid-friendly" in the same sentence, but that is exactly what Pie-tanza strives to be. Indeed, adults and kids can both enjoy the novelty of sitting at the counter that surrounds Ed McKee and Karen Waltman's open kitchen and watching as chefs hand-stretch Neapolitan-style dough, slather it with chunky tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, and slide it into the 600-degree wood-burning oven. It's the oven that makes these pizzas so authentic, producing the crispy, chewy, bubbly thin crust that is the hallmark of a true Neapolitan-style pie. Familiar enough for younger diners, the pies can also be made a little more refined, thanks to grownup-friendly gourmet toppings such as rosemary chicken and fresh basil, or tri-colored peppers and kalamata olives. The restaurant’s other authentic Italian eats include hearty baked pastas and sandwiches, which feature hot toasted sub rolls or fine leather wallets stuffed with slow-cooked meatballs, roast turkey, or prime rib and cheddar cheese. Of course, no Italian meal would be complete without dessert, so diners should save room for mini chocolate-dipped cannoli or a java-chip brownie sundae topped with crushed dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans.
There's something unmistakably Italian about Toscana Grill. Maybe it's the white marble and ebony wood accents in the dining room, or maybe it's the hospitality with which the servers greet each guest. In all likelihood, it's probably both of these things?plus a menu of northern Italian dishes crafted with local produce and herbs.
All of the traditional favorites are here, including eggplant parmigiana, spinach ravioli alfredo, and chicken marsala with mushrooms. But it's not all classics. There are also plenty of genre-bending pizzas, such as one topped with shrimp, white-wine sauce, butter, and garlic. A bottle of wine from the bar makes a perfect companion to any meal, especially if you dress it up like a person and pretend that it can talk.
Born to Italian immigrants and raised in New York City, Vincent Tramonte never wanted for Italian food during his youth. But a move to Northern Virginia to practice law more or less cut off his access to authentic Italian fare and, he soon realized, he wasn’t the only transplant who felt this way. To fix the problem, he and his family opened The Italian Store in 1980, curating a selection of products—wines, pasta, cheeses, meats, wines, wax to shine your gondola—from suppliers in Italy or New York. These ingredients fold into the shop’s selection of prepared foods. Their subs, salads, pasta dishes, and pizzas can be purchased solo or in bulk for large parties.
Continuing the Italian tradition of pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice), Pizzeria Venti offers a handful of oven-baked pies teeming with trans-fat-free toppings (except for naturally occurring trans fats in dairy). Like a self-rising theater, Pizzeria Venti's homespun crust acts as a stage for more than 20 pizza performances, such as italian sausage, seasoned with fennel, fresh basil, and herbs ($3.25/slice) or chicken vesuvio, which erupts with roasted breast of chicken, mushrooms, black olives, and garlic ($4/slice). Though pizza prevails as the main attraction, the menu also marches through baked pastas ($7.50+), salads ($6.50+), and seasonal soups ($4.25) to create a culinary lineup that is more well-rounded than a reconstructed Humpty Dumpty.