A Little Taste of Italy in Washington, D.C.

I recently had the unexpected opportunity to eat again in the first restaurant I ever visited in Florence. What made it so surprising was that I wasn’t in Italy.

 One of the dining rooms at the Washington, D.C., Acqua al 2

One of the dining rooms at the Washington, D.C., Acqua al 2

I was more than 4,300 miles away, in Washington, D.C. There for work, the group with which I was dining announced we’d be going to Acqua al 2. Even though more than 15 years had passed since I’d eaten at Acqua al 2 in Florence, I recognized the name immediately, and excitedly went online to find out if the Washington restaurant was related. Indeed it is.

 A placemat at Acqua al 2

A placemat at Acqua al 2

Acqua al 2 first opened in Florence in 1978. It landed in D.C. many years later when one of the restaurant’s partners, originally from Washington, decided to move back home. When he did, he and another individual opened a sibling to the original restaurant in the Eastern Market of the District of Columbia.

 Acqua al 2 is about a 20-minute walk from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Acqua al 2 is about a 20-minute walk from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The original Acqua al 2 was recommended to me by a friend in Italy when I made my first visit to Florence. The food was delicious (I had risotto) and the restaurant was warm and welcoming, which I greatly appreciated that night because it was a cold, rainy evening in January. The clientele was a mix of tourists and locals.

I didn’t return to Florence for many years and for a reason I can’t explain, I never returned to Acqua al 2 (probably due to the fact there are so many restaurants in Florence to try).

Once I found out we were headed to the D.C. Acqua al 2, I became curious to see if the Washington experience would be as good as the Italy evening. Upon arrival, I was comforted by a similar rustic décor and a menu that mimicked the best in Italy: carpaccio di manza (thin slices of raw beef tenderloin topped with arugula, grape tomatoes and shaved Parmesan); insalata di rucola e pera (arugula, Bosc pear and Parmesan); farfalline alla zucca (bowtie pasta with seasonal squash, garlic and rosemary) are just a few of the offerings that tempted me. I ended up ordering the insalata di rucola e pera and a filetto all’aceto balsamico (filet mignon cooked in a balsamic reduction sauce) and savored every bite.

Sitting at a long table with a large group made the experience feel even more Italian, as family and food play such an important part of Italian culture and restaurants are often filled with entire families eating together.

 Plates decorated and signed by patrons adorn a wall at the Washington, D.C., restaurant Acqua al 2.

Plates decorated and signed by patrons adorn a wall at the Washington, D.C., restaurant Acqua al 2.

Acqua al 2 in D.C. (at 212 Seventh St. SE) offers a selection of assaggio, or samplers, which is a great way to experience several delicious dishes. The restaurant also carries on the tradition started at the original Acqua al 2 of adorning some walls with plates signed by patrons. Aside from English being the language spoken, Acqua al 2 in D.C. made me feel like I was back in Italy, among friends, eating dinner, sharing stories and laughing. Next time I’m in Florence, I think I’ll finally have to return to the original!

-post by JG

(top photo and three small photos courtesy Acqua al 2)

Italy at Easter

Several years ago I learned an Italian saying, "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi." This roughly translates to “Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you like." I take this idea seriously. I wouldn't dream of missing Christmas with my children and grandchildren, but whenever possible I spend Easter in Italy, sharing the holiday with friends. 

This year marks my third Italian Easter; one of my favorite times to visit. I love marking the change of seasons in Italy, watching as Tuscany slowly moves from winter to spring. When I arrived at the beginning of March, Lucca had quiet streets, bare trees and vines, and brisk weather (including my first Italian snowfall).

March remained mostly cold and rainy, but slowly, over the past week, spring has started to tiptoe in. On one of the first warmer days outdoor seating suddenly spilled into the squares from cafes. 

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Overnight, the atmosphere in town changed. People filled the streets and cafes, beautifully decorated Easter window displays appeared, outdoor vendors set up stands to sell sweets and balloons, the walls surrounding Lucca began to buzz with activity, and the first tentative spring blossoms surfaced. It seems Lucca has awakened from its winter rest.  

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The last week of March was Holy Week - the week leading up to Easter. It began with Palm Sunday events, including the blessing of palms and olive branches and services in many of the local churches. Venerdì Santo (Good Friday) saw the traditional procession in Lucca in which a heavy wooden crucifix is carried through the streets by black-robed and barefoot members of the Misericordia. This is a solemn event made even more dramatic by the backdrop of Lucca’s Medieval streetscapes. I always find the procession moving, meaningful, and uniquely Italian.

Good Friday was also celebrated with an evening concert at the Cattedrale di San Michele in which a small symphony played the Stabat Mater, with lyrics (in Latin) from the 13th century and music composed by Boccherini (who was born in Lucca in 1743). The church was full, the soprano sang beautifully, and the music was (no pun intended) divine. 

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Today is Easter. I’ll walk through town this morning to a favorite pasticceria to pick up a desert for today’s lunch (perhaps a pretty cake like the one pictured here) and then I’ll get busy cooking for the friends who are coming for lunch this afternoon. We'll be enjoying “Pasqua con chi vuoi."

Buona Pasqua.  Happy Easter to all who celebrate it - and happy Passover and Happy Spring too! 

-post by JMB

 The Easter flower market in Lucca

The Easter flower market in Lucca