I’ll admit it—during college I spent a summer in Florence and a semester in Rome and came back a pasta snob. I learned little in the classroom there, but I learned a great deal at the table in inexpensive trattorias. Such as the importance of cooking noodles al dente. And that pasta itself should have taste, even without the sauce. And speaking of sauce, pasta shouldn’t be swimming in it—less is more.
Ristorante Tosca's squash gnocchi.
Back in the States, I was surprised to realize how many restaurants—especially Italian ones—fail to follow these rules. After several letdowns, I rarely order pasta in restaurants anymore. But one place where I’ll never pass up the carbs is at downtown DC power spot Tosca, where the fresh, house-made noodles are the stars of the menu. The seven or eight offerings are pricey ($16 to $23 at lunch; $19 to $30 at dinner), but half orders (for half price) are always available at the bar and in the cushy dining room. The portion you’re served is still generous and makes a perfect first course or a light meal on its own.
Tosca’s pasta roster changes frequently, but recent winners have included ribbons of carrot-flavored pappardelle with rabbit ragu and a light white-wine sauce, and small nuggets of gnocchi stained black with squid ink and strewn with lump crab meat and broccoli rabe. Not all of Massimo Fabbri’s creations are so innovative—the young, Tuscan-born chef turns out more traditional pastas too, including toothsome thin spaghetti with seafood and spicy tomato sauce and a homey dish of tortelli filled with ricotta.
I’ve turned up other wonderful pasta dishes around the area—Frank Ruta’s gnocchi at Palena in DC’s Cleveland Park is always ethereal, and I had a delicious pappardelle with porcini mushrooms at Crystal City’s Bebo Trattoria—but Tosca should be a destination for any pasta lover.
Where have you had a great pasta in the area? Let us know in the comments section. Ristorante Tosca, 1112 F St., NW; 202-367-1990; toscadc.com.