Roberto Donna Talks Plans at La Forchetta

The Galileo chef returns to open a neighborhood cafe near American U.

By: Anna Spiegel

Roberto Donna returns.

Chef Roberto Donna—the former Galileo toque who attracted plenty of press both good and bad—has returned to Washington after a month-long stint with the Bice Group in Arizona. The latest project: an executive chef position at La Forchetta, restaurateur Hakan Ilhan’s 116-seat eatery on Foxhall Road that’s slated for an April 2 opening.

Ilhan’s 21 other restaurants in the Washington area, which include Pizza Autentica and Gelato Dolce Vita, are mostly quick-service spots. He brought on Donna to help him bring a fine-dining edge to the venture, albeit one without the white tablecloths and other high-end flourishes. The look is modern, with bright orange Italian chairs, dangling black chandeliers, and concrete surfaces. You’ll be able to grab a bar seat and watch pizza-makers fetch Neapolitan pies from the wood-burning oven in the center of the room, or find another in front of the “exhibition kitchen,” where Donna will be posted.

In addition to traditional pizzas, the menu, which Donna describes as ‟very homey and warm,” will feature salumi and cheese and house-made pastas and sausages. Guests at lunch will find panini and salads; heartier fare at dinner will include rabbit stew, meatballs, and five varieties of risotto. Donna fans will recognize certain dishes, such as the pork sandwich from the former Galileo Grill and the spinach-ricotta agnolotti, a staple on his menus for years. Once warm weather arrives, the 30-seat outdoor patio may become a popular weekend brunch spot for nibbling frittatas and soft-poached eggs wrapped in fontina, then breaded and fried.

Cocktail expert Eric Felten, author of How’s Your Drink?, is consulting on the bar program, which will focus on Italian liqueurs.