June 2006 Cheap EatsWhen Michael Nayeri left Galileo after nearly 20 years as maître d' to open a place of his own, he didn't try to go head-to-head with his old boss, Roberto Donna. Reasoning that Washington was well-stocked in high-end Italian, he set his sights on filling the demand for affordable Italian cooking--the kind of place you can go for a good plate of cannelloni and a nice glass of wine without feeling that you are splurging. His bright, color-filled restaurant on the edge of Old Town has justified his instincts by drawing an almost continuous stream of customers.
Not everything on the menu of pastas, fish, and chops will honor the Cheap Eats budget. A linguine with lobster will push hard against its constraints, as will the excellent double-cut pork chops--a deal at $21, but probably admissible only if you share them. Look to pastas instead.
They're no comedown. The cannelloni is arguably the best in the area, two tubes of firm pasta encasing a generous portion of beautifully seasoned ground veal. Malfadine is a seldom-seen dish and an intriguing one: lasagna sheets reduced to thick bands of pasta, the ruffled edges scooping up a rich, if salty, veal ragu.
Hearty satisfactions, not subtle refinements, are the kitchen's strength. A creamy polenta with veal stew is full of simple pleasures, as are many of the soups, particularly the lentil soup and white-bean soup. A bowl of either, plus a well-pressed panini, makes a fine light meal. The wine list is good and reasonably priced, thanks to Nayeri's also owning the wine shop on the corner.