100 Best Restaurants 2010: Potenza

No. 74: Potenza

Cuisine: DC has no Little Italy, and its best Italian restaurants have long been tasteful spots for expense accounts or luxe destinations for foodies. This newcomer thus represents a bold departure—an unassuming, big-hearted place where you can dunk your bread into your red sauce, a pizza can constitute the basis for a meal, and glasses of wine come in tumblers.

Mood: One part Carnegie Deli, one part Little Italy: a loud, sometimes chaotic space that practically demands you raise your voice to be heard and where flagging down your waiter is sometimes as tough as hailing a cab at rush hour. But there’s warmth, too, and the sight of diners heartily digging in is a welcome sight.

Best for: A come-as-you-are night of pretense-free Italian indulgence.

Best dishes: Rigatoni With Sunday Gravy, the very definition of red-sauce Italian; pappardelle with red Bolognese; a plate of gnocchi in a Gorgonzola cream sauce that steers clear of overrichness and is garnished with toasted walnuts; a lightly fried, almost delicate pork Milanese; the Salame Picante, the best of the surprisingly good, crisp-crusted pizzas; the best cannoli in the area; a perfect-textured lemon panna cotta; gorgeous bombolini (Italian doughnuts) with a side of jelly.

Insider tips: Don’t skimp on bread; the loaves come from the adjoining bakery and are among the highlights of eating here. But also try to back-load your meal, saving room for the simple and generally wonderful desserts.

Service: •½

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

See all of 2010's 100 Best Restaurants 

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