A Buona Sera in McLean (Full Review)

On a rainy Tuesday night, Assaggi Osteria—the McLean spinoff of Bethesda’s Assaggi Mozzarella Bar—was packed. Families and older customers filled the golden-walled dining room while young professionals anchored the bar.

It’s no wonder that the restaurant, which opened in December, seems to fit the bill for so many. A “buona sera!” greets diners at the door, seasoned waiters scan tables for any sign of need, and the dimly lit series of rooms makes for comfortable, cozy dining.

If only the food consistently lived up to its Bethesda sibling’s. There are bright spots to chef Domenico Cornacchia’s McLean menu, which draws from his Bethesda original. Successes include a creamy mound of burrata cheese with marinated, grilled zucchini; wonderful gnocchi with a rich veal-short-rib ragu; and the frittura mista,cornmeal-dusted fried seafood, eggplant, and zucchini.

But some choices on the meat-heavy menu are just okay. The salad of sliced raw artichokes, arugula, and sunchokes was much less interesting than the kale-and-escarole salad sampled in Bethesda. House-made pasta filled with sweet potatoes and topped with amaretto-cookie crumbles tasted like dessert, despite the sage in the butter sauce. And a pancetta-wrapped veal loin was draped in a too-heavy sauce, although the buttery gnocchi Romana with it were a treat.

The biggest disappointments were a plate of swordfish, which came with two pieces of fish, one tasting fresher than the other. And there was no mention on the menu of the plentiful olives (the kind of ingredient people tend either to love or to hate) that permeated the kale and escarole alongside it. The pasta with crab and spicy tomato sauce—a delicate and memorable dish from the original Assaggi—had to be sent back for its uncooked pasta and overpowering fishiness. The restaurant handled the misstep well—an apologetic manager took the pasta off the bill. Our one complaint about the service is that the waitstaff isn’t inclined to tell you when you’re ordering a side dish that already comes with one of your main courses.

Still, Assaggi Osteria is pleasant, and it has potential—especially if the quality of the food can catch up to that of its big brother.