La Forchetta: Roberto Donna Returns—Again

Chef Donna is back in town and back in the kitchen, this time at the casual La Forchetta.

Assorted pizzas at La Forchetta. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Slideshow: Inside La Forchetta

When restaurateur Hakan Ilhan opened La Forchetta in April,
most of the buzz centered around his hiring of chef Roberto Donna. Long a
powerhouse on the Washington dining scene, Donna had decamped for Arizona
earlier in the year following the shuttering of his latest Washington
restaurant, Galileo III. Tax and payroll problems aside, Donna is known
for both his elevated trattoria fare—he had several casual places in the
’90s—and the more ambitious, multi-course menus at his downtown DC
flaship, Galileo, which closed in 2006. In his nearly three decades of
rolling out ravioli and roasting lobster tails here, he stretched the
city’s sense of what Italian fine dining could be.

This casual, mod, tangerine-accented trattoria turns out
simpler fare: starters such as rich little meatballs; burrata
cheese lavished with sweet olive oil and countered by roasted,
vine-ripened tomato; and deep-fried, ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms
accented with mint and a blast of lemon. From-scratch pasta dishes include
tender gnocchi with a chunky sausage ragu and spaghetti studded with
generous hunks of soft-shell crab, tomato, and garlic. Intermingling
aromas of tomato, beef, and cream announce a hefty crock of
lasagnette—you can soak up its silky sauce with two types of
house-made bread.

A few months back, Ilhan predicted that the wood-fired pizza at
La Forchetta would outperform those at 2 Amys, the Neapolitan-style
juggernaut in nearby Cleveland Park. So far, that’s not the case. A bland,
brittle crust bedevils the briny Romana pie topped with anchovies, capers,
black olives, and chilies. It’s an equally unsuitable base for the
Margherita, with buffalo mozzarella and a scattering of basil

Desserts are more successful, especially nugget-size
bombolini (doughnuts) dipped in chocolate, and zuppa
layers of rum-soaked sponge cake, chocolate, and cream
accompanied by warm vanilla sauce.

Given the frenetic energy in the dining room, the best place to
enjoy all this is on the patio, where candles twinkle and leafy trees rise
above the umbrellas outside neighboring Chef Geoff’s. It’s a serene spot
to take in chef Donna’s current dishes—food designed not to stretch minds
but to soothe them.

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.