This DC Chef Really Does Think About the Roman Empire Every Day

Red Hen and All-Purpose chef/co-owner Mike Friedman is opening Roman restaurant Aventino in Bethesda

Aventino's Carciofi ‘alla Giudia'— Jewish-style fried artichokes with capers and salsa verde. Photograph by Scott Suchman .

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Aventino and AP Pizza Shop. 4747 Bethesda Ave, Bethesda.

As a Jewish chef cooking Italian food, Red Hen and All-Purpose co-owner Michael Friedman says he’s been chasing the idea of a Roman restaurant his whole career. “I always find that Jewish culture and Italian culture, they’re so tightly knit,” he says. “They kind of traveled down two rivers in the same way, but those rivers never actually meet—except in Rome, where Jews really have a strong footing in the culture of Roman cuisine.”

Enter Aventino, a Roman-Italian restaurant opening in Bethesda on Wednesday, January 31. The name refers to one of the seven hills of Rome, home to many Jewish workers before they were forced into Rome’s Jewish Ghetto in the 1500s. AP Pizza Shop, a small 20-seat version of All-Purpose that will also sell slices, will open next door.

Suppli alla Romana with chicken liver, tomato, and cheese. Photograph by Scott Suchman .

The menu at Aventino will highlight many dishes and ingredients rooted in Rome’s Jewish culture. Of course there will be carciofi alla Giudia—Jewish-style fried artichokes—served with capers and salsa verde. Risotto fritters known as suppli alla Romana are studded with chopped roasted chicken livers. And a slow-braised beef dish is turned into a short rib and oxtail ragu for pappardelle ‘al stracotto’.

Cacio e pepe at Aventino. Photograph by Scott Suchman .

The kitchen will also be making its own mortadella (served with cherry mostarda and toasted pistachios) and baking tradition Roman pizza rossa, topped simply with a tomato conserva, flaky salt, and Sicilian oregano. Although there is no direct overlap with Red Hen, you’ll find plenty of handmade pastas as well, including cacio e pepe tonnarelli and tortellini with a sunchoke cream and preserved black truffle.

Aventino’s pizza rossa. Photograph by Scott Suchman .

So… how often does Friedman think about the Roman empire?  “All the time,” he says. “My wife asked me this. Are you kidding me? I think about it every day. Hashtag Roman Empire.”

The wine list will feature bottles from Lazio, the region around Rome, as well as throughout Italy, including several with minerality from volcanic soil. Friedman calls the cocktails “classy and classic”—think Manhattans, martinis, negronis, and spritzes. Beer comes mainly from Montgomery County breweries, plus some craft imports from Italy.

The Bethesda dining room of Aventino has four emerald green booths. Photograph by Scott Suchman .

Bethesda is a homecoming of sorts for Friedman, who started his culinary career as a prep cook at Mon Ami Gabi. Aventino’s 135-seat dining room is outfitted in greens, golds, marble, and wood—conjuring up the tree-lined Roman landscape with some “ancient empire” vibes, as Friedman describes it. Imagine emerald velvet booths, brown leather tufted couches, a green marble bar, and open kitchen with wood stone hearth.

A selection of aperitivi and antipasti at Aventino. Photograph by Scott Suchman .

At AP Pizza Shop, you’ll find all your favorites from All-Purpose—garlic knots, eggplant parm, and of course, Jersey-style brick-oven pizzas. In addition to popular pies like the “Sedgwick” (whipped ricotta with black truffle honey) and “Duke #7” (spicy ‘nduja sausage with pickled veg), there will also be some new  verde and bianco options like the “Spagliata” (prosciutto cotto, roasted pineapple, pickled jalapeños). The Bethesda outpost will also serve slices and sandwiches for lunch. To drink, canned beers and wines. The location also aims to do a lot of takeout business.

“I had pizza night every Friday in my house growing up. It was either pizza night or Chinese food night as a good Jew from New Jersey,” says Friedman. “We want that family feel in there. We want people to come in and we want to know their names. We want to host kids birthday parties and really be a part of the community.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.