Roberto Donna’s long-awaiting Galileo III recently opened in Downtown DC, and DMV Dining could not hold out another day without trying the Italian chef’s newest venture. Let’s just say we’re glad he’s back.
We were able to grab a last minute reservation for last Friday, and had less than 24 hours to process the notion we’d actually be spending our evening dining on fine Italian cuisine from one of the area’s most beloved chefs rather than catch up on hours of DVR from this past week (ah, married life!).
Located in the space previously occupied by Butterfield 9, Galileo III is situated in a prime location in Downtown Washington. Valet parking was our only option as it was still rush hour, but for $8, it wasn’t the end of the world.
The hostess was very warm and friendly and immediately sat us near the front of the house. The space is very modern yet homey at the same time, but that could be because Roberto Donna’s wife Nancy, who was making the rounds at every table, makes you feel like you’re a part of the family. We struck up a nice conversation with her as she wholeheartedly approved of Rachel making the wine selection instead of myself. Little touches like that go a long way.
Our waiter asked us if we wanted sparkling or still water, and when we had asked for still, he immediately brought over a bottle of water and poured it into both of our glasses before we had enough time to realize that we had really asked for simple tap water. We noticed other tables around us also had tap water, but because the waiter never even mentioned tap as an option, we had simply assumed that “still water” meant “tap” in this particular case.
The waiter not initially offering tap water as an option was obviously an error on the restaurant’s part, but we also did not act soon enough to deny the water before it was too late. Both of us were not vocal enough about the gaffe, but seeing how the restaurant was only in its second week of operation, we still probably should have said something.
Wine: Considering the price for the meal itself, it was refreshing to see a good number of wine bottles priced at $30. We chose a Bordeaux that had a very distinct taste to it. We were a little unsure of our choice and I noticed that other tables had a sommelier spend more time in helping other diners choose, but they were likely buying a bottle that was probably at least twice the price that ours was.
First course: I decided to order the Carne Crude All’ Abese, which was layered hand-chopped veal with slivers of rich Parmesan cheese, slices of mushroom, artichoke chips, and a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. As the beginning of my meal, it certainly raised the bar as to what was yet to come. I had no idea veal could taste this good, yet Chef Donna pulled it off with ease. It was an excellent first course as the succulent veal blended well with the dressing, not to mention its gorgeous presentation.
Rachel went with the Tonno Delle Isole which was tuna prepared three ways, but only two of the methods were easily distinguishable. One was more of a thinly sliced piece of smoked tuna, and the other was a tartar below that, with little balls of couscous holding it together. There were small pieces of lettuce on top and a hint of orange dressing. The tuna tasted delicious, but it didn’t stand out as a must-try dish.
Second course: I went with the Raviolini del Plin – small pinched ravioli stuffed with three meats and served with veal au jus. Another fine dish as the homemade pasta was simply delicious. For one reason or another, it just felt that there was a lot of dedication from the kitchen in concocting the pasta considering how authentic it tasted.
Rachel opted for the Porcini Mushroom Two Ways, which meant stuffed legs with fonduta cheese, breaded & sautéed, and roasted head with garlic & parsley, with black truffle sauce. This was a dish that looked much different than she thought it would when first reading it on the menu. It seemed like the mushrooms would be displayed as the stem and legs as the star of the dish, but when Rachel received it, the main component was a fried tart stuffed with creamy cheese and mushroom stems. The second part was a thin piece that lay on the tart, accompanied by a truffle sauce. The flavors all mixed well together, but it was a little heavy and after eyeing someone else’s scallop dish, she wondered if that would have been a better choice.
Third course: It is pretty amazing when the following pasta dish is able to top the previous one, but that turned out to be the case as the Pappardelle Al Cinghiale was simply divine. This was my favorite course of the meal as the fettuccine was perfectly cooked while the wild boar sauce was the best ragu I had ever tasted. Seriously, I wish I had a jar of this stuff to take home with me.
Rachel’s next pasta course was the Mezzelune di Melanzane E Granchi, and the flavor combination was very unique. The half moon shape pasta was filled with spinach and crab meat, with a light tomato sauce, finished with a hint of orange juice. There was a stark contrast between the tomato and the orange flavor, which was enjoyable but also overpowered the filling of the pasta. It was hard to taste the crabmeat, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a winning dish. It was certainly her favorite of the pasta dishes that night.
Fourth course: I ordered the Tagliata (beef rib eye) and it was perhaps the only misstep of the evening. I had asked for it to be prepared medium-rare, but when it arrived, the majority of it was more on the medium-well side. It was also a bit dry, but the sun-dried tomatoes it was topped with aided the overall flavor of the entree. I’m not one to send a dish back unless it is extremely necessary, so there was really no reason to ask the waiter to have it prepared again as it was still good overall. Out of all the courses thus far, this was the weakest in terms of execution.
Rachel was in a predicament as she was originally set on trying the Branzino, especially since it received rave reviews from those who have tried Galileo III during the first few weeks. Always a big fan of lobster, she had planned on getting the Taglierini Neri All’Aragosta with lobster tail as one of the earlier courses, and then the Branzino for the entree. However, there was a significant upcharge for the whole fish, and when spending so much for the meal to begin with, it just didn’t seem necessary when all the other entrees were most likely just as good.
In the end, she went for the Arogosta E Calamari (lobster tail), which came with calamari stuffed with cabbage and pancetta, as well as cubed red beets and creamy polenta. The dish itself was delicious and very unique. The calamari side with the cabbage tasted very similar to a stuffed cabbage dish, and was perfect comfort food. She said she would eat more of that even just as a main dish! She wasn’t sure how well it went with the rest of the entree, but the lobster itself was perfectly cooked, and very delicate.
The only thing she noticed was, at the table next to us, that the person who ordered the lobster appetizer had a significantly larger portion of lobster than what she had for the main entree. It was hard to complain with so many courses, and considering the fact that if the portion was any larger she would have been completely stuffed. It just made her think that if we ever came back, that she would definitely try the lobster pasta starter dish.
Dessert: For dessert, the waiter recommended the Torta di Cioccolato. It proved to be a great suggestion as the tort was very rich while the small portions of basil and coconut gelato added some variety to the dish. Rachel went with the Crostata di Mele, which was essentially a small apple tart with caramel ice cream. It was a simple dessert and the apple combined with the caramel ice cream was a perfect way to end a delicious meal.
Overall, Galileo III turned out to be a great experience. It’s not the best meal we’ve ever had, but I can easily see it becoming one of the city’s best Italian restaurants once they work out the kinks both in the kitchen and on the floor. The service was otherwise top-notch.
Let’s just hope that the waiter will actually offer us a third water option on our next visit…