Rachel and I have dined at Al Dente several times and had some great meals there, but Roberto’s 8, Chef Roberto Donna’s multicourse tasting menu, is one of the best dinners we have ever had in the District. Rachel upped her birthday game by surprising me with dinner there last week, and the bar has been raised so high that it’s going to be difficult to top it once her birthday rolls around.
I’m not kidding when I say that this meal was right up there with Komi and Marcel’s, but because Al Dente isn’t in a hotspot like 14th Street or Adams Morgan and instead in the primarily residential Wesley Heights, it (unfairly) gets lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame because it boasts one of the District’s most famous chefs in Donna, who if you recall was named Chef of the Year in 2012 by Esquire Magazine.
With a front-row view of the kitchen, Roberto’s 8 was recently doubled to accommodate eight diners, and is held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays with a 7pm seating. And while you would think such an event would command an even higher price point, it’s actually very reasonable compared to other tasting menus in the region. With a dinner that will feature at least 12 courses, the cost is $85 per person (alongside an optional $45 wine pairing). That, at least in my opinion, is a tremendous value.
Our first taste of Roberto’s 8 was a gelatinized rendition of Aperol, an Italian aperitif, topped with orange and crystal basil.
Next was a pizzetta, presented in its own miniature box, and topped with Taleggio cheese, sweet onions, and a creamy quail egg.
The presentation for the poached asparagus with extra virgin olive oil, a thin slice of prosciutto, and wrapped in translucent Piadina was simply stunning. Oh, and it was a great dish too.
Just as delicious was the smoked octopus salad with fingerling potatoes, celery, and green sauce. Our waitress lifted the lid from the plate releasing a cloud of smoke which added a bit of a fun and flavor to the wonderfully-cooked octopus.
The next course might have had the best presentation of the evening: a deep-friend head-on shrimp with saffron mayonnaise. The batter was light and crispy as we picked up the mammoth shrimp with our hands (which Chef suggested) and dipped it into the creamy mayo.
What came next was unanimously our favorite course of the night: cream of corn with ramps, pesto, and a deep-fried soft shell crab. The soup was incredibly rich and creamy and complemented the crunchy soft shell, making for an outstanding dish.
While the soup was hard to top, the scrambled eggs topped with black truffle and burrata was another remarkable dish, and that doesn’t even include the gorgeous presentation.
We then entered the pasta portion of the meal by kicking things off with some of the softest, light-as-a-feather gnocchi we have ever come across. Donna works wonders here as the potato dumplings were accompanied with flavorful Pioppini mushrooms, spring onions, and parmesan.
Next was squid ink pappardelle with clams. The al dente pasta paired up nicely with the buttery clams.
The risotto was personally my favorite of the three pasta dishes we tried that evening. Prepared with peas, pancetta, and onions, it was presented in a tin can. It was a little too rich for Rachel’s liking, so I had the pleasure of finishing both hers and mine.
We then segued into the secondi part of the menu with lamb shoulder, fava beans, artichokes, rosemary, and egg prepared in a lemon sauce. The lamb was so luscious that you could cut it with a fork.
The roasted squab was just as succulent and featured duck liver, sautéed spinach, and Brussels sprouts, making for a palatable, hearty dish.
The cheese plate was artfully arranged with Pecorino di Fossa, Mostarda di Cremona, hazelnut, beets and a drizzling of Saba.
The passion fruit granita was a terrific palate cleanser. Very sweet and robust.
The panna cotta with caramel crisp and cookie crumble was a whimsical take on this Italian staple and was, just like previous dishes, beautifully presented.
The second of four (!) desserts was a cream puff situated in saffron cream and topped with espresso foam.
Next was a ball of chocolate, croccante (almond brittle), and cherries, held up by a fork which was supported by a port glass filled with sugar, and then topped with a birthday candle. Once again, Donna’s creative staging was just as good as the actual dessert.
The warm glass of bicerin was akin to hot chocolate, but richer and creamier. In other words, amazing.
Our final dessert was the traditional Bugie di Carnevale, a fried pastry sprinkled with powered sugar.
In summary, our entire meal had 19, yes, 19 courses! And honestly, we cannot recall one bad dish. Between the preparations and arrangements, there was very little wrong and so much right with this exceptionally memorable dinner.
Coupled with the fact that it’s only $85 per person for nearly 20 courses, you are simply not going to find a better value in this city for such an extravagant tasting menu. Plus you’re sitting mere feet away from Roberto Donna himself! Watching him arrange each dish adds another layer to the experience while also providing some great interaction.
We cannot recommend Roberto’s 8 enough. Between the excellent food, warm service, and reasonable pricing, it’s one of the best tasting menus in town.