Acqua al 2 (and Community)

Last night, after yoga class, I went with a couple of students to the new Italian restaurant at Eastern Market, Acqua al 2.  I’d been shown the inside before it opened, but this was the first chance to go and eat.  A long-time neighbor, yoga student, and friend is the mom of one of the co-owners and has known the other owner since childhood.  The co-owners were both were raised in the District and have returned after college, along with many of their friends to live, and work, and be with family.  I went to eat with the eagerness of knowing my friend and her family better and supporting them, more than for the purpose of needing to be one of the first to check out a new dining opportunity on the Hill, although that was certainly another pleasure.

As we planned the dinner (we have been awaiting the opening for some months and talking about going since then), I thought about how different it is to go to a business where I feel a connection to the proprietor or the workers.  I felt more open to what would be there, more joyousness at its very existence, and a yearning to find it wonderful and be supportive.  When the business is run by a stranger, or even more removed, some corporation whose duty is mostly to shareholders, the natural forgiveness for quirks that we have for those we like, welcome, and love is missing, and we ourselves miss out the essence of true relationship.  Getting to share this new place with my friends was a superb reminder how important is community and how we can support it and cultivate it.

What a delight that, even as a NY-bred food snob, I can cheerfully recommend the restaurant.  It is larger than most restaurants on the Hill, so it does not feel like a neighborhood-style Hill restaurant. but I think the neighborhood was ready for something larger.  The atmosphere is lovely:  communal seating in front near the bar for those who have forgotten to make reservation (yes, you already need them, unless you are coming after 9 [kitchen serves until 11]), spacious, pleasantly lit, comfortable tables, and  a great mural on the outside, which transforms a concrete wall a foot along the side of the restaurant into a view of Florence.

We started with the “zuppa del giorno,” which yesterday in keeping with the unseasonably cool weather, was a warm bread and tomato soup that was a rich and flavorful concoction.  Given the lateness of the hour, we didn’t have the entrees (though I’ve heard good reports).  We shared at our table for three, the pasta sampler (for two), which was five different vegetarian pastas of the chef’s choosing, and the salad sampler (which you can get as all vegetarian if you ask).  We each had different favorites of the pastas, but all were good and very classic in preparation and presentation.  The salads were light and fresh, with an emphasis on bitter greens, which I like, and were an excellent foil to the rich pastas.  The pastas came out one by one, giving an opportunity to have two or three bites to savor, with then a little wait in between for the next one.  This was not a meal to be hurried; things come at a European pace.   I was too full for dessert, but my friends insisted.  The cheese cake is the kind that is more like mousse than the heavy American cheese cake and my companions raved.  I had a fruit tart that was well-prepared — most of which I took home.  I will enjoy eating it today after speaking on a telephone seminar with people I know are asking challenging questions.

The restaurant is still getting its rhythm.  It was packed with lines out the door even at 8pm on a Tuesday night just two weeks after its opening, which is no doubt inviting the staff to live up to intense challenges.  The food is sure to be good, and if you go with the generosity you would have for family and friends starting out on a new venture, you will have a delicious experience.

Note:  Plenty of vegetarian options with the pastas and salads, but it would be harder to find vegan on the menu (given that it is a Florentine restaurant).  My only wish based on last night’s meal, is that the restaurant would use more environmentally friendly containers for taking things home.  Right now, it is using foil trays with a plastic cover, so if you anticipate bringing part of a dish home, try to remember to bring your own carry container.


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