A trip to Italy to sample fresh handmade pasta cooked to a perfect al dente would be a costly proposition. Luckily, Washingtonians need only to travel to Upper Northwest for the same experience. Sfoglina, located in the quiet neighborhood of Van Ness, is the more casual restaurant of Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s expanding empire of fine dining Italian and Spanish restaurants. With bright colors, comfortable sofas, and no white table cloths, the restaurant aims to be a cozy neighborhood eatery, but on our run-in there with newly elected senators made it clear this is one of DC’s new power spots.
We opted for a table in the covered patio to enjoy the brisk evening. My wife was delighted to see that all the seats came with a small blanket in case diners got a bit cold. When we saw that Sfoglina was “named for the female artisans…that carry on the tradition of rolling sheets of pasta by hand with a rolling pin,” we knew we were in for a pasta-focused dinner, but that didn’t stop us from trying items from all over the menu.
We started with a pick from the Nibbles section of the menu – some delightful Sicilian red peppers over pickled cucumber and orange zest and grilled provolone cheese with Sicilian eggplant and tomato. The peppers were bright and smoky in flavor, a great preamble to our dinner. The provolone helped open up our appetites for what was to come.
Three pasta courses came next, beginning with the mafalde al telefono, a toothsome ribbon pasta prepared with tomatoes, Scarmoza cheese, and smoked provolone.
Spaghetti Chitarra followed, winning over the entire table. Prepared carbonara style – it was complete with savory pancetta and an expertly made slice of soft boiled egg on top.
Our final pasta consisted of a heaping bowl of rigatoni with pork ragu. Rigatoni is one of my favorite pastas because of its ability to pick up the most flavor from the sauce that accompanies it. The pork ragu did not disappoint, the flavors were sophisticated yet comforting. We devoured it all in a matter of minutes.
With our bellies full of pasta and our souls nearly satisfied, we couldn’t leave without one final item, this one from the Not Pasta menu: 72-hour beef short ribs. My dining companions and I could not have been happier with that decision – the mouth-watering meat was full of flavor and was complimented perfectly with polenta, onions agrodolce, gremolata, and grilled asparagus.
While a meal at Sfolgina isn’t quite so “cheap eats” as its Bib Gourmand designation on the Michelin Guide would indicate, it is far more accessible than its sister restaurants in Georgetown and Penn Quarter. It has single-handedly turned an otherwise sleepy corner of the city into a dining destination. Since we visited Sfoglina a few months ago, they’ve opened a downtown location near CityCenter and are working on a third location in Rosslyn which should put a smile on the face of pasta lovers all over the DC region.