Went to Potenza last weekend with some food-adventurous out-of-towners. There were five of us, and they gave us a nice round booth by the window. The ambiance is great; warm and intimate without that mahogany-grandfather feel, well-lit but not overly bright, with a beautiful and somewhat prominent display of grappa (that happened to be next to our table, so we were ogling the skinny-necked bottles all night).
The Potenza bread basket was fine, though considering the rumors about its amazing bakery, I was underwhelmed.
We started with several salads, all of which were pretty nice: arugula salad was standard, romaine salad also, though anchovy toasts on top were appropriately fresh and briny tasting; one of our romaine salads came without one of the toasts, and the waiter rushed back with two extra, a nice touch; and my pear salad with polenta croutons, blood oranges and hazelnuts, was a good idea in theory but just fine in reality. My big gripe with the salad was that it was advertised as having a vinaigrette, but it came with a cream-based dressing. Lots of DC restos do this, including Founding Farmers: if you advertise vinaigrette, it should be an oil-based dressing, not mayo-based. That said, salad was fine.
Four of us had pasta, the other had pizza. The gnocchi were just right -- soft and pillowy but not mushy -- and the cream sauce was good, if that's your thing. The pici with tarragon pesto were a bit bland, most of the pesto coating the plate instead of the noodles. They were also a bit dry. The ravioli were very nice, the marinara sauce tasting of fresh tomatoes and subtly seasoned. My tagliatelle with boar ragu was both a hit and a miss: the ragu was great -- boldly seasoned, with great meat -- but the tagliatelle was SO broad, and SO thick, that I had to slice through each piece with a fork and knife. I like tagliatelle that's about 1-1.5 inches broad; this was closer to three inches, for real. And it should have been put through the pasta maker several more times. Because it was so thick, it was also a little too underdone (and I like al dente, but this was overkill).
The pizza was fine. Sauce was good, but the pies here pale in comparison to Two Amys, or even Paradiso.
Our desserts were very good: cannoli were filled with coffee-injected cream that was just the right consistency, thick without being cloying. The donuts were also good, and their cherry sauce was plenty tangy.
As indicated by the anchovy toast moment above, service was great; very attentive but not intrusive. Our waitress was the blond Czech woman, and I'd highly recommend her. The wine we had was also spectacular: Primativo Vigne Vecchie. At $40, not at all unreasonable.
In all, I'd give Potenza a B. Ambiance was really nice and service was great, but the food still needs work. I'm hopeful that a few months will let the place iron out its kinks.
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