Friday, May 8, 2009

Authentic mozzarella and pizza hit DC - Fratelli la Bufala

DC is no stranger to Italian restaurants... I think I could probably count at least eight Italian restaurants in Georgetown alone. This has not stopped the opening of (at least) two more Italian places in the past two months -- Fratelli la Bufala and Potenza. Now, I'm not complaining. Both of these restaurants were immediately added to my "must try" list and I happily checked off Fratelli la Bufala last weekend.

Back when I first moved to DC, we used to go to this restaurant called the Alamo Grill in Georgetown. It was on a side street off of M Street, served up Tex-Mex fare, and had a lovely outdoor patio that was perfect even in those humid DC summers for some margaritas, guacamole, salsa, and chips. The food may not have been top notch, but it was still a fun place to venture to on a nice day... and you rarely had to wait, which can be difficult to come across in the tourist-filled DC summers. But perhaps that was the first sign that the Alamo Grill wasn't going to make it... the second clue was when the restaurant closed and renovations took over that building.

And then, Mr. J came home one day and mentioned that he jogged past the old Alamo Grill and there was this new place, started with an "F", not sure what it was going to serve... Then I opened up my "The List Are You On It" email and read about "Fratelli la Bufala"... famous for their buffalo mozzarella? Second location to open in the US (first one in Miami)? Serving up 15-20 types of pizzas with the oven right there for all to see? Sign me up!

And so we found ourselves on a nice Saturday night at the doorstep of Fratelli la Bufala. The Georgetown location of Fratelli la Bufala is just off the canal, on the same street as two other Italian restaurants (Paper Moon and Piccolo Restaurant -- although Piccolo Restaurant is still currently closed due to the October fire). Fratelli la Bufala started in Italy and has spread around the world (Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo to name a few of the non-Italy outposts). Coming from a family that was in the buffalo milk and mozzarella business, the three brothers opened up these restaurants after their father passed away (the full story can be read on their menus!).

We were seated on the first floor, right next to the pizza oven and with prime seating to look into the glass walled kitchen. An antipasti bar was set up in front of the kitchen, the walls were decorated with various buffalo-type decor plus paintings of the family. The tables were a bit tight and although we liked the excellent views from our seats, we felt like we were in the middle of traffic between the two rooms on the floor.

Any concerns about tight seating though were diminished by the looks and smells of the pizzas. We eyed every pizza that came by as we tried to select our own pizzas from the menu. I was also quite distracted by the list of available pastas -- all their pastas are handmade in-house and I heard rave reviews about the pappardelle (which I am a sucker for...). But I tried to stay on track, because it has been a long time since I last had a pizza worth writing about.

With our stomachs rumbling, we decided to get a caprese salad for an appetizer (after hearing so much about the buffalo mozzarella, we wanted to try the mozzarella in its untouched form!) and then TWO pizzas, one selected by each of us. A forewarning -- it isn't necessary to get one pizza per person, they are bigger than a "personal pan" type pizza (and bigger than nearby Pizzeria Paradiso's pizzas), but with so many to choose from, it couldn't hurt to have pizza to take home, right? Mr. J selected the "Casertana" (bufala mozzarella, spinach, and bufala sausage) and I selected the "Capricciosa" (I butchered that name when I tried to order it, no worries though! tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and ham... I'm a sucker for artichoke hearts and mushrooms... photo of my pizza is at the top).

The caprese salad was fresh, the bufala mozzarella was flavorful and slightly tangy. The pizzas were mouthwatering. We saw them come right out of the wood-burning oven. Both were delicious. The tomato sauce on my pizza was not too sweet and all the toppings worked well together -- the richness of the mozzarella was balanced by the vegetables. I think my pizza was a little bit undercooked, or perhaps I picked a pizza with a few too many toppings, because the pizza wasn't quite as crisp as I expected (not that I expected super crisp, but it was a little bit soggy in a few areas) (added sidenote: I read recently that "sogginess" may actually be a sign of authenticity... that actual Neapolitan pizzas actually have that sogginess and require a fork and knife to eat the center of the pizza...). Mr. J's pizza held up much better (which is why I think that I had a few too many toppings on mine) and he loved it. I think he was about to pass out from how much he liked it. Both were fantastic, and I'm by no means a Neapolitan pizza expert, but this was some of the top pizza I've had in DC.

We were having such a nice time that we decided to get dessert too (might as well have the full experience, huh?). The cannolini caught our eye -- a cannoli with bufala ricotta cream, limoncello, and chocolate -- but the Carpaccio d'Ananas sounded more intriguing. Paper thin slices of pineapple, drizzled with chocolate, and buffalo milk ice cream on the side. It was the perfect light end to our meal.

I will most certainly be revisiting Fratelli la Bufala. I'm not exaggerating when I say that almost everything on the menu appealed to me ... so much left still to try! I'm dying to have another pizza, but then there are all the other pasta options, and then the different mozzarella appetizers, and I've heard that even the salads are delish. AND, word is that they are opening a "tiki" type bar on the outdoor patio... and if you know me, I do love my tropical themed bars, so a tiki bar WITH excellent food? How can I not come back?

On a quick aside, we also happened to hear from our neighboring table that President Obama was dining a block away from us at Michel Richard's Citronelle... needless to say, we ventured over there after dinner, and sure enough (after a little wait), there was President Obama, Mrs. Obama, and Chef Richard, with a motorcade entourage. It was exciting! We met some Secret Service people (who scanned the crowd with explosive detectors), bonded with other fellow on-lookers (none of whom were from DC!), and waved at the Obamas (they waved back!). All in all, a good night.

Fratelli la Bufala
1063 31st St. NW

Washington, DC 20007


The Duo Dishes said...

Those pizzas are looking good! What beats authentic pizza? Nothing.

Karena said...

Those pizzas look awesome! I've been meaning to check this place out - I sampled some of their tiramisu at an event in April and it was fantastic :) Can't wait to read more of your reviews!

Anonymous said...

This place closed a month ago. Just after I had one chance to go and loved it. Anybody know what happened?

Anonymous said...

That location has always been sketchy. Even Alamo Grill closed about 3 different times for kitchen fires. From what I can tell, Fratelli didn't do their renovation correctly. I'm guessing DC shut them down due to permit violations.

I've seen people working in there once and a while, but all the sign for Fratelli were taken down. I have no clue what it will become, if anything. Maybe the Fratelli people figured the inspection requirements weren't worth the time and $$. Oh well.