Even for someone like me who spends an inordinate amount of money eating out, there are certain places you save for a special occasion. Acqua Al 2 in Eastern Market is one of those places. It’s as Fancy Pants as Fancy Pants Italian gets. The special occasion for the evening was a double, celebrating my girlfriend’s new job (good work, Kate!) and our anniversary (good work, us!) so we were extra covered on occasions.
The first thing I loved about Acqua Al 2 is the mystery. Apparently there is an original location in Florence, also called Acqua Al 2, and then the OG decided to start a second restaurant in DC. So that makes the DC spot Acqua Al 2…2? And there’s no Acqua Al 1? And this isn’t one of those things where I just invent a mystery by not doing any research. The story on the website is equally confusing. You can’t just have due Acqua al 2s, Acqua Al 2! It’s too much for enterprising young amateur food bloggers based in DC to handle.
The food at Acqua Al 2 held its own set of mysteries. To start, one of FDC’s favorite topics: free bread. I am usually super pumped for Italian restaurant bread. Some fresh foccacia with some olive oil, balsamic, and pepper? Hard to beat. Unfortunately, Acqua Al 2 is not throwing down legit free bread. It’s kind of that chewy almost stale bread that makes you frown? And just plain olive oil to dip? You never want to lose any competition to Romano’s Macaroni Grill if you’re a profesh Italian restaurant. That’s not the kind of stuff they’d serve at Acqua Al 1, I know that for sure.
Luckily the rest of menu looked dope, so I was willing to forgive the bread. The menu itself was relatively straightforward – pasta and steaks were about 90% of it. When we asked our server for recommendations, he started by saying “we’re known for pasta and steaks, so probably that.” Cool, dude.
I’m glad I was taught to forgive and forget because the first course, the salad of all things, was ridiculously good. Some romaine, watermelon, feta, red onion, and other random stuff? It was all over the place. It was sweet. It was sour. It was all the taste bud categories. In what world is the salad better than the bread? Am I growing up? WHAT IS HAPPENING
Next we tried the veggie pasta sampler, five courses of mystery pasta from the mind of the chef. The veggies were fresh, and the sauces were packed with flavor. The noods were that perfect al dente. My favorite combo was the zucchini with cream sauce. Usually zucchini is a red sauce kind of guy or gal, but the cream sauce was insanely good with the crunchy zukes.
We were already feeling pretty good at this point (especially after going splitskis on a nice wine from AA2’s extensive list), but the steaks were truly the star of the show. I rarely order steak when I go out to eat because it’s something I can do reasonably well at home for not $40. But damn. We split the chef’s choice trio of filet samplers and two of the three were probably the two best steaks I’ve ever eaten (and the third was still very very good). The non-champion steak was almost like a deconstructed fancy cheeseburger? It was on a bed of lettuce and cherry tomatoes with a gigantor slice of parmesan on top and a lil salt and pepper. The next had a balsamic glaze that was out of this world. I’ve never had balsamic vinegar with such good flavor and so little bite. It ruled. The truly amazing dish though, and I still can’t believe I’m saying this, was the filet with some sort of blueberry glaze on it? I don’t understand how it was so good, but it was genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I crave it pretty much all the time now. General shout-out to the chef for cooking all three steaks perfectly. Also shout-out to Kate for letting me convince her not to order our steaks medium well.
At this point we were slowing down a bit, though that did not stop me from suggesting the dessert sampler. We compromised and ended with the passion fruit panna cotta. I still don’t quite understand what a panna cotta is (yet another mystery, this one of my own doing for not looking it up), but it was light, had great flavor, and was a perfect end to the meal.
After many months talking about giving Acqua Al 2 a shot, I can confidently say it was worth the wait (bad bread aside). Those few truly exceptional bites earn this international restaurant of mystery…