Chain restaurants have a bad reputation of being mediocre and unmemorable, but North Italia breaks the stereotype.
Before sitting down for dinner at the restaurant, I was skeptical of North Italia simply because it is a chain with 17 locations nationwide. But as I finished up my meal at the restaurant, which opened at 2112 Pennsylvania Ave. NW on Wednesday, I was pleasantly surprised.
The restaurant has an airy interior with high ceilings, wooden tables adorned with a candle and delicate flowers, and glass windows that allow customers to peek into the kitchen.
The menu was split into small plates, salads, pizza, pastas and entrees, and it was difficult to order with so many delicious-sounding options. After some deliberation, I finally ordered some white truffle garlic bread ($13.50) and arancini ($12.50) – fried risotto balls – for the table.
The truffle bread was otherworldly and consisted of 10 slices of bread stacked in a miniature skillet and topped with a creamy homemade ricotta, mozzarella and grana padano cheese truffle oil.
Each bite of bread was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and the flavor of the truffle complemented the garlic without overpowering it. Bits of cheese crisped up on the skillet and the ricotta cheese practically melted into the warm bread. Although the $13.50 price was hefty for bread, it was definitely worth trying and I would return to North Italia for this dish alone.
It was clear that the new restaurant was working out kinks as we never received the arancini we ordered and were brought another table’s soup at one point, but the server was apologetic and we were not charged for the dish.
For our main courses, my friend and I split the seasonal salad ($13), which started on a bed of kale with butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, pecorino cheese, farro, pistachio and dates doused in a white balsamic vinaigrette, and the chicken pesto pasta ($18.50).
The salad was fresh and featured nearly all of my favorite vegetables, so it was hard not to love. It also had the ideal amount of dressing, allowing the kale to remain crunchy while still adding flavor. The pecorino cheese and farro were surprisingly some of my favorite parts of the salad, but I wished there had been more pistachios and a more juicy fruit, like a pear or apple, in the mix rather than dates.
I originally could not decide which pasta dish to get, but my server convinced me to order the chicken pesto, which ended up being my favorite dish of the night. The chicken pesto began with gigli pasta – small cylindrical pieces of pasta with ruffled edges – and was topped off with a bright, creamy pesto sauce, grilled chicken and toasted pine nuts.
The pasta itself, which was a shape I had never eaten before, was a nice change from more traditional shapes like penne, spaghetti or rigatoni. Plus, it allowed some of the pesto sauce to seep into the al dente pasta’s crevices.
At first glance, I thought there was too much pesto sauce – but once I dug in, I found it was not overbearing. The sauce was packed with garlic, basil and toasted pine nut flavor and made for a rich flavor that I wanted more of.
While we were disappointed we never received our arancini, we were relieved we did not get a second appetizer when we chose to order two desserts – the hazelnut torta ($9) and tiramisu ($9).
The hazelnut torta consisted of a chocolate cake, which was topped with Nutella cream and a heap of salted caramel gelato. On its own, the cake was rich and had a strong chocolate flavor, but I thought it was a little dry. Luckily, the scoop of gelato helped ease the dryness of the cake so it could be overlooked.
Although the cake and gelato were delicious, my favorite element of the dish was the hazelnut toffee that was sprinkled around the cake. Each hazelnut, which was slightly caramelized, was the perfect combination of salty and sweet and added a satisfying crunch to the torta.
The tiramisu – a classic Italian dessert – was carefully layered into a glass jar and topped with small, crunchy chocolate balls. Each bite of the tiramisu consisted of a decadent mascarpone mousse, espresso-soaked ladyfingers and a thin layer of cocoa powder, which was slightly too sweet for my liking. While both desserts were tasty, I preferred the rich, chocolatey flavor of the hazelnut torta.
If you’re looking for an above average Italian meal just a short walking distance from campus, North Italia will definitely satisfy. Although the menu is on the pricier side for dishes like bread, pasta and salad, North Italia’s fresh ingredients and delicious food are not only worth the splurge, but also serve as a much-needed change from the typical Foggy Bottom grab-and-go restaurants.