Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic Falls Off The Wagon

The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic has been hitting the gym almost as hard as Presidential candidates are hitting the campaign trail. The past few weeks have been spent eating healthier foods, avoiding sweets, riding my bike to work, and getting to the weight room more often than I went to the buffet. The result? As of April 23rd, I weighed less than 200 pounds for the first time since moving back to Washington in mid-2005. Heart rate's lower, blood pressure's good, and only 10 more pounds to go before I'm back to "normal." I celebrated this wonderful occasion not with more sit-ups and cardio, but by eating an ungodly amount of sumptuous, decadent tortellini at La Perla, a gem nestled between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Rock Creek Parkway near Georgetown.

This was for a good reason - the fine folks of the Washington Post's Datelab series set me up on blind date at La Perla. While I won't spoil the surprise of the details of the date (check or buy the Sunday papers), I will gladly dish about the restaurant. Pictures of famous guests to the restaurant line the entrance, surrounding a formal document from Pope John Paul II. The dessert case then casts an enticing glare, chock full of pastry, tortes and cheesecakes. This sugar-laden minx rests in front of a wall of wine bottles, surrounded by flowers, Italian artifacts and plaster carvings, while a replication of Botticelli's Birth of Venus stands guard over the dining room.

I had been warned that the portions at La Perla were generous, and that leaving hungry would not be an option. Chef and owner Vittorio Testa did not disappoint - my plate of tortellini alla panna was full of delicious meat-stuffed shells covered in a glorious marscapone cream sauce, and my fellow Datelabber's Piatto Di Mastro Geppetto was a massive cornucopia of shellfish served over linguine. Every mussel, clam, scallop and shrimp at the Waterfront fish markets had been kidnapped and held for ransom on her plate. This dish will taste even better later this year as more fresh sea scallops are shipped down from the New England waters. Still, that tortellini was star of the show; each bite a reminder of why I love Italian cuisine. If I ever become the male Oprah, this dish gets prime billing on my "Favorite Things" list, somewhere between TiVo and world peace.

They brought out a slice of tiramisu with some lemonchello liqueur for us to share. Now, the restaurant knew who we were and who we were representing, so it is possible that's why we received special treatment. But while good service can be faked, a genuine spirit of hospitality can't. The server, the maitre'd, bus staff, even Chef Testa himself made sure we were welcome guests, and none of that felt like it was an act to get good press (and I doubt they knew I was a humble food blogger, either).

So, La Perla has earned a future visit from me. This meal was every bit as good as my usual standard for Italian in D.C., Al Tiramisu, and though Al Tiramisu's cozy interior could be considered more romantic, it's a fine line between "intimate" and "cramped." There's something to be said for elbow room. Palena is still my favorite Italian dining experience in the city, but these are not comparable restaurants. Chef Ruta's adventurous dishes at Palena win you over using non-traditional ingredients and inventive presentation whereas Chef Testa's La Perla is more of a classical spot that honors traditional fare and hospitality.

La Perla
2600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037
Valet service available

La Perla earned 6 Whammies! out of a potential 7 Whammies!, the only deduction coming from the just-ever-so-slightly too salty sea scallops, which will quickly not be an issue later in the seafood season, and that they wouldn't let me swim in that marscapone cream sauce. Something about health code standards and sanitation. Hmph.

No comments: