“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini
I’ve been dying to go to Sfoglina (pronounced sfoal-yee-nah) since it opened late last year and so it was with excitement and surprise that my husband, Matt, and I found ourselves entering the well-appointed restaurant for an impromptu Monday evening date. Sfoglina is the latest in the growing family of Fabio Trabocchi restaurants including Casa Luca, Fiola, Fiola Mare, and the upcoming Del Mar which is slated to open in late 2017. The Van Ness restaurant specializes in hand-rolled pasta and is located on Connecticut Avenue. If you walk by the restaurant before service begins for the day, you might catch a glimpse of staff prepping the days batches of pasta. If carbs and cheese is your thing, you’re in the right place.
For the best ambiance make your reservation for after dark, or better yet head to the restaurant on a rainy day. The warm lighting is a homey invitation to come in out of the cold and enjoy some (upscale) comfort food. On our recent date night we were able to get seats at the bar with no notice. We also had the option for patio seating but its the middle of July so we opted for the air conditioning.
The bar by the way is gorgeous and well thought out. The first thing your eyes are drawn to are the golden cabinets situated above the bar through which you can barely see bottles of something that is probably alcoholic and delicious. The rest of the decor is a cohesive mix of provincial, glam, and rustic, with exposed wood beams in the ceiling (I love a good exposed beam) and comfy bar stools. As a short lady bar stools are the bane of my existence but in this case once I managed to get into the thing it was very comfortable.
It was still happy hour when we got there so I opted for the happy hour Manhattan (Rye Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura Bitters) for $8 and Matt had a Peroni. We also had a perfectly adequate happy hour order of Buffalo Milk Mozzarella with Heirloom Tomatoes and Pesto Genovese with complimentary crusty bread.
Most of the entrees available at Sfoglina are pasta, divided into classic dishes for $22 and seasonal for $25. I’ve been drooling the Beet Stained Goat Cheese Tortelloni on Sfoglina’s Instagram so that was a must-have. Matt wasn’t feeling like pasta tonight and ended up getting the 72-Hour Beef Short Ribs with zucchini, polenta, and salsa verde (apologies for the lack of a picture, he ate it so fast!).
I will confess I was originally taken aback at the size of my entree. For $22 it looked a little small. But halfway through the meal I completely changed my mind. The tortelloni is very rich and filling. By the time I got to the last one I was quite glad they hadn’t given me more as I would not have been able to finish it. So if you are concerned about getting your bang for your buck let me put your concerns to rest – unless you are completely famished you will definitely leave Sfoglina satiated. I was able to snag a bite of Matt’s short ribs and can confirm that it was melt-in-your-mouth amazing.
“Pasta with melted cheese is the one thing I could eat over and over again.” – Yotam Ottolenghi
If you’d rather not commit to one entree, Sfoglina offers a 3 for $65 deal to be shared family style. And if you are of the gluten-free variety of human, fear not! They offer a gluten free pasta which you can pair with any of their sauces. I would suggest also saving some room for dessert. All the desserts are made in one of the sister restaurants (since the Sfoglina kitchen is so small) and brought over fresh each day according to our fabulous bartender/server.
Unsurprisingly Matt picked the only chocolate dessert – a Caramelized Chocolate Panna Cotta. Beautiful and silky, with a chocolate glaze and little gleaming pearls on top, its a dish to savor. I wanted something a little more rustic, so at the urging of our bartender I ordered Nonna’s Lemon and Hazelnut Cake. It was not too sweet and there were delightful crunchy bits in each bite. Unfortunately I was not able to finish the whole thing, but not for lack of spirited effort!
Sfoglina is perfect for a date night. The ambiance of the restaurant lends itself to intimacy and comfort. This is enhanced by the staff, who walk the razors edge of attentive and unobtrusive. The mark of a great restaurant is not necessarily the food, but staff who know what you want before you know it yourself. At one point the bartender managed to pour the rest of Matt’s Peroni without either of us noticing, not a mean feat since we were sitting at the bar and he was right in front of us! The setting and service combined with thoughtfully prepared food exemplifies the warm and welcoming atmosphere that Fabio and Maria Trabocci aimed to create in Sfoglina. I’d call their efforts a success.