Image: Pappardelle with Boar Ragu
Before Times Review:
Last Visit: November 2019
Al Volo started as a stall selling pasta and sauces at farmers markets and Union Market. It then expanded to sit-down locations. One in Cleveland Park and one in Adams Morgan (they also opened a pizzeria at 13th and Penn). The idea is simple. The food is good. If you are in the neighborhood and have a hankering, they will take care of you.
Both places focus on a short list of classic antipasti, salads, and pastas (the Cleveland Park location also has a whole Branzino). The portions are sizable and mostly under $20. You can split a salad and pasta between two and call it a night or go big and have leftovers. Daniele Catalani is half the duo in the kitchens. He worked in D.C. restaurants before going the market stand route. His stints include time at Roberto Donna’s Galileo. He brought in his nephew Matteo Catalani to partner with him. (Matteo also is behind the recently-opened – and decent – Retrobottega around the corner on 18th, serving Italian bar food and non-pasta mains).
The sauces are more bright than deep – it is classic red-sauce variations. The boar ragu is heavy with shredded meat but slides more than sticks to the pasta. The puttanesca is satisfyingly briny with capers, olives, and anchovies, but tomatoes play an equal role – not merely supporting, and it lacks the hint of red pepper or herbs to cut the saltiness. Nit-picking aside, the ingredients are fresh and the execution is consistent. The pastas themselves are done well with flavor and texture that surpasses most red-sauce joints. The “caprese” the last time was a round of burrata with well-sourced tomatoes, despite being late in the season.
The beverage list is short and to the point with about 6 reds, 5 whites and a handful of beers. Service is diligent for such casual spot, with points for hustle. Al Volo is a quality neighborhood pasta spot that will envelope you in a cozy, friendly environment.
Other Guidance: The vibe is neighborhood casual. Come as you are (within decency laws). Vegetarians can do well here but it is hard to avoid cheese. For GF there is a penne substitute.
Rating: Worth Trying Out
Washington Post: Gabe Hiatt put it on his list of great, cheap pasta spots. Early story on the team.