Potenza trumps Restaurant Week offering 3 courses for $28 with wine pairings.

Potenza Bakery

Potenza Bakery. Photo courtesy of Potenza.

With a supreme location in DC, just a block away from the White House, Potenza offers Washingtonians a chance at fresh bread or baked goods from their bakery, a place to unwind at their spacious bar and lounge, and authentic Italian food sure to make your belly smile. I was invited on Thursday for a media gathering, which was my first opportunity to visit Potenza. I won’t stay away now … now that I know what I’ve been missing.

Named after an Italian bella, “Bina Potenza” who was born in 1904 in the Italian province, Foggia, Italy’s second largest, Potenza offers diners a versatile menu of familiar and authentic rustic Italian dishes. There are several choices for a first course, such as zuppe, insalate, or antipasti. There are, of course, many pasta offerings including Italian American favorites, Manicotti Tradizionali (traditional manicotti) or Spaghetti con Palpettine (Spaghetti with meatballs). On the menu, there is also fish, meat, pizza, and fresh seafood.

In addition to their regular menu, Executive Chef Bryan Moscatello is now offering his special “Seven Bites” Menu, which offers diners a choice of 3 courses for just $28 and includes the perfect wine pairing chosen by Ralph Rosenberg. The new small plates menu is available from 3 PM to 10 PM Sunday through Wednesday (except holidays) and can be enjoyed at the Potenza’s bar or on the outdoor patio.

Rosenberg said that the new menu was inspired from a recent trip to Italy that he and Chef Moscatello took.  He wrote on the Stir Blog, “We loved sitting outside these small restaurants whether it was in a city like Rome, Siena or Orvieto or in the Tuscan countryside overlooking vineyards and tasting through 6 to 8 items per course and having at least 4 courses per meal. We always thought it would be great to bring that idea home with us for Potenza.”

Pancetta Wrapped Fig. Photo by Lauren Sloat, CitySearch.

Rosenberg told us on Thursday evening that all of their dishes are prepared with the best in locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Rosenberg, said “We don’t just say farm fresh, we live it and breath it”. While dedicated to sourcing locally and inspired by his recent Italy adventure Chef Moscatello created two menus, a savory and  a sweet that would serve as a sampling that gives one the opportunity to try many different tastes and experience a summer journey to Italy.

Chef said the first of the seven bites was the Pancetta wrapped figs with Gorgonzola and balsamic. Very simply, a fig drizzled with balsamic vinegar with just a touch of Gorgonzola cheese wrapped in house cured Pancetta. It sounds simple, but the flavors are rich and each bite is sumptuous and almost sensual. I would have never guessed that a fig could be so memorable. Chef told me that when ordered the portion is about three figs. He also said that if you are dining with someone, they can order three completely different bites — perfect to try all seven!

Tuna Crudo. Photo by Lauren Sloat, CitySearch.

There is a trick to the Tuna Cruno despite the fact that it’s the simplest of all the bites. The Tuna is place on a thin house-made lavash, a small thin flat-bread like cracker with black olive pesto finished with just a touch of maldon sea salt. The trick to tasting the tuna is that you must bite into the Ahi tuna in all of its sashimi grade splendor, first. Then eat the olive pesto. If you bite into the olive tapenade first, then you won’t taste the tuna.  Chef said that when ordered the portion is about 3 each. It is paired with the Falesco Vitiano Rosato from Umbria.

Veal and risotto Arancici by Potenza Chef Bryan Moscatello. Photo by L. Sloat

Other savory bites offered include the Veal Mushroom and Taleggio Arancini  with marsala aioli — a crisply fried risotto ball with with local braised veal inside.  Arancini, or friend rice balls are common in Italy and is said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century. This is another example of how Chef Moscatello takes a traditional favorite dish, like many others on the Potenza menu and puts his own innovative spin on it to make it even more flavorful. The risotto balls were amazingly delicious. Chef said that when ordered from the bites menu, guests will receive 3 balls.

One of my favorite bites was the velvety smooth cauliflower puree topped with lightly seared diver scallops with just a touch of fennel pollen. I’m not sure what size scallops will be served but there will be two or three when ordered.  For the veggie lovers out there, the Stone Oven Roasted Antipasto Skewers is a bountiful bite with stone roasted local vegetables with house made mozzarella and creamy garlic. I didn’t try too much of this one, since I have an allergy to peppers and there was one, smack dab in the middle of the skewer.

Crisped Stuffed Blossoms

Also offer as one of the savory bites is the gorgeously Crisped Squash Blossoms stuffed with truffled chicken, ricotta and asparagus sauce. Squash Blossoms are in season right now but are considered in the United States to be a delicacy. They are not as prevalent here as they are in Mexico. This dish reminded me of a chicken Kiev. The texture of the squash blossom was crispy. I didn’t taste the asparagus sauce but the dish was delicious.

Lastly, the house cured salmon with some charred frisee and caper berries.  I’m not sure I tasted this particular bite but it’s available on the savory menu.

Tiramisu Whoopie Pie topped with Espresso Bean.

For the Sweet or dessert tasting menu, similar to the Savory bites menu, diners are able to choose any 3 for $28 and it includes wine pairings as well. On the menu is Zepole, which is like an Italian beignet covered in powdered sugar, Affogato with biscotti, Honey Panna Cotta with house-made almond cookies, bite-size Nutella Chocolates, like truffles, Tiramisu Whoopie Pies topped with a single rich Espresso Bean, Pizzelles Ice cream cone with pistachio ice cream, and of course traditional Italian Canolis.

The tastes were a totally amazing experience. I’d love to go back with at least two of my friends and sample and share all of the bites. For the superb quality of food — it’s a great value.

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