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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Daily 5:00pm–9:00pm

Features Date-friendly, veg-friendly
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


U Street
1324 U St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 797-0523
Al Crostino
Some of the city’s best homemade pasta in an unlikely wine-bar package

From outside—and even when you first step in—Al Crostino seems like nothing but a sleek little neighborhood wine bar. And its prices hardly hint at the notion that this is one of the city’s best Italian restaurants. Protein mains—a brilliantly juicy, well-peppered, arugula-dressed tagliata di manzo (ribeye), for instance—are priced scarcely above the appetizers at some of the city’s more pretentious restaurants.

The space is small and cozy, which is part of why it can be so difficult to land a seat here—even on a weeknight—unless you reserve (although sitting at the bar is often an option). As for the wine-bar bit, well, yes, the Italian wine selection is well chosen and well priced, worthy of the title.

Al Crostino’s homemade pastas are hardly groundbreaking in concept, but they’re uniformly excellent. Mezze lune (half-moon-shaped ravioli), however they’re prepared, make for one of the best stuffed-pasta plates in the city, while gnocchi in Gorgonzola sauce—whether spinach or ricotta—are powerfully soft and rich. House-made pappardelle have shown up with a tender lamb ragú whose tomato is sweet and well integrated.

Unlike at some of the other top Italian contenders in town, however, the pastas don’t overshadow the meat and fish mains, like that delicious tagliata; a well-pounded pollo alla Milanese (breaded, fried chicken breast); or a whole branzino that’s lovingly roasted and served, as it should be, with simple herbs, lemon, and olive oil.

The weakest dish we’ve had has been a beef carpaccio with arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, and lemon; the meat has come over-cured by the lemon, and thus not as tender as it should be.

We also wish that the menu changed more often, and that the noise level were lower. And beware: as at sister restaurant Tiramisú, prices for the specials of the day can sometimes be priced out of control—and you might not find out about this until the check arrives. But such problems are easily overcome: make a reservation, go on a weeknight, and ask for the prices of specials.

Al Crostino is not just a wine bar. It is one of our favorite Italian tables in the city.

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