Rating: 3 out of 5
Summary: A restaurant that is stuck somewhere in the middle
While we have been to Potenza before for drinks and bar food, we had never sat down for a meal. With a small but nice tap selection and a satisfying bar menu, we finally decided to sit down for a dinner at this downtown restaurant. What we experienced was little more than the typical Italian ristorante. While featuring nice ingredients and a few menu high points, Potenza did not break from the pack of the many other average Italian restaurants in DC and stand out as something remarkable.
For our appetizer, we chose the Arancini alla Salsiccia di Cinghiale, fried risotto balls stuffed with wild boar sausage and provolone. These lightly breaded balls were some of the best we’ve had of this classic Italian dish, the creamy provolone and risotto combination providing rich flavor without the expected weight. While the amount of wild boar sausage in the aracini was minimal, what was there packed enough of a savory punch to get the message across. The sauce on the plate had a nice hint of lemon that brought extra character to an already excellent appetizer. Deceptively light and incredibly tasty, we recommend this to anyone who steps a foot in Potenza, even if it’s for just a drink at the bar.
Our first entree was the Brasato di manzo con gnocchi, pan-roasted strip loin, truffled gnocchi, asparagus, and madeira butter sauce. The cut of meat was decent enough and sliced before being plated, as if to encourage a forked-combination of the gnocchi and strip loin. Together, the flavors worked well, both pairing nicely with the maderia butter sauce (cooking wine & browned butter). Separately, we noticed some short comings. The salt added on top of the beef cut out the magnificently savory juices and forced us to scrap the plate for more sauce. The gnocchi was a little tougher than we would have liked, but the lightly-cooked asparagus was still a great contrast to the soft texture of the potato pasta. Although it was a great dish when it came together, we wished that such great items would have been able to stand out better separately.
The second plate we had for dinner was the Rigatoni al Ragu Della Domenica, meatballs, spicy fennel sausage, spare rib, braciole, ricotta combined with marinara and rigatoni pasta. The meatball was a great combination of ground beef with a hint of basil. The spicy fennel sausage lived up to its name and displayed a spice that was wonderfully on the edge of too spicy. The spare rib’s texture was magnificently slow cooked , but its taste, unlike the other meats, was largely overwhelmed by the flavor of the marinara. The quality of rigatoni disappointed and forced us to wonder if it was taken from a box, a sin that could have been forgiven at a restaurant of lesser stature (Potenza boasts rightly an in-house bakery). While there was a lot to like in this dish, it seemed as though the kitchen combined different kinds of meats on a plate with some sauce, pasta and a hope that it worked out for the best.
Finally, our waiter recommended for dessert the Panna cotta al caramello, a toffee panna cotta topped with mint chocolate sauce, whipped cream, candied almonds, and caramelized banana. Even though it was full of plenty rich and sweet ingredients, we never felt like we were eating a spoon full of sugar. The cool panna cotta mellowed out the other members of the dessert without its own toffee flavor being lost the process. The whole combination held its form well, but still had a light texture on the tongue. It was a well executed dessert that gave us a beautifully sweet experience without the impression of having eaten a pound of sugar.
Washington has plenty of Italian restaurants. Few of them are absolutely terrible, but even less of them are absolutely superb. Potenza joins that crowd that fits somewhere in the middle. There were a few dishes that made us crave more, but there were some items on our plates that made us scratch our head. This is not to say anything we ate was unappetizing. It just wasn’t fantastic. We will still head to Potenza for drinks and bar food (aracini balls), but it’s hard to find a reason to steer someone there for dinner unless they’re simply in the area.