Arlington is chock full of superior Sunday Brunch specials, so enticing that Washingtonians cross the river weekly to get their fill of boozy brunches. Just drive down Wilson Blvd. from Ballston to Rosslyn and there are brunch specials aplenty.
Nestled between the intersection of Rosslyn and Courthouse, Il Radicchio has been serving oven-baked pizza and endless pasta specials since Clarendon was just a one-stoplight town.
In the late 90’s Chef Roberto Donna opened Il Radicchio to add to his 12-restaurant empire that reigned the DMV restaurant scene. There were actually two other restaurants with the same name — one in Capitol Hill and one in Georgetown.
It was a Donna concept similar to the well-acclaimed Galileo, yet more economical and efficient. While Carmine’s was known for authentic family-style dining with huge portions, Il Radicchio was known for its cozy, romantic ambiance serving smaller portions.
Judy Castiglia and I still had fond memories of last September’s meetup in Alba Osteria featuring authentic Northern Italian cuisine from Chef Donna’s Piedmont region. Now we wanted to see for ourselves if the current management kept the Donna gold standard alive.
It had snowed a few inches the day before, a small accumulation coated the trees — everything was sparkling. Families and romantic couples were enjoying eloquent meals and light conversation while the soothing tunes of Frank Sinatra played softly in the background. We felt the warmth of the Italian brick oven and admired the lively walls covered with drawings of ducks, rabbits, and radicchios.
I started with the fig arugula salad with pecans smothered in balsamic vinaigrette. “So, how’s your love life?”
“Haw. how’s yours?”
“Pizza and I are very happy together.”
“Hee hee! Meat lovers or veggie?”
“Neither just cheese.”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “I’m dating a guy named Don who I met from speed dating. Don’t think it will last, though.” Judy forked into her field greens tossed generously with grapes, walnuts, and goat cheese.
“Why he’s not smart enough for you?”
“No, he’s brilliant. But I don’t think he’s over his divorce from three years ago.”
I was admiring my beautifully plated rosemary lamb with poached eggs, chimichurri, and potato hash (russets mixed with sweet potatoes)
Judy was now absorbed in her bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with perfectly poached eggs and crispy polenta cakes.
I remember wanting to try the polenta last October at Donna’s Alba Osteria. But they went fast and were gone just as quick as when they arrived.”
“is that the dish with the baked octopus? They went like hotcakes — Chef (Amy) Brandwein is a rising star.”
“Yes, their eyes looked so inviting. And Chef (Andrew) Holden is doing an immaculate job today.”
“Couldn’t agree with you more. But what I really wanna know is why you think he’s not ready to commit.”
Judy cut into her tenderloin the brown sugar bacon drizzling in juice. “He lacks compassion and kindness for what I’m looking for. I made him a lasagna for Valentine’s, and he didn’t even bring a card.”
“What a prick.”
“Well he’s brought flowers before and done other nice stuff, so he knows how to be a gentleman.”
“Then was he trying to make a dumb statement?”
“I guess I’ll give it just a little more time to see.”
“I’ll say. It’s time for the second round.”
Rosibel Carranza, a young mother from El Salvador came over with more zesty dishes.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off Judy’s black Angus burger with crispy prosciutto and brûléed goat cheese.
Judy bit into her homemade pickle and then took a bite of the potato hash made with russet and sweet potatoes.
“He has an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and has a security clearance so he’s probably not dangerous.”
“MBA – that’s a worthless degree nowadays. I can vouch for that.”
“Wait, if you didn’t return to school to get your MBA, you wouldn’t have founded RUNINOut.”
“And I wouldn’t have gone to Ethiopia and met all those inspiring leaders, either.”
“And if it wasn’t for Jason “Foodgeek” I never would have known about RUNINOut and all your great-tasting events”
“Well, bring Don to our next eatup so Foodgeek and I can grill him for you. We won’t let anything slip through the cracks.”
“I’ve invited Don before but so far he has shown no interest. He’s not into meeting people and trying different cuisines. Guess he’s kinda dull.”
“Well, then I would dump him for sure. He’s definitely not your type.”
“Yeah, I wish I can find someone smart, handsome, fun, happy, compassionate, and calm. That would be quite a catch.”
“Well, that’s a high standard. I can’t imagine too many suitors in this town would qualify.”
“Well, then what’s your idea of the ideal woman?”
“Someone who’s resourceful, understanding, able to communicate, innovative, and decisive.”
Judy snickered and violently shook her head. “No wonder you’re still single.”
“Well, right now I’m in love with my rosemary lamb chops.”
“I thought you were seeing Christine?”
“Oh no, we’re just friends. She’s an amazing woman tho, so she shouldn’t stay single for long.”
“Say, I have this friend I want you to meet — she’s super skinny and photogenic. Perhaps I’ll invite her to your next event.”
“Please do, but if she’s that pretty, then I’m probably not her type.”
“Well, do you use any dating apps?”
“I’ve tried Tinder and it’s just a lot of chatter and small talk purgatory.”
“How ’bout Hinge?”
“Yeah, I met the co-founders at DC Tech — they’re nice guys, but I wouldn’t recommend their app.”
“Cuz I don’t think their algorithm referring friends of friends really works.”
“Well you’ve got a lot of friends on Facebook — maybe you can play matchmaker.”
I chewed on that thought for a second when Chef Holden appeared with a beautiful plate of yogurt cream parfait sprinkled magnificently with nectarines, lavender, and almond granola.
Judy was still working on her burger “Oh no, if I only just had room.”
“Kudos to the Iron chef!” I lifted my dessert fork ready to pounce. “You’ve made Chef Donna proud.”
Andrew snickered “Yeah if Roberto Donna would just pay his taxes.”