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Taste Test: “Tavola 12″ Tasting Menu at Casa Nonna
November 22, 2011 | 12:45PM

all photos: Franz Mahr

Last week, we had the very good fortune of dining at Casa Nonna’s Tavola 12, a 12-course dining experience at the bar overlooking the restaurant’s open kitchen, featuring small courses prepared on the spot by Chef Amy Brandwein.

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The 12-course tasting menu changes regularly, featuring seasonal flavors and Chef Amy’s latest creations. For her, Tavola 12 is a fun way to showcase fresh ingredients and simply to get to play with new ideas in a more intimate dining setting—but no molecular gastronomy here, she warns, just an impressive array of Italian flavors and inventive preparations.

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We knew that Casa Nonna was a slam-dunk for pasta dishes and loud dinners with friends, but it turns out that they do haute dining really well. Really, really well.

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Our tasting menu took us from light seafood starter dishes, to richer plates showcasing fall vegetables, then pastas, heartier meats and fish and finally, dessert.  Each course was extra-fun as we watched the chefs prepare the progression of twelve small plates and chatted about the selection and preparation of different ingredients. I also learned that a very hot pizza oven can double as a cook top. Neat.

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Some of our favorite dishes of the night included the polpo alla pignata, or baby octopus in terracotta with potato confit and chile that was a smoky, salty way to kick off the meal.

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We also went crazy for pici ale coniglo–thick, twisted fresh spaghetti with a rabbit ragut in olive jus. I wanted a huge bowl. To eat with a spoon. On a couch. In front of a fire. Think we found the ultimate comfort food since I haven’t been able to get this dish off my mind ever since.

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Next up, and keeping with everyone’s current love for everything pumpkin, we dug into tortelli di cremona, little “hats,” sort of a cross between ravioli and dumplings, of pumpkin in a butter and sage sauce with an amaretti cookie crumble. Yum.

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And I’m a sucker for black cod anything so I dug the next course: merluzzo nero, perfectly cooked black cod—crispy on top and fleshy below—with a mustard cream.

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It wouldn’t be a great meal without wine pairings, and the mostly small-production Italian wines paired with every other course complimented the meal nicely. I had a rare moment of enjoying a dessert wine over a gorgonzola panna cotta that was topped with fig and fleur du sel. A total mind fuck for your taste buds, combining flavors of salty cheese with sweet figs and the smooth texture of panna cotta.

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Between watching the dishes prepared in front of you, the sexy ambiance of the bar, the people-watching and the food itself, it’s safe to say that your next DC date night is already planned. This was sensory overload in the best way possible.

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Tavola 12 is available every Friday and Saturday night for $55 per person, with an optional $30 wine pairing at every other course. Since there are only 12 seats available at the bar, we recommend calling ahead to make a reservation.

Now we’ll let the food porn photos do the talking. Try not to drool on your keyboard…

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