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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Friday 01/27
Justin Willman from Tricked out Tour, Comedy Central and Sleight of Mouth at Drafthouse Comedy in DC (Special Event) @ Drafthouse Comedy DC
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Justin Willman was born in St. Louis, Missouri on July 11, 1980. He was fascinated by the art of magic ever since he received a magic kit at the age of five. Soon after, his parents took him to see illusionist David Copperfield. However, the tipping point for young Willman came when he was twelve, after breaking both of his arms trying to ride a bicycle while wearing rollerblades. His orthopedic surgeon recommended he learn card tricks as an alternative to physical therapy. Since then, Willman was hooked on magic for life. He began performing at the age of fourteen. Though magic was his first love, it led him to the world of show business and his second love - comedy. His influences in comedy were rooted in the comedic artistry of Johnny Carson and Steve Martin. Willman, discovering his newfound talent for making people laugh, blended magic and comedy into his repertoire. After he graduated from St. Louis' Ladue High School, he relocated to Bostonwhere he continued his studies at Emerson College. There, he majored in journalism and loved the idea of the power of change that could come out of it, along with the medium of television. In the midst of his studies, he found himself performing seven to eight shows a weekend. He knew that magic was his calling card. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, Willman decided to go all the way with magic. He moved to Los Angeles where he performed for several private events. He also met a group of magicians called "Magic X," and whom were putting together a television show at the time. In 2004, NBC aired "T.H.E.M." (Totally Hidden Extreme Magic) which hosted nine members of Magic X, including Justin Willman and Japanese magician celebrity Cyril Takayama. After a few TV specials under his belt, Willman went on to tour colleges and stadiums with his act across the nation. In 2011, he created "Justin Willman's Magic Meltdown," performed at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. He also developed his "Tricked Out Tour," which garnered him numerous raves around the globe. His one-man comedy and magic show has earned him the vote four years in a row as "Entertainer of the Year" by Campus Activities Magazine. Willman has since toured internationally and appeared in various TV productions, including the "Food Network" series "Cupcake Wars," "Last Cake Standing," "HubWorld" and "Scrabble Showdown" on the Hub Network. Willman is also well-known as the witty correspondent on the Rachael Ray talk show where he has made over 20 appearances. Other television appearances to his credit include "Make Believe," "The Defenders," "The Suite Life on Deck," "Room 401" (produced by Ashton Kutcher) and "The Today Show." In April, 2008, he toured with musician and friend Jason Mraz serving as emcee and ringmaster of the "Music, Magic & Make Peace Tour." The groundbreaking endeavor was a neo-vaudeville, eco-friendly, circus-on-wheels. Justin Willman currently performs internationally with his "Tricked Out Tour"and regularly performs at the "Magic Castle."
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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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