If you visited Michael Schlow's home, he'd probably cook you Italian food. But if you're not lucky enough to snag a personal invite from the chef and restaurateur behind Tico and The Riggsby, now there's Alta Strada.
Schlow's third location of the Italian restaurant opens today in Mount Vernon Triangle in the former Kushi space. In the coming weeks, he'll also open a restaurant within a restaurant called Conosci (pronounced ko-no-shee), which will feature a crudo bar, tasting menu, and drink cart.
Alta Strada's menu takes inspiration from Schlow's travels to the Tuscany, Piedmonte, Emilia-Romagna, and Campania regions of Italy.
"It's Italian food the way I had it in Italy. I didn't toy with it. I didn't tinker with it. I didn't [get] creative with it. I just recreated it the way I remember it," Schlow says.
For example, the tagliatelle bolognese is based on a recipe that Schlow learned from Ristorante Diana, "the best restaurant in Bologna." In addition to pastas, the menu includes antipasti like grilled octopus with chickpeas and crunchy meatballs with spicy tomato basil sauce and meat and fish entrees. Schlow describes the "light, airy" pizzas as a cross between New York, Roman, and Neapolitan styles.
Schlow says the D.C. Alta Strada shares about 60 percent of its menu with the locations in Wellesley, Mass. and Mashantucket, Conn. "They're all cousins," he says. "There's no identical twins. They're all related. They all have some similar DNA, but they're different."
The cocktail menu features classic Italian drinks, like an Americano on draft or an Aperol spritz. Italian wines, craft beers, and amaros are also available. Schlow says he purposely made the bar depth more shallow so that the bartenders are closer to guests. "All of those little things I think about now as I get older," he says. "That six inch difference makes a difference."
While Alta Strada aims to feel like "a slice of Italy," Conosci has a much swankier look with gilded walls, candles, and ornate chandeliers. Guests will come in the same entrance as Alta Strada, but then will be led past some velvet curtains to the separate dining room.
Because of its slightly hidden location, Schlow named the 25-seat space after the way you might begin to ask for directions. Conosci means "do you know" or "are you aware of" in Italian. However, the restaurant is not Italian. "It's international, it's personal," Schlow says.
Crudo is the predominant part of the menu, with a crudo bar and eight or nine crudos on the menu.
There will also be one soup (think lobster, uni, and apple), a handful of "very composed" seasonal vegetable dishes, and some slightly larger dishes like a "white boy's version" of chirashi (a rice bowl topped with raw fish and vegetables).
Two tasting menus will be available—one for $45 and another for $185. "I figure, if you go in the middle, everybody goes in the middle," Schlow explains of the range. Both options will be full meals, but the pricier one will have more courses and luxe ingredients.
Because Conosci doesn't have a bar, it will have a bar cart. Some cocktails will be pre-batched, while others might be made tableside.
Schlow, ever the music and sound fanatic, has set up two separate sound systems for Alta Strada and Conosci. The Italian restaurant will have an eclectic mix from rock to disco, while the crudo bar may have thematic nights. "There might be an ’80s hair band night. I don't know yet," he says. "I'm going to have some fun with this."
Alta Strada, 465 K St. NW; altastrada-cityvista.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman