1063 31st Street NW
Located just a few steps from the C & O Canal, Il Canale’s exterior appears a bit rough around the edges. But looks can be – and usually are – deceiving. You step across the threshold into a comfortably modern establishment that boasts an attractive, diminutive bar, an upstairs dining area for private events, and an inviting rooftop patio that is the perfect venue for al fresco dining in warmer weather.
Neapolitan thin-crust pizza is the name of the game here. It is made exclusively with ingredients imported from Italy, including bufala mozzarella, tomato sauce, and flour; and the pizza dough is made fresh daily in the restaurant.
The pizzas are divided into two categories: Rosse, with tomato sauce; and Bianche, without. Among the former, the Margherita – imported bufala mozzarella, fresh basil – is seductively simple; the Parmigiana adds Parmigiano shavings to the mozzarella; and the Il Canale boasts mozzarella, sheep ricotta, prosciutto, eggplant, and a topping of cherry tomatoes. When it comes to the Bianche, you surely can’t go wrong with the Georgetown: imported bufala mozzarella, spinach, sausage, and fresh basil.
But Il Canale is more than just pizza. And you can start things off with several Italian classics. The focaccia, for example, is positively addictive. It is fashioned from the restaurant’s homemade dough and then baked with olive oil, sprinkling of sea salt, and adornment of fresh herbs. The pasta e fagioli – traditional Italian bean and pasta soup, is benchmark… ditto the bruschetta. But if greenery is more your bag, I heartily recommend the special arugula salad, which is comprised of baby wild arugula, fresh bufala mozzarella, tomato, olives, wafer-thin carrots strips, perfectly grilled slices of zucchini, and a dynamite honey-mustard vinaigrette.
The printed menu lists only four entrées – two fish, one beef, and one chicken – which are usually augmented by one or two daily specials. Piscatorial pleasures include branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) baked in parchment paper and roasted filet of salmon. The beef is pan roasted Angus filet mignon; the chicken is a roasted breast in Marsala wine sauce.
But the real draw here – other than the ever-popular pizza – is the pasta. Possibilities range from the delicious simplicity of spaghetti & meatballs and large tube pasta doused with a classic meat sauce to ethereal ricotta dumplings and baby clams tossed with linguine in spicy olive oil, roasted garlic, and white wine.
Desserts carry on with style. Dolci such as tiramisù, ricotta cheesecake, and Sicilian cannoli are classic in every respect… But the chocolate/almond cake companioned by a dollop of vanilla gelato is a temptation that’s hard to resist. And be sure to finish things off with a shot of potent espresso.
Il Canale certainly isn’t what I would call a destination restaurant… But if you’re on your way to Blues Alley just around the corner (as we were), or just in the market for a top-notch casual meal that won’t break the bank, this restaurant delivers the goods.
The Artful Diner
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Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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